Saloni Gaur on a showbiz career at 20, and how Uncommon Sense is reminiscent of Jaspal Bhatti's Flop Show
Structured like an old-fashioned ‘variety show’, Saloni Gaut's Uncommon Sense combines stand-up, sketches and other assorted comedic attractions.
Saloni Gaur is part of India’s first generation of Internet stars. Featuring instantly recognisable characters like ‘Kangana Runout’ and the super-popular Nazma Aapi (a middle-class, middle-aged Muslim housewife with the gift of the gab), Gaur’s videos are enjoyed by a rapidly expanding fan base. Critiques (heartfelt on some occasions, malicious on others) are lobbed her way routinely on social media, especially since she has a talent for parodying powerful, pro-establishment figures like Kangana Ranaut and Arnab Goswami. At the ripe old age of 20, Gaur is negotiating all these aspects of being ‘Internet famous’ — and now she has a new show, called Uncommon Sense, streaming on SonyLiv. Structured like an old-fashioned ‘variety show’, Uncommon Sense combines stand-up, sketches and other assorted comedic attractions.
The following are excerpts from a telephonic conversation with Gaur.
You’ve just wrapped up your undergraduate degree this year and now you have a new show. Did your parents have things to say about your new career in show business? What was that conversation like?
When I started making my videos at college, I was doing it purely for fun. I had no idea that I or anybody else could do this as a career. My parents, too, did not take my work very seriously back then. They never thought I’d go viral. So they didn’t discourage me either, they always supported me. Now they understand my work better, they watch all my videos. Plus, my brother is also a YouTuber, so any disapproval from my parents was directed mostly at him and not me!
Bollywood has received a staggering amount of bad press this year, especially on certain TV channels. Did you ever feel apprehensive, as a young person entering the business in this topsy-turvy year? (There’s a moment in your new show where you turn towards the camera and reassure your mother that you’re not doing drugs)
Not me, personally, but my parents did feel anxious, a little bit. As you say, there has been so much talk on TV about Bollywood and drugs and all sorts of other scary things. So they were a little worried about how I would negotiate this world, yes. But I believe that if you have the right people by your side, supporting you from the very beginning, then everything turns out alright.
You weren’t around when Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show was being aired, but in the writing and performances of Uncommon Sense, there are some parallels, even an element of homage. Could you tell us more about this?
I had never seen Flop Show before we started making Uncommon Sense, you’re right. But our writers’ room was very fond of Jaspal Bhatti. They wanted to create something that would be at par with his works, something that would remind viewers of that style of satire, where you ask questions in a playful manner. Good satire asks difficult questions in a superficially easygoing way. I’m happy that we reminded you of Flop Show.
There’s a fairly solid line of criticism about your character Nazma Aapi — it says that people who do not assume the very real risks of a (visibly) Muslim identity should not reap the benefits of one, ideally. What would your response to this be?
Okay, so I come from Bulandshahr in western Uttar Pradesh. The accent and dialect that Nazma Aapi uses comes from there. It’s the language of the streets. Everyone speaks like that, Hindu or Muslim. The second question here is: should I play a middle-class or working-class Muslim character? To that I’d say that Muslim folks from my hometown, friends of my parents and so on, are very happy with my videos. They feel that there’s someone who looks and speaks just like them, entertaining people, making them feel good. That’s something they’re not used to seeing at all. I feel that this representation is valuable and should be remembered when you’re criticising a performer for playing a certain character.
Vir Das, one of the best-known Indian comedians in the world, recently admitted on Twitter that he’s afraid of doing certain kinds of jokes, because he “wants to live in India”. Do you feel Indians are tougher on comedians than they are on politicians?
Sometimes, yes! But in general, I feel that being too tough or too critical of an artist is something that’s inevitable in a way. When you like someone as an artist, or even if you don’t like them but find their work interesting for other reasons, you want to know more about the artist’s life, their opinions. And you may not agree or like everything they’ve said or done. I believe that people should be tough on artists (and politicians, of course!). But they should also remember that we’re humans, too. We also feel hurt if we are targeted unfairly or in a deeply personal way. On my part, I try to be as honest as possible with my audience. I try to tell them as many aspects of an issue as possible.
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