Sumeet Vyas on his upcoming film High Jack: The kind of comedy we are dabbling in is subtle
Here’s an excerpt from a freewheeling chat with writer-producer-director Akarsh Khurana and writer-director-actor Sumeet Vyas on their film High Jack and what makes Indian audiences laugh
Akarsh Khurana and Sumeet Vyas are funny guys. Not just for the comic pieces they write for their web series Tripling (TVF) or for the fact that they have collaborated on a trippy comic movie called High Jack (releasing May 18) but also because they find each other “hilarious”.
Here’s an excerpt from a freewheeling chat with writer-producer-director Khurana and writer-director-actor Vyas on what makes Indian audiences laugh and what they find funny about each other.
How has it been going from ‘Tripling’ to a film in which the characters seem to be tripping?
Akarsh: We actually first collaborated on a play. But Tripling set the benchmark as a successful show. What has really worked for us is the marriage of two different approaches. Sumeet is so rooted. Thanks to Permanent Roommates, he is the quintessential Indian funny guy now. He's journeyed from being the Amol Palekar of the internet to Shah Rukh Khan of the internet. I find Sumeet hilarious. I could look at him and laugh.
Sumeet: I find Akarsh hilarious. He’s also easily amused when things go wrong in his own plays or on his set. He even orchestrates it some times!
Akarsh: I sabotaged one show of the play Namak Mirch. Sumeet was directing the story so he was backstage with me. In the scene the actor has to take a slurp of soup, so I got chillies and mixed them into the soup. Sumeet stood there watching me and laughing. The actor choked on stage and, as producer and director respectively, we got fired. So we were the only two people who found this funny. As for High Jack, there was enough going wrong on this set anyway.
Sumeet: We were shooting in May in Dwarka in Delhi, which is like Fury Road - the end of civilisation. We were shooting in a plane that was fully covered in black cloth.
Akarsh: Basically we were shooting in a microwave in Delhi. So all the humour was in the script.
What kind of comedy do you enjoy?
Akarsh: I have grown up enjoying Woody Allen. I like stuff that we can relate to on an everyday basis. I find humour most effective if it is drawn upon from our own lives. When you strip away all the different kinds of humour, what makes people laugh is just relatability; to see yourself in the situation.
Sumeet: I also really enjoyed Woody Allen. By the time I was 19-20 years old I understood what brand of humour I enjoy the most, which is what I try to do. When someone is not trying hard to be funny but is funny – reacting more than acting — that really makes me laugh. Like I find Hugh Grant extremely funny. His timing is great and he listens, which is the basic thing we are taught as actors — to listen and then react.
What does it take to make Indian audiences laugh?
Akarsh: It’s not the easiest thing in the world, though in the last three years we have seen surge in stand up comedy in our country. Clearly India is going through a tough time and needs to laugh, otherwise how can you justify a need for so many stand up comedians across a wide spectrum of quality? We have had a fair amount of success in terms of theatre (which is where we both got to know each other) and learned that comedy is what we do best.
Sumeet: We tend to judge the audience before we even try new things. Our fear is that if we don't make faces or tell jokes in a certain way, they won't laugh. But the audience is smarter and if you find something really funny and are a little observant in life you will find there are different kinds of humour. Even if people enjoy a certain kind of comedy they usually have an appetite for other kinds too.
Akarsh: I think there is an audience for everything, which is why all kinds of comedies work and slapstick will never get old. Nobody tires of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And Amol Palekar’s Golmaal was hilarious as was Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal, I think.
Would you describe High Jack as a stoner comedy?
Sumeet: The publicity is really bright, but the kind of comedy we are doing is subtle. The Big Lebowski is a stoner comedy, but everyone is not acting over the top.
When I first read about this film I thought of Dog Day Afternoon.
Akarsh: This is an easy term to hook the film on. The idea of the film is that some substance is induced into a couple of people and they are behaving weirdly. But no one is smoking a joint. A lot of people in High Jack are really foolish, but they don't know they are being foolish. They are actually being sincere. It plays out like a thriller of errors. The stakes are really high, but so are the people.
How would you describe your relationship with each other?
Sumeet: It’s very romantic.
Akarsh: I go over to his place, alone, a lot. But seriously, we have known each other for over 10 years now and are very good friends which makes it hard to work together. We get together to write Tripling and four hours later not a word has been written. We will definitely keep working together though, because it’s so much fun.
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