Thursday, October 16, 2014

Under Delhi - defining dark humor in India

If you think of a story about crime against women, particularly rape, and you think of comedy, they will not fit in a single frame. May even be unthinkable. But that story falling under the genre of dark humor, of melancholic humor is dished out effectively by Sorabh Pant, one of India’s leading stand-up comedian, in Under Delhi.

Tanya Bisht, a vigilante by night and stuck-in-shitty-job by day girl in Delhi (yes, Delhi of course) drives a car called anti-balatcar and metes justice to those rape accused who are let of by weak arms of law. The car runs under a false ‘Crushed Grapes’ company whose tag line is With Grape Power Comes Grape Responsibility! (yes, seriously). She beats those men black and blue and collects the pinky as a souvenier.

That she has been orphaned in childhood, raped by office boss, makes her soul demented. But she has a tongue for slapstick, morose humor. She has an office filled with chauvinists and PPT presentations and sells homes that would probably never get constructed.

Her estranged mother, Sakshi Bisht, resurfaces as her guardian angel, one who had been also providing her list of the freely-roaming-accused. Along with her mother, two policemen Mr Sharma and Ali who actively support the vigilante cause. Mr Sharma who is her mother’s boyfriend turns out to be the one who has been a father in the absence of real one for Tanya.

Then there are a Ramesh-Suresh (Gill) duo. Ramesh Gill is the suave villain in the plot who having wronged her daughter, now has turned a feminist and wants Tanya to kill the wrongdoers. However Tanya and her team are on the ‘right side’ of the law and would not kill any person. A game ensues and reaches a climax full of bullets and emotions.

First things first. Sorabh Pants writing is hilarious (that already has been said by Abhishek Bachchan though). There is no way if one is reading the book won’t burst into laughter on occasions, or if one isn’t the overtly expressing types, have sniffing type laughter.

The IIPoM (International Institute of Ponytail Management), Anirban Sir, the caricature of the Bengali character Robindro, description of a Gurgaon farmhouse, is really funny. Mr Pant’s jokes draw on politics of the time with references to Soniaji and MMS; they draw on perceptions of places like Haryana and Gurgaon and Delhi; they draw on fallacies of the society with respect to a woman; they draw on Hollywood movies; and they draw on a myriad of things which keeps the readers interest in the humor intact.

The book works not because of the humor alone but because he has maintained the suspense in the plot which almost makes it unputdownable. At 256 pages it is a light and absorbing read. The book also works because it hits you at the right places. In the manic and adult comedy Mr Pant drives home issues that our women, half of our society faces. The over-the-top, in your face, dirty truth he brandishes could unsettle one sometimes.

It is laudable that Sorabh Pant has brought out a book on that genre of dark humor which is hardly given due importance in our popular culture, and in his inimitable manic style has done justice to it.

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