Male power centers exist in Indian comedy

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Radhika Vaz interview: she laid it all bare in an unforgettable way for a performance art daringly called What the F ** k should I wear. It was just a funny idea that had occurred to her and she wasn’t too concerned with the expected drastic reaction her cleverly nude exposure would elicit. Because Radhika Vaz has always been what she calls “not feminine”.

She was in her early 40s when the two-minute stand-up piece premiered as part of an advertising campaign. And his thought at the time was, “Well, this is what I look like. The public could either accept it or continue to be unhappy about it. “People think you are brave but you only do what you have to do,” says Vaz, nearly 50 now, in an interview with ShePeople.

Vaz says she never looks for trouble through her jokes, even though it is considered by some to be one of India’s most “disturbing” comics. The label is a courtesy of the range of content it chooses to present; these could touch on menstruation, women’s safety, controversial religious traditions, sex – all subjects that are taboo for our society despite the progressivism that should define the 21st century.

His nude act in 2015 had sparked the expected reaction of indignation, especially on social networks where the video had been all the rage. A more recent case of controversy over wrapping the actress took place in July 2020, when some of her old jokes were pulled to accuse her of making fun of a certain religion.

It has been a rocky and tense time for Indian comedy, with female comics in particular being actively targeted for their content. Agrima Joshua, whose blow to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had prompted rape threats against her, was the poster child of the controversy.

What does she do with the backlash that emerges from her jokes? Nothing, says Vaz, “because they’re looking for a problem even when there isn’t one.”


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Interview with Radhika Vaz: a journey back in time to feminism

Vaz, senior comic and screenwriter, is considered a leading feminist figure in the Indian comedy scene. But “feminist” is not the way she always described herself. “I was not brought up with the slightest awareness of what sexism even is… I was not told categorically ‘no’ being a girl and it did not occur to me that it there were issues associated with being a woman… I could smoke and drink anytime I wanted, ”she said, calling the ideas of liberating her early youth as“ stupid and narrow ”.

Middle-class society did not embark on bold ideas like feminism when Vaz was in his twenties. It still doesn’t, but the digital age has ushered in a tale of a new era that at least encourages open discussion on the topic. Feminists are always referred to as “feminazi”, “hateful of men”, “aggressive”, and on the Internet they dare to speak of equality. But this conversation, although it progresses at a snail’s pace, is moving.

It wasn’t until Vaz moved to the United States to work and began experimenting with improv comedy, meeting women from all walks of life who were “intellectually better equipped than she with the language of feminism” than she did. she had the chance to perform.

All of the plays she wrote and performed tended to examine some nuance of gender inequality. “It was a trip back for me,” she says, having started by creating content that mattered to her without knowing that he was particularly feminist and later reflecting on what he really stood for.

She calls it a pivotal time in her life as a feminist, comparing it to when people come to terms with religion or spirituality.


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The tough fights to fight in comedy

The comedy arena in India has always been a volatile area. Lately it’s been a lot more rowdy than ever, with comedians being threatened or jailed for jokes they or don’t make on stage. In the wake of a very fiery community atmosphere in the country, the future of any stand-up artist’s joke is forever in limbo. This is why “safe comedy” seems to be the trend of the moment.

Vaz, however, never self-censors its content. She thinks it’s the worst thing we can do. “The page will be blank! “

I think a comedian’s job, male or female, is to write the truth about their experiences and make it funny like shit. What is funny as shit is subjective – what is funny for me today may not be so tomorrow, ”she admits. A number of comedians, for example, have been questioned this year on Twitter after their old jokes – now widely labeled as politically incorrect and problematic due to their obvious sexism, casteism or discrimination – were hijacked to be criticized by the public.

Vaz is of the opinion that even though a comedian can’t control the audience’s reaction – “I killed him on stage with the audience laughing at all my subversions of feminism but the following weekend same show is all crickets. ” – she makes sure to throw a joke that is not fully formed and may attract unnecessary attention.

“I would like my joke to be fully formed so that I can back it up in any way.” It should mean something.

Women writers have always been placed in a more vulnerable position than their male counterparts. This has been true historically and in all professions and therefore, as Vaz puts it, it is “not news”. The hardest fights to fight are those where, in comedy circles, the genre creates an imbalance of power.

When the #MeToo wave hit India in 2018, it sparked a historic exposure of male comics who were otherwise safe and revered in their seats of seniority and popularity. Tanmay Bhat, arguably the most influential name to be cited, was named in the Utsav Chakraborty affair, which ultimately brought down his comedy group AIB. Bhat more or less retired from mainstream comedy after the controversy.


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But three years after the start of #MeToo, the movement is forced to question the consequences and responsibility faced by powerful men who are said to be involved in cases of harassment. The issue arose most recently when Bhat made a comeback to comedy on a big OTT platform. The outcry on social media has been massive. Read here.

“Seniority doesn’t matter, power, unfortunately, is relevant,” Vaz said, adding that with that power one can afford to be “protected to some extent.” So does this make harassment of women common in comedy circles? “I can’t give you examples of that (harassment) because I don’t know. But my feeling is that it is happening. It might not be that a girl is being raped, but there can be a plethora of other things that demean or make her uncomfortable.

“There are a lot of small power centers (in comedy) and most of them are men,” says Vaz. And The comedy clubs, like all the others, are also keepers. As English Indian comedy explodes on OTT, the recurrence of the same faces over and over again isn’t hard to miss.

This reality often puts a pause on what really is and what audiences consider to be true when it comes to stand-up comedy. Here is a group that people say push for social reform and modern ideas through their art; is it really possible that they are walking on the other side of the fence? Are their comedic sermons on the emancipation and inclusiveness of women just empty words?

Vaz believes that it is not only unfair, but also not very smart to force comedians to higher moral standards. “For the actors, to be above the fray on the moral level or to be all liberal or feminist people who will never harm a woman … Living in the climate we know today is an expectation unrealistic.”

“It’s almost as if the actors were a microcosm of perfection. How can we be? We are constantly making silly jokes that get us in trouble … Keep us low.

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