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

Dil Juunglee Review: A drab two-hour ride on some farzi love

Dil Juunglee feels like a phony experience disguised as a romcom. Period.

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I am a 90s kid and have grown up on hundreds of quintessential nauseating Bollywood romantic flicks of that era. From fawning over the Rajs and Rahuls of DDLJ and K3G fame, to dissing the Poojas and Tinas and Nainas, it has been a long and conflicting ride about which side of sensibility to stand on – while also shamelessly lapping up all that came my way because there was hardly any choice.

Last checked, with the evolution of cinema, I (including so many of my generation) had graduated to post-millennial Meera, Silk Smitha, Kashibai and so many other strong, intriguing women who were much about love, but so much about their own selves as well.

Which is why it was quite a frustrating exercise to wrap my head around Taapsee Pannu’s Koroli Nair – an immature caricature of a tortured girl constantly looking for love to fill her own sense of self.

Koroli is the shy, reserved daughter of an uber rich business tycoon who wants her to take over the family business but she has other plans – to continue teaching English literature – and to be ‘happily married’ to whoever loves her. In the framework of this simple, threadbare character sketch some other supporting filler content appears – Koroli’s Maggi-like curls and the prominent bangs, her glasses (because how else will we believe she is a teacher!!) and her insanely annoying ritual of sticking notes and writing pages and pages worth of sob material in her scrapbook that is supposed to give us an insight into her perpetually screwed love life.

When she is not lamenting her imagined love life, Koroli spends her free hours poring over romantic novels, and has a best friend named Shumi (Srishti Shrivastava) who spends her free hours raising eyebrows at Korolis’s serious (read: clingy) take on relationships urging her to go ‘get some action’ instead.

Which is fine and actually interesting advice, considering Koro is the dampest, most insipid female lead character ever written in the history of cinema. No wait, that has to be Ameesha Patel’s Sonia from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. But then that was the year 2000, and to have women portrayed like they are lost kittens waiting to be rescued even in 2018 is an unforgivable cinematic catastrophe.

On the other hand, we have Saqib Saleem playing Sumit Uppal, the stereotypical Delhi lad prepping up for the typical Bollywood debut – while moonlighting as the head instructor at Gulati gym in Lajpat Nagar and as a reluctant model in condom ads. He also has an average-looking, bespectacled best friend (Abhilash Thaplial) who stands by him as the loyal sidekick, offering us more relief with his straight-faced remarks than the hero does with his pretend Delhi attitude. See how many clichés we’ve already run into – and well, the meaty chunk of the movie hasn’t even begun!

Sumit is desperate for a break in Bollywood and ends up at the British Council where Koro teaches. From then on, there is some predictable wordplay where Sumit spends more time ogling at Koro than actually getting the diction right, there is a nightclub scene where Koro lets her hair (and top) down Naina-esque style from Kal Ho Na Ho and the leads then dance with abandon, already crossing over to the other side of shikshak-shishya maryada.

The next morning apologies are exchanged, some flirting and eye-gazing happens and before we know it, Sumit invites Koro home – only to have his mother (Supriya Shukla) barge in on some embarrassing cuddly couple moments and spend the rest of the day admiring Koro’s fair skin and her Anglo-Indian genes…and well, the fat load of cash. There are a few more fast-forward moments which lead to an instant overturn of Mommy Uppal’s affections for the could-be-bride and Koro is instantly thrown off the pedestal – because she is ‘manglik’ and Mommy realized not even White skin could save her son’s anyway-doomed life.

I will spare you the details so you can partake first-hand in some of the headache-inducing plot twists that come soon after as the duo decides to lay Mommy’s well-meaning concerns to rest and decide to elope and get married anyway. Which, by the way is the cue for Armaan Malik’s admittedly punchy number Beat Juunglee – a trap essentially to make you feel a little less lost about where the movie is headed.

But a few more songs (including the genuinely soulful Dil Jaane Na where the leads showcase some effortless chemistry) later you realize you are just as god-smacked as you first were when this immature pair with their childish tricks fell in love for reasons that had remotely anything to do with love – and then snapped apart like your patience does when the credit card guy calls you from an ominous-looking number and you hang up on him anyway.

What was designed to be a unique rom-com because of the ‘special’ packaging fails to keep you hooked because there is too much fluff in the characters to base an entire 120+ minutes movie on – and your initial impression of both the leads being downright clueless comes to fruition as more layers are peeled away.

Even as Koro next sports a chic hairstyle and a brand new wardrobe and has upgraded herself to fit into Dear Daddy’s entrepreneurial dreams for her.

Even as Sumit seems to have successfully oriented his life away from condom ads and punk-mythology shows, toned down his brash ways.

Even as the trajectory of the story physically moves from Delhi to London.

It was painful to see Tapsee give her all to this ridiculous character, after having recently portrayed some powerful ones in Pink and Naam Shabana, including her role as the feisty Nimmi from Running Shaadi, a far better project than the current one. On the same note, we have Saleem who looks and speaks his part (a little too much though), cracks fifth grader jokes along the lines of ‘Roses are red, violets are blue’ and tries to convince himself- and us- that he really is a boy who’s fallen madly in love.

It therefore, appears outright foolish when Saleem as Sumit tries to imitate 21st century Devdas – an outstanding portrayal of which Abhay Deol is remembered for in Kashyap’s Dev D and standards the former might take ages to achieve.

Supriya Shukla remains grossly underutilized through the movie as have the other fringe characters making up this charade. On her part though, Nidhi Singh as the Delhi-bred girl with the Dilli ki ladki ke nakhre and accent shines in the limited room accorded to her, overpowering even the leads’ performances. Santosh Barmola, whose first screen appearance was in the extremely forgettable, shady Warning (yes, that Varun Sharma movie about sharks attacking in the open sea) plays the mild-mannered, suave rich guy with panache in Dil Juunglee – but there’s just so much you can do when the script is flagging off in all directions. Of course, the fact that he looks drop-dead gorgeous helps his case, making you wonder why he hasn’t been offered meatier, saner roles in Bollywood.

Nevertheless, despite the occasional humor and fleeting flashes of some passable acting, this is a movie that couldn’t have been rescued anyway, given the sketchy roles and the abysmal character graphs. From debutante director Aleya Sen to the actors and the supporting cast, everyone seems to be trying too hard to inject some element of Juunglee-ness in the movie – the outcome being the movie neither touches your heart nor feels wild.

Rating: 2/5