The Bollywood actor and comedian Vir Das made a good move by debuting the production History of India — VIRitten in Dubai and testing the waters with an Indian crowd in the city last night.
If he can make a hall packed with NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) laugh at his humorous comments on Indian history, movies and politics, his show, which was first staged in 2010, surely he can embark on an international tour?
The British actor and warm-up comedian Kavi Shastri, who is part of Das’s Weirdass Comedy Company, began with an amusing run-through of how continents came into being. His mild jokes gave way to a comedy on India’s past and present with no holds barred. As Das put it: “If I think it and I wrote it, I’m jolly well saying it.”
Das opened with a disclaimer about the show not being a factual account.
He came on as a schoolteacher who had memorised a ridiculous history book that took a year to write, beginning with a refresher course on ancient India and the Vedas. He moved on to the Mughal Dynasty, naming each emperor and adding the Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan — who played Akbar, the third ruler of the dynasty, in the movie Jodhaa Akbar (2008) — to the list. His comment about Akbar’s wives brought the house down: “He had two wives. That makes Akbar the first NRI.”
During the show, Das checked whether there were other nationalities in the audience and asked them to “feel free to google it” it they didn’t get the references. He also stopped a few times to pick on audience members who were taking pictures and videos on their smartphones.
Bengalis and their literary ambitions were a prominent part of the act, right from enacting a philosophical conversation that a Bengali would have with Vasco da Gama if the Portuguese explorer had sailed into Calcutta and not Calicut in 1498 to Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy. “Bengalis are the only people in the world who write poetry when they are angry,” Das said.
Das continued with his favourite part of Indian History — the freedom movement. “The first time Indians said ‘there is freedom, let’s move’ ”. He linked a lot of past to the present scenario, alluding to little change in the politics of India.
In the second half of the show, the comedian took a closer look at post-independence India. Talking about the kids of the 60s and 70s he managed to wrap up the over the top lifestyle- the bell-bottomed jeans, disco and the famous Maruti 800 era – with some slapstick comedy. References to Indian movies such as Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) and the actors Rekha, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth and Emraan Hashmi were also thrown into the mix.
Political satire is Das’s forte. The entire routine was peppered with jabs at Indian National Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and current prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Das thought it was necessary to emphasise his patriotic fervour a few times in the show, in case it was doubted. His measured approach to satire about historic events and freedom fighters was evident, but it did not reduce the humour quotient. His jokes were much bolder when it came to current affairs.
Das said he was inspired to write the piece after watching British comedian Eddie Izzard’s intellectual humour. VIRitten is brimming with innuendo, but lacks the variety associated with brand Izzard. Nevertheless, it proved a delight for the desi soul out in the desert.