Taking humour seriously

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Jan 20 2013, 06:32am hrs
Globalisation has altered the comedic stylings of India. From comic books to parody award shows, India is finally getting a good, healthy dose of fun and it couldnt have come too soon

There has been this perception about India and its citizens that we lack a sense of humour, that we cant laugh at ourselves. The joke street in India has always been one-waywe can joke about others, but god forbid if they joke about us! Compared to the American sense of humour, where one can make fun of even the President and nobody minds, or the understated British humour, where one isnt entirely sure if what has been said was in jest or not, the Indian sense of humour seems greatly limited. We rely on slapstick comedy or crude parodies to get a laugh.

But just as globalisation has changed almost everything in India, so has it altered our comedic stylings. From stand-up comedy and comic books to parody award shows, India is finally getting a good, healthy dose of fun and it couldnt have come too soon.

As far as stand-up comedy goes, a company called Cheese Monkey Mafia is really making wavesit organises events where comedians can register themselves and perform in front of crowds enthusiastic about comedy, and has lately grown quite a large fan following in Delhi. But if one is looking for an all-in-one company that seems to have taken it upon itself to bring fun to India, then Twenty Onwards Media is the answer.

Most TV watchers would have, at some point or the other, come across those film award functions, like Zee Cine Awards or National Film Awards, among others. These shows take themselves very seriously, distributing awards with great pomp amid song-and-dance sequences, heartfelt speeches and tearful gratitude. Twenty Onwards Medias Golden Kela Awards, now in its fifth edition, takes this concept and flips it on its head. Much like Hollywoods Golden Raspberry Awards that ridicule Hollywood award shows and their participants, the Golden Kela Awards ridicule Hindi film stars and acknowledge the worst of Indian cinema. Says Jatin Varma, founder, Comic Con India and Pop Culture Publishing, Golden Kela was started just for fun, and it continues to be like that. It isnt a money-making venture for us, we just do it for the humour.

Both Comic Con India and Pop Culture Publishing, companies that Varma started, are subsidiaries of Twenty Onwards Media. They both seek to plug a gap in Indias comic book market, according to Varma. Comic conventions are a huge success in the US, where hundreds and thousands of people gather, often in costume, to discuss their favourite comic books, characters and movies. Most importantly, a huge amount of comic books and comic merchandise is sold during these conventions, a trend Varma has been trying to replicate during his Comic Cons in India.

Having successfully conducted two editions of Comic Cons in India, Varma says he sold more comic books during the three days of the Comic Con than in the entire year. The concept is getting more and more popular in India, he says. The numbers attending these events have increased from 20,000 to more than 50,000so much so that I am looking for new venues to hold these many people, he adds. Indias urban youth, exposed to shows like The Big Bang Theory, where all four male protagonists play comic book geeks, dressing up in elaborate costumes for every convention, have long craved their own conventions. All it took was Varmas initiative, and the concept seems to have taken a life of its own. The third edition of Comic Con will take place in February this year, and the fact that it is located in Dilli Haat is great. People can hang around, visit stalls, eat, rest, and just have a good time. They really seem to enjoy it, Varma says, himself seemingly surprised at the success of the conventions.

But simply organising a convention where comic book enthusiasts can gather is not enough to spark a comic book revolution in the country, and Varma realises this. Hence, Pop Culture Publishing. Through this publishing house, Varma is able to give budding artists a chance to showcase their work. Many publishers are wary of publishing comic books as they dont know what the market is like, he explains. And hes right. The biggest comic book release of 2012, Pao: The Anthology of Comics 1, was published by Penguin, but it took two years to make. Through Pop Culture Publishing, we invite comic book artists and authors and try to get editions out quickly, Varma says. This exposure is sure to be valuable for comic book artists. Pop Culture Publishing already has several comic books under its belt, including Munkeeman, The Adventures Of Timpa, Chairman Meow and Retrograde.

One important misconception in most peoples minds is that comic books automatically mean superheroes, and many get put off thinking that comic books are too childish. But the comic book universe is as diverse as any other genre of writing, dealing with topics as serious as Buddhas life to others as whimsical as aliens and science fiction. Even the famous Chacha Choudhary series is pass; people want something fresh and entertaining now.

The Wests example in using comic books to teach children is one worth emulating in India. Larry Gonicks series A Cartoon History of the Universe is a hilarious, yet highly informative comic book series on the whole time span ranging from the Big Bang to modern-day civilisation. Combined with the growing might of Comic Con India, Pop Culture Publishing seems to be finally bringing fun to India.

Now, enough of this! Go dress up as your favourite comic or cartoon character and be there at Dilli Haat between February 8-10. Its time to bring out your inner child!