ONE MIC STAND REVIEW: Watch it for Shashi Tharoor who delivers a class act

One Mic Stand lets you know that Comedy is No Laughing Matter. You get to have your laughs, though 😉

5 mentors, 5 students, a class of comedy, and ONE MIC to prove what they’ve got
Image Source: Google

It’s 2019, and digital content has exploded in ways we could not have imagined half a decade ago.

I mean, I was still busy devouring Yeh Hai Mohabbatein on television (for lack of better options, I swear) when half of the Indian population had taken off to greener pastures and was going gaga over real, no-nonsense storytelling on YouTube. You guessed it right, that was TVF’s Permanent Roommates (2014) that went viral and helped divert a large chunk of the TV-watching audience towards digital entertainment.

That was five years ago when I was, admittedly, still living under a rock.

It’s almost 2020 now and I definitely know better than to not make up for lost time.

Binge-watching during my “off hours” is what I do to relieve myself of some of the guilt. It helps that a lot of what I watch these days is comedy.

However, as excited as I am watching free comedy content on YouTube, I found myself bored out of my wits trying to make through some of the comedy challenges recently released on digital mediums. For instance, I found Queens of Comedy (2017), the first Indian all-women stand-up comedy show launched by TLC pretty uninspiring throughout its run-time. So was the case with Comicstaan, backed by Only Much Louder and released on Amazon Prime Video.

Naturally, when news broke out that the first ever crazy ensemble of home-grown celebrities would be called to try their hand at stand-up comedy, I couldn’t help but binge watch all the episodes in one sitting and write a review on it.

Conceptualized and hosted by Sapan Verma, co-founder of East India Comedy, One Mic Stand brings on board five notable stand-up comedians from the comedy circuit, namely, Zakir Khan, Angad Singh Ranyal, Ashish Shakya, Rohan Joshi, and Kunal Kamra. The premise of the show is simple: talented professionals from a variety of fields are mentored by these professional comedians and then thrown into the proverbial ocean to either swim or sink.

Celebrities featured are Bhuvan Bam, Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chadha, Vishal Dadlani, and Shashi Tharoor. Quite an electrifying bunch of speakers, musicians and performers, eh? But was I still as awed by the end of the comedy series?

Read my review of the star cast in action to, rated from the best to the worst to find out whether the show is worth laughing your pants off – or not.

SHASHI THAROOR

Mentored by Kunal Kamra (“the man who eats, breathes and shits politics”, as introduced by Sapan), Shashi Tharoor delivers a witty and sarcastic set, exceeding expectations of his equally savage mentor. With less than a day to prepare for the show, Tharoor is, nevertheless, charm personified on stage.

Tharoor is light, the punches come in soft and silken (just like his voice) and there is an unruffled air about him throughout the act. Since his USP lies in the out-of-the-world vocabulary he often uses in his conversations, there’s a neat little joke about that as well, right at the start of his act.

Given that he is a politician, there are references in plenitude to viral political terms used in recent years, such as ‘Chowkidar’ and demonetization (ahem, ahem). If you care enough to intently listen to his behind-the-scenes conversations with Sapan and Kunal, you’d likely enjoy the snide remarks about the Prime Minister’s teleprompter-driven long and (cough) scripted speeches, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.

Tharoor is cool enough to also share the diplomat’s way of calling someone “a pain in the arse” – a pro tip I think should be included in the Politicians’ Guide to Being Less Vitriolic in Their Public Utterings. I promise this was a part of the ‘role reversal’ section of the show and NO digs were being taken at the ruling party.

But in case you’re beginning to wonder if all politicians must only talk politics, then you’d be thrilled to know that Dr. Tharoor does empathize with the millennial lingo, in that he finishes his rather sleek act with a generous sprinkling of popular phrases such as “lit AF”, “snack”, “YOLO”, and “Apna Time Aayega” – all weaved intelligently into the act.

Did I mention how that harmless hair-flick he did in the middle of the act made my heart flip?

Shashi Tharoor is undeniably an excellent orator and a masterful politician, but the stand-up act proves he has what most of his contemporaries don’t – the ability to take a joke! Oh, and also that of delivering one with panache!

Tip: Be the change you want to see. Don’t let politics forever wear the tag of a humorless art.

Also, want to learn the art of criticizing a public figure without getting jailed for it? Take a leaf from Kunal Kamra’s book and just watch the man deliver poison without batting an eyelid.

RICHA CHADHA

After Shashi Tharoor, it was Richa Chadha’s comedy act that blew my mind away, and not entirely on account of her comic timing.

In fact, I dare say, I enjoyed her behind-the-scenes prep talk with Sapan and her mentor Ashish Shakya more than I did her stand-up act.

Richa, who’s visibly nervous in the beginning, loosens up the moment she gets to know she’s been a fangirl of a blog named ‘Stupidus Maximus’ maintained by none other than Ashish Shakya. She is floored, and cherubically takes his hand and lightly kisses it.

Ashish looks like he’s on cloud nine, and this moment is worth gushing over, primarily because it is such a relief to watch a Bollywood actress not act like one where it’s not called for. During the prep talk, she makes an appeal for all to come and watch her act, cheekily quipping, “Proceeds from all ticket sales are going towards ending nepotism in Bollywood.”

As both Sapan and Shakya dig in for more material that they can include in her act, she is more than happy to share her struggles as a Bollywood aspirant, with the right punches thrown in at the right places. From mimicking the stereotype, rude Casting Director to imitating a sleazy movie producer wanting to catch a glimpse of her navel, to her driver who was enamored with everything UP, she delivered a class act modulating her voice and satirizing a variety of characters.

But drawing laughs in a close circle is wildly different from attempting to make an odd 200 people laugh, and not take you for an idiot to have even thought of such a feat.

Thankfully, Richa does not disappoint.

She begins her act on a sarcastic note, “I started my career with Dibakar Banerjee and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and today I am here with Ashish Shakya and Sapan Verma. Next thing for me would be Bigg Boss.” The audience rings out in laughter, and the tension on her face eases, as she dives in for the next punchlines in her set.

There is an accurate impersonation of her Punjabi aunt who is more worried about her “vyaah” than her filmography and awards, and quite shrewdly placed, a satire of the hypocrisy and inherent Islamophobia existing in the aunt’s mind when she gets to know of Richa dating Ali Fazal, and asks her to focus on her work instead.

Personally, though, my favourite bit about her set was the one where she have us a glimpse of the class divide in Bollywood: for instance, where commercial actors are invited on Koffee with Karan, indie actors like her are invited on the couch of Son of Abish. It took me two minutes to get the sarcasm and I had to replay the joke over and over, but damn, Richa, that was SAVAGE AF!

Effervescent and owning every bit on the stage, she signs off with, “If you didn’t like this set, this is Swara Bhaskar signing off!”

I genuinely loved the set and her comic timing, which, if she chose to work upon, she could really hone and make a career of in future. The fact that she is naturally a spontaneous actor, can mimic characters with exceptional accuracy and is naturally funny and sardonic off-screen only adds to that possibility.

Tip: Don’t shut down that blog yet. Who knows, there might be a Bollywood fangirl/fanboy hiding in the shadows waiting to kiss your hand someday 😉

BHUVAN BAM

If there’s one performer the crowd cheered for the hardest on this show, it was Shashi Tharoor. Influencer and star YouTuber Bhuvan Bam came a close second. Bam, who is known for his eccentric and rib-tickling characters like Sameer Fuddi and Titu Mama, among others, on his YouTube channel BB Ki Vines, came in nervous and walked out winning plenty of hearts.

His performance was preceded by mentor Zakir Khan guiding him on which jokes he ought to choose for his act and Bhuvan showing Sapan and Zakir how to pull a near-perfect Titu Mama. I must say, the role reversal sequence at the end of each prep session gave me more meat (as a viewer) to hold on to, because frankly, the celebrity performances were all under ten minutes.

Before Bhuvan’s actual act, Zakir opened the show with one of his trademark ‘Sakht Launda’ jokes. The cult following of Sakht Launda is spread too far and too wide to get ignored, so yes, it did draw enthusiastic laughs from the crowd.

Bhuvan, who admitted he didn’t mind entertaining millions of people as long as he could hide behind a moustache and a wig, but is painfully shy once the mask comes off, began his set by regaling some of his experiences post the YouTube fame. Considering YouTube is his life and there’s no better way to make an audience laugh than to tell them your first subscribers on YouTube were from your neighbouring country, Pakistan, it really helped the audience connect to Bhuvan’s non-YouTube side.

I even enjoyed his ‘Dhania’ and ‘ek baar Bencho bol do’ jokes immensely, and overall the tempo of Bhuvan’s act rose as time went on. In short, Bam offered a slow-burn of a performance, improvising through and through as the jokes came on.

I’d say it was an earnest performance, and while it felt more like Bhuvan’s anecdotes about his life being funny, the lad does have his own brand of self-deprecating humour that gels well with his shy-boy-explodes-on-YouTube image.

Tip: If you want to be someone who you’re not and make it look it isn’t the first time you’re doing it, start from something you already know and rock it like a boss!

TAAPSEE PANNU

Taapsee’s act started off faster than that of the others, primarily because there wasn’t any real mentoring that happened. Going by the format of the show, Sapan had ensured that each celebrity they’d reached out to should be mentored by someone who they had some nexus to. In Taapsee’s case, it was an old ‘classmate connection’ that came to the rescue….or not.

For the most part, I could only hear Taapsee state out loud what a sore loser she was, right from childhood. The fact that she even dissed mentor Angad Singh Ranyal with a blunt, “Tu mentor karega?” and was shocked that he was a known name in the comedy circle speaks volumes about how actors handle their Bollywood fame. I was honestly very put off by her inability to accept the fact that a professional comedian should want to mentor her on comedy – a field she knows nothing about and a subject she was soon going to bring disgrace to.

She started off with the stereotype joke about Delhi, which, truthfully, I’d have digested better had the prelude to the climax of the joke not been so long-winded. For an actor of her caliber, there was zero storytelling – if felt like she was whining to a close group of friends and not entertaining an audience of 200 plus people. The writing itself was flat, there were no punches that linger in your mind long after it’s over. And the fact that she declared she didn’t need cue cards because, hello, she was a critically acclaimed actor and later ended up recalling jokes like school children memorize answers right before the day of the exam, was extremely amateurish.

Overall, neither did I like her attitude towards her debut at stand-up nor did I like the actual performance.

On the other hand, mentor Angad Singh Ranyal opened the show with some terrific writing, cashing in on the Delhi-Mumbai rivalry. He has exceptional storytelling abilities and can induce laughter by saying the most basic things. He’s totally earned a new fan in me 😉

Tip: When you’re trying to make a debut in a field you know nothing about, please just have the grace and sensibility to learn from a pro who’s been there, done it, and aced it.

VISHAL DADLANI

Brace yourself for my honest review of the weakest act of them all. Vishal Dadlani may have had us all tapping out foot incessantly to his music, but his onstage comic timing is pretty much non-existent.

The prep talk between him, Sapan and mentor Rohan Joshi (of AIB fame) is genuinely fun to watch. Partially because Vishal is really keen to get this ‘comedy thing’ right but also spends much of his time muttering what a nervous wreck he is. That bit where he teaches the comedians about conjuring lyrics and music from thin air….ummm…I am appalled, yes, because I now know why so many of these Bollywood songs sound like jazzed up remixes of untainted Hindi songs.

But yes, if there’s hope for Rohan Joshi and Sapan Verma, there’s hope for a content writer like me. I mean, I already write, don’t I? Bas hawa se inspire hoke music banana hai! 😀

Vishal starts off his set by mentioning he has no idea why he signed up for this stand-up thing. Soon enough, he throws in the first joke about his surname which is NOT Shekhar. There are poorly performed jokes weaved around politics, cricket and mental health, and despite him frequently glancing at the cue cards, the delivery fell flat on most of the jokes. There was only one “goo joke” which I chortled at, but that’s about it. In fact, I wish I could say that it at least sounded like a TED talk, but it wasn’t because I was truly bored by the end of it.

Vishal Dadlani seems like someone who’d be witty and sarcastic in equal measure. Confident even. As long as he’s making music or just talking about life in general. However, stand-up is a different ball game altogether and we cannot really expect debutantes with zero experience to even survive as long as they did in their individual performances.

Tip: It’s okay to get it wrong and realize your biggest fear of looking like a fool. So long as you tried it and lived to tell the tale.

Summing up

One Mic Stand is a terrific concept that aptly introduces stalwarts from their respective fields and the audience to have a sneak peek of what it is to be a stand-up comedian. Truth be told, despite how each of these performers fared in their individual acts, I laud them for voluntarily putting their hard-earned fame on the line and trying their hand at being passable at something as novel and nerve-wracking as stand-up comedy.

Comedy is comedy till you’re a viewer ripping apart the jokes and deciding in nanoseconds if any of them is worth laughing at.

It is, however, brutal and extremely brave to willingly learn, practice and make money off of comedy – when taken as an art form.

I truly enjoyed the series because unlike other Amazon-backed shows like Comicstaan, there is no competition here about who can make the audience laugh the hardest. There are no judges taking apart every line, every expression, every moment.

In contrast, One Mic Stand is truly what I’d call the 2019 version of “finding yourself.”

Say what, I’m ready for a second round of One Mic Stand to be served. Stand-up comedians, are you listening?

Rating: 4/5

The Accidental Prime Minister Review: A lazy and patchy execution, in today’s politically charged environment, the movie is no accident at all

Anupam Kher’s intuitive portayal of the former Prime Minister notwithstanding, the movie is a telltale jumble of political narratives designed to influence the masses.

Image Source: Google

Director: Vijay Ratnakar Gutte

Cast: Anupam Kher, Akshaye Khanna, Vipin Sharma, Suzanna Bernert, Ahana Kumra, Arjun Mathur

When a political movie “surveying” the mighty reign of the UPA government through a decade, graces the big screens barely months before elections and the BJP even tweets the trailer from its official handle, there is anything but accidental about this project. And while I am inclined to use the word ‘propaganda’ in this review already, herein I have attempted to assess the movie on purely cinematic grounds alone, elements that are inextricably linked to political ethos discussed and debated in the movie. Propagandist or not, how does it affect a movie-goer’s senses and intelligence, is what remains once we step out from the political mud-slinging of who’s the hero and who’s the culprit.

Now. For the uninitiated, The Accidental Prime Minister is based on Sanjaya Baru’s memoir (of the same name) based on his stint as media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2008. That the world would finally get to see Dr. Singh’s side of the story (past the memes and accusations) is a reason inviting enough to watch the film.

And yet, this is a grand opportunity director Vijay Ratnakar Gutte misses in his debut.

The Accidental Prime Minister opens with a footage of the UPA’s 2004 win in the general elections, with equal parts’ support for Sonia Gandhi assuming office and equal parts protesting against a foreigner deliberating heading the world’s largest democracy. No time is lost as we are taken through the hallways of power, right inside the Gandhi family’s startlingly opulent sarkari bungalow where discussions are rife as to whether Sonia Gandhi should indeed be accepting the Prime Ministerial post, amidst heated sentiments in the country.

A quick fearful reproach from a rather unconvincing-looking Rahul Gandhi (Arjun Mathur masquerading as RG) takes us right into the stunned, bewildered silence where Dr. Manmohan Singh is called upon to assume office as the PM. Veteran actor Anupam Kher walks in as Dr. Singh, mild-mannered and unassuming, and just when you are struck by the uncanny resemblance with the erstwhile Prime Minister, and are possibly hoping for a cinematic fiesta, Akshaye Khanna as Sanjay Baru enters the scene wearing a vibrant assortment of colours, speaking directly to the camera. From that point on till the end, he becomes Dr. Singh’s “voice”, whether the ex-PM may or may have approved of it, as is hinted at later in the movie.

The references start seeping in quick and fast. The painstaking effort behind getting the appearances of the central characters right becomes evident, as you look up to see German actress Suzanne Bernert play Sonia Gandhi with conviction, restraint and an uncanny intuition. Bernert’s grip over the diction and mannerisms are what help maintain the nuance in Gandhi’s characterisation. Ahana Kumra as Priyanka Gandhi makes a short, dignified yet ineffective appearance, having been relegated to eulogizing her mother’s decision of not accepting Prime Minister’s post in a short interview.

Mathur’s characterization of Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, is deliberately designed to suggest the Gandhi scion’s inability to handle the rough, dirty political turf. Not to suggest that Gandhi is a liability to his own party-members, but to have someone in the movie pointedly say, “Yeh election Rahul Gandhi ke bas ka nahin hai” merely months ahead of the 2019 general elections can hardly be construed as innocent portrayal of facts alone. Add to that, towards the end, as Mathur’s Rahul tears up his party’s ordinance, the insinuation becomes clear enough to echo in your ears well till the elections and beyond, “Rahul Gandhi is an accidental political candidate best to be averted”.

Top-notch makeup and slick performances further work the trick as Ahmed Patel (Vipin Sharma of Taare Zameen Par fame) and Baru interact in hushed tones, and through barbed looks, pursed lips and cold, hard threats issued in soft undertones. Kher, in particular, is outstanding as the soft-spoken, mild-mannered, shy Dr. Singh and succeeds in portraying a strength not many may associate with the former Prime Minister. Given that he had to constantly fight ‘the powers that be’, as the movie quite unsubtly suggests. Reference to the ‘The Family’ is unmistakable, as dynasty politics rears its ugly head and makes it impact known.

To comply with the censor board and to possibly keep some semblance of cinematic objectivity intact, a shoddy attempt is made at beeping the phrase. This is, however, met with hoots and chortles in the movie hall, as scene after scene makes a stab at the opposition’s murky role in the downfall of the very empire it created. While the first half showcases Dr. Singh’s brush with authority and power ranks within his own party as well as the opposition in moving forward with the nuclear deal, the second half focuses on the former PM’s inability to stand up to the pressure of doing the right thing amidst dynasty politics, his naivety in handing media coverage and generally reclaiming a waning public persona.

Full marks to the director for ingeniously painting the former PM in neat, clean strokes of a good man thrust into the big, bad world of politics. In fact, Kher’s portrayal of Singh’s incorruptible, honest disposition is what makes The Family look evil, manipulative and insidiously abusive towards a man who was likely filling in boots too big for him. As Khanna in Baru’s sharp, stinging voice addresses Singh saab as “Bheeshma” who knew everything, but chose to side with “the family” and his vows of loyalty to the clan, I inadvertently cringed, because there was no camouflaging the unspoken accusation: the Prime Minister could have spoken up, reclaimed his authority given his constitutional rank and authority and saved the nation (or the party, or his image, fill in the blanks).

However, there is only so much a filmmaker can achieve with sweeping references and generalizations. While the former PM’s role in letting party politics perpetuate despite his misgivings is open to debate, the plot becomes quite complacent and lazy in its execution, especially in the latter half. References to the 2G and 3G scams are thrown in our faces without showing a plausible build-up, it is almost as if the makers want to rush into the thick of things: Look there, this is what the UPA was doing to the country all those years.  

Disappointing also is restriction of Singh’s portrayal to one as a man under the Gandhi family’s thumb rather than a constitutional voice with a will of his own. Barring the oath-taking ceremony, no public addressals have been included in the movie, a lack that fails to establish the former PM’s connect with the junta at large, a connect that helped him win a second term despite all the naysaying.

The editing is at best, patchy and the background score, sloppy. Thankfully, there are no songs to pep up the rather lurid goings-on in the movie. The constant intercutting between Khanna’s over-enthusiastic Baru and the actual occurrences of the film strips away all seriousness that a project such as this otherwise commanded. As I write this review, my mind goes back to a rather comic scene between Singh and Baru, where Kher’s Singh is shown acting amused at “Que Sera Sera”, a political innuendo uttered in the context of the nuclear deal.  Not even an Oscar-worthy performance could have justified this caricaturish, insincere patchwork attempt at showing the human side of Dr. Manmohan Singh, the man, in all his ordinariness.

What makes the direction worse is Khanna’s Baru taking centre stage, popping up on the screen every few minutes, pushing past the highest ranks, opposition and even the PM himself.  Truth be told, this could very well be Baru’s claim to fame, meant to glorify his mistaken role as Dr. Singh’s “Sanjay” (get the Mahabharata reference, folks?) than the PM’s media advisor who had the good (or bad, depending on how you see it) fortune of having been witness to historical events in the annals of politics in that era. Hours after watching the movie what dominates my experience of The Accidental Prime Minister is Akshaye Khanna’s controversial comeback in a high-octane role rather than Kher’s portrayal of Dr. Singh against the UPA era, which feels like a let-down considering I paid to watch a slice of the former PM’s tenure in office, not Sanjaya Baru’s self-aggrandizement.

That said, with top-notch mimicry of the country’s highest-ranked politicians and actual footages used to establish contexts, The Accidental Prime Minister is undeniably on point and hits the bull’s eye. And while the slapdash execution of the movie is in itself disheartening, I cannot help but also be amused by the underlying motives peddled by the movie. To conclude, if I may borrow Khanna’s dialogue in the film, “Rajneeti mein star girte huey maine bahut dekhe hain, par itna neeche girte huey pehle kabhi nai dekha” – quite matches my sentiments.

This is an aggressive political campaign disguised as cinema, just falling short of being touted as a parody and clearly insulting the intelligence of the audience. How it has been allowed to see the light of the day boggles my mind. And yet, if even a sliver of the honesty portrayed in The Accidental Prime Minister can spill over to PM Narendra Modi’s biopic (political slip-ups and deliberate deviance from concrete issues included) releasing later this year, I believe we’d be all too happy to make a democratic, fair choice in the upcoming elections.

Politics or not, accidental or not, I am left keen and hungry to read the actual book now. The movie was a punishment, the book better be good.

Rating: 2.75/5