Biswa Kalyan Rath on his Amazon special Sushi, and why he can't help but mix art with entertainment
Biswa Kalyan Rath talks about his new Amazon Prime Video India Special Sushi, and why its approach is more outward than his previous gig Biswa Mast Aadmi.
This simple premise is what the new Biswa Kalyan Rath special Sushi is being lauded for; the impeccable observations of things that one simply passes by.
Besides content that surprises, in Sushi, Rath is also presenting a highly performative act.
In Sushi, Rath is also satirising the more important issues about life in the country.
There is a curiosity around the recent burst in popularity of stand-up comedy among Indian audiences. Taken at face value, the genre often consists of a single person standing on a bare stage, presenting new perspectives about the mundane, everyday things that make up life – in a funny way.
This impeccable observational comedy though is exactly what writer and comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath’s new special Sushi is being lauded for. That was, in fact, his intent for the special, as the comically long sub-heading explains about the title Sushi: ‘a carefully assorted platter of raw but delicate jokes skilfully assembled with great care and precision from thinly sliced observations caught from the sea of existence of humanity on planet earth that leaves your soul feeling cheerful, happy, content, and light.’
After his first special Biswa Mast Aadmi in 2017, where Rath looks inward and draws heavily from his life with an almost fantastical approach to storytelling, Sushi goes in a distinctly outward direction. “I think I don’t have any other interesting stories from my life to tell right now, and so I started writing about stuff that was bothering me at the time. So this special was a natural outcome of that,” says Rath in an email interview with Firstpost.
Besides content that surprises, in Sushi, Rath also presents a highly performative act. From being expressive and open to enacting certain bits, and even playing with the lighting and dust on stage, the physical aspects of the performance flow comfortably through Rath. “Initially, when I am doing jokes at open mics, the performance comes naturally, but as the bit becomes older, the performance becomes more and more choreographed,” he says.
This also means his show is highly engaging, keeping the audience glued. Sushi starts with the assertion ‘I love living in India’, and follows on to methodically joke about different aspects of life in the country, from the flailing infrastructure to the mindset of society, and the quality of life in general.
Everything is on his radar, from bad phone connections to standing in queues, and from table fans to water taps. “I was walking on a footpath when the footpath joke came to my mind,” he quips. Rath’s process of coming up with material seems simply to observe the world around him, and focus on the things one normally would not notice. After the initial observation, “I started doing it at an open mic. It worked so I kept adding more details to it. Eventually, it became the bit that you see in Sushi,” he elaborates on the joke.
In Sushi, Rath also satirises the more important issues about life in the country. Like corruption and bribery, India’s seemingly never-ending construction and development, a camel out of his natural habitat at a hill station, the way mathematics is taught in the country, and the state of public sector banks among others. “In my view, stand-up is both art and entertainment at the same time, not that we need to separate the two. It definitely communicates some cultural ideas, which is a function of humour in our society,” he says. While he raises these points though, Rath is not particularly concerned about its impact. “I focus on making the audience laugh, and then whatever they want to take away, they take away,” he says.
Among the sharpest bits of Sushi is his commentary about the audience of comedy. Terming them ‘khushi ka bhikari,’ Rath paints the audience as sad people desperate for a laugh, also pointing out they do not actually want to be happy. "This room keeps fluctuating between extreme depression and euphoria," he says during Sushi.
Rath has the certain good-natured confidence one would need to pull off something like this. “When you do regular open mics, the chances of being surprised by an audience reaction are very less, as you kind of know the ins and outs of your bits,” he says.
This frequenting of open mics is in fact how Rath put together Sushi. “As and when ideas came, I kept trying them at open mics,” he says. There, his aim is to always “make the material funnier and tighter, and add as many tags as possible. And in the end, I collated all the material, and made a Special. It’s as simple as that.”
So while as a stand-up comedian, Rath is essentially a single person standing on a bare stage talking about the normal things of life, he is also perfecting, performing, and thoroughly enjoying himself. “I like doing stand-up, and I enjoy the whole process end to end,” he says.
Rath shot to fame with his Pretentious Movie Reviews videos, which he posted on YouTube with fellow comedian Kanan Gill. Having gone viral himself, Rath easily demystifies the recent burst of popularity of stand-up comedy. “I think the main reason for the comedy boom is the internet, and data becoming accessible and cheap. It’s not only a comedy boom, but it’s also a content boom in general. This is good for both artists and the audience,” he says.
Besides his two Specials and stand-up clips online, Rath was also a judge on both seasons of Comicstaan, now having established himself as one of the foremost names in Indian comedy. He is currently in the process of planning his next Special.
Sushi is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
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