Comedian 'Aiyyo Shraddha' opens up on her multilingual comedy sets and gaining pan-Indian popularity
Before her instagram comedy sets became vastly popular, Shraddha dabbled with radio and TV, and was part of the OTT space with a memorable role as Vasu the PG owner in Amazon Prime Video's Pushpavalli.
Turkey towels and the unique stench they emit in the monsoons, the much-abused gas lighter in the kitchen that tries its best to keep the spark alive till it finally gives up, a baby tea cup that can hold a thimble-full of tea even as the drinker spouts philosophy — these are some of the things Shraddha (Aiyyo Shraddha on social media) derives inspiration from for her hugely popular two-five minute comedy sets rendered in Tulu, Kannada, Hindi, and English. There’s a smattering of Marathi too, sometimes, a throwback to her growing up years in Mumbai.
Among the most popular of her characters would be Malathi akka, the everyday woman from ooru (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi) who speaks of everything from children unable to visit home during the festive season to general wedding feast gossip. You could add Genius Janaki to the list too. And, to think that Shraddha, who gets these characters spot-on, grew up in Mumbai. The fount for all her humour, though, comes from her native of Karkala, about 60 km from Mangaluru. She spent two months every year in the summer in Karkala, and her parents attended every wedding, family and temple event. So, she got a ringside view of life in the village, and had the advantage of an outsider’s distance as well as an insider’s sense of acceptance and intimacy.
Shraddha belongs to the generation that grew up as the original Bakra Cyrus Broacha reached dizzying popularity. She’s a huge fan of his near-genial humour. “I still believe he’s one of the brightest minds in humour. He is the first big comedic influence on me. I would regularly read his column, and laugh. He used a lot of bizarre juxtapositions, his humour was very age-appropriate, and he knew a lot about so many things. Theatre, sports, politics, literature… his humour also informed as it entertained. I had the opportunity to meet him once, and I was a bumbling mess of a fangirl. He laughed it off, even when I compared him to the dead chef Auguste Gusteau and myself to Remy!” Shraddha’s popularity has a lot to do with the fact that she does not use cuss words in her pieces. A former RJ, she says that there is a market for adult humour too, but she’s not cut out for it. “I’ve been in media for some time now, and in both radio and television, the brief is to not be abusive or nasty in the name of sarcasm. I am so conditioned that I cannot use a bad word when the mic or camera goes on. It also helps that my content does not need that kind of delivery. I create content I am comfortable showing my family.” Shraddha’s father Vardhaman Jain is her first audience, her first critic, and his laughter matters to her. Her very first video that went popular was the one where she makes aglio olio pasta with parmesan and the father (played by Shraddha), wonders why it’s dry and does not have gassi (gravy) and settles for eating it with sambar. Suddenly, the entire extended community of Tulu-speaking people discovered a kindred soul who understands them and their quirks and speaks their language, rich in native humour and where facial expressions matter as much as verbal ones.
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Stay at home, Pray at home, Ganapati Bappa ki Jai at Home. A post shared by Shraddha (@aiyyoshraddha) on
“I think it clicked because I had the first mover advantage. All those characters reside in me, I’ve seen them, interacted with them. I had no idea about what kind of Tulu content was there. And, after the first video, I realised there was an audience. This brought my dad great joy. My gauge for measuring the popularity of a video is to see how quickly it lands on his WhatsApp, shared by friends or family. Sometimes, it reaches in minutes!”
Shraddha says that if people find her humour rooted, all credit must go to her parents Vardhaman and Susheela who ensured Karkala and its culture was alive and well in their Mumbai home. “I am grateful for the love they have for Tulunadu, which they passed on to me. During our holidays, we would travel back to the village by bus or train, which provided more opportunities to people-watch,” she laughs. “Tuluvas, I believe, have an aura. You can spot them from a distance, and go ‘oorukaaru andh’ (I think he’s from home), and you’d be right.”
The pandemic has been a “guilty pleasure” for Shraddha, who is in Karkala with no return ticket in hand. She’s been shooting here too, near non-stop, trying to put out new content every week. She writes, shoots and edits her videos herself. “I don’t have any script in front of me. It’s more a free-flowing conversation. It does surprise me when people tell me they watch my videos without understanding a word of Tulu, but get someone to translate it for them, because they like the sound of it.”
Over the years, Shraddha has dabbled with many media. Besides radio and TV, she was part of the OTT space with Pushpavalli (remember the cantankerous PG owner Vasu?) and also does theatre. It helps that she knows a handful of languages. “Right now, I don’t have a strategy regarding language. The content decides the language; it all boils down to ‘In which language will it sound funnier?’ Sometimes, it has to be Tulu, for it won’t make sense in any other language. I’m going with the flow, finding my groove and am delighted when people ‘get’ me. Marathis love my Mrs Kulkarni and Tuluvas love Malathi akka, which is great. All of them or variations are now part of my Indian Makaan Matching series, through which I’m trying to cater to a wider audience.”
And, at a time when there’s such a FOMO Shraddha is happy with the pace of her work. “I am told once a week is very less, but I don’t want to be in your face. I like to create content with longer shelf life. I view everything I do as an educational experience. My content teaches me discipline and consistency,” she says. What the humourist loves most of all about the reception to her videos is that it has reinforced her belief that if anything is done with love, nostalgia and is based on purity of thought, it will strike a chord.
An intrinsic people person, Shraddha does miss out on open mics, something she had begun doing when lockdown happened. “I want to explore that side of me, try stand-up comedy… It's okay to do limited work, but I would like to do work that impacts people and creates characters that reside in memories,” says Shraddha, even as you sense traces of Malathi akka over the phone line. She’s rushing to shoot her next video, and Malathi akka can’t wait to speak to Vasantha.
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