For India review: Vir Das' latest Netflix special is smart, timely and decodes what it means to be desi
For India is a good title for Vir Das’ latest Netflix stand-up special. The show that clocks in at just a little over 75 mins is his ‘love letter’ to the country.
For India is a good title for Vir Das’ latest Netflix stand-up special. The show that clocks in at just a little over 75 mins is his ‘love letter’ to the country. It’s the final joke of the set, where Vir talks about how much he misses home when he travels and random things that he associates with home, that sums it all up. He says, ‘We get told every day what India is by people who have power. And, yet these people come and go like the wind. These little things that make us smile, they stay,” he says as he reaches into a steel dabba for a Parle G biscuit. “That’s India. Well, at least, it’s mine.”
It’s not just that final joke, though. Through the special, Vir uses food, customs, pop culture and historic events to decode what it means to be desi. He makes the unlikeliest segues — from Jallianwala Bagh to Old Monk, Jungle Book’s Sher Khan to Narendra Modi and Chudails to the Olympics — that are peppered with sharp takes and throwaway lines that make the special soar. He both starts and ends the show with the disclaimer that it’s possible that his idea of India is not at all or maybe a little similar to everyone else’s idea.
For India is a departure from the contemporary stand-up tropes of a comic talking (and complaining) about his/her life.
Except for stray references to his grandfather’s home in Patna or sharing a breakfast table with his wife, Vir barely talks about himself. This is also his most political special yet. If you are at all familiar with Vir’s work in the last decade or so, you’d know that he’s not exactly a ‘political comedian’. His approach to the divisive subject isn’t overtly edgy and neither does he deliver any scorching takes. Instead he just tries to make you laugh at the absurdity of having to stand for the National Anthem as a ‘safety issue’ because ‘there are other dudes multitasking in the room singing while whooping ass’.
His take on the Kashmir lockdown is delivered with an outrageous analogy. “Do you ever walk into your own kitchen like, “This is my spoon. I will lock this spoon in a drawer and cut off access to this spoon to prove my kitchen is functional”.
While it’s a highly polished hour of comedy delivered in front of an obviously rehearsed audience that even completes his sentences, what makes the special work is it also feels spontaneous and intimate. Co-directed by Vir and Ajay Bhuyan, the special does away with the traditional stage, a rousing rock star-esque entry, and an unlit audience. Instead, Vir sits with chai in a kulhar next to him, on a set of stairs that lead to an open door to nowhere. His comfort in front of an audience is based on a decade plus performing around the world but it takes a special kind of courage for a performer to completely do away with a stage. The audience in front of him is brightly lit, enough to see the jokes that land and the ones that make them uncomfortable.
A pioneer of the Indian comedy scene, Vir has often talked about wanting ‘to be an authentic Indian voice on the mainstream world circuit’ and one can see his progression towards achieving that through his three stand-up specials for genre-dominator, Netflix.
His first special Abroad Understanding was filmed between New York and New Delhi, and introduced him to an all-new audience for the first time. A year later came Losing It, which was filmed in San Francisco, signaling that he had crossed over to the world stage. For India might have been shot in Mumbai but in the audience, there’s a section of non-Indians because even when Vir is talking about his ‘home’ he still wants to be relatable to Netflix’s audiences in 190 countries.
Vir has created a special that is both evergreen and timely. He has crafted a show for an audience that’s increasing feeling the divide on religious, socio-economic, political or geographic lines and skillfully brings people together to laugh at shared universal experiences. He reminds us that we’ve all hated chyawanprash, studied about Vasco Da Gama and will willingly laugh at all Delhi jokes.
Instead of a comedy routine, For India feels like an old friend showing up to a dinner party armed with enough jokes to keep everyone entertained through the night. Extra dessert for him just for that Jinnah-Gandhi joke.
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