A bunch of content creators are putting out short comical videos, depicting the common man’s daily struggles and absurdities of the times we’re living in
The Bajis are quite the rage on the internet. Be it discussing women on shopping sprees, an incident from someone’s burial, kids fighting over sweets or the banal happenings of a typical Indian middle-class household, there’s nothing that Shabbo and Gulafsha baji (Urdu for elder sister) don’t give their two cents on, leaving their viewers in splits. The two characters, hilariously impersonated by real-life siblings Shazma Raza Khan and Soha Raza Khan, speak in an interpersonal tone — interlaced with desi humour — which is reminiscent of Muslim women in western UP.
Shabbo and Gulafsha’s rib-tickling antics started last year during the lockdown and they were soon being appreciated across the world, compelling many to say “just like my family”. The videos, which are shot between the Khans’ houses in Chandigarh, Delhi and Rampur, have received big love from netizens.
It was while putting up their acts at social dos and family get-togethers that the Khan sisters realised they could do this on a bigger scale, as their type of desi Urdu comedy from western UP had remained more or less unexplored. “Everybody loved it. We never anticipated that our social media presence would do so much better. Our comedy is very relatable… something that has happened in a typical conventional Muslim family… they may not have realised the experience, but can see it happening via Shabbo and Gulafsha baji,” says Delhi-based software engineer Shazma, whose channel has over 93,000 followers on Instagram and over 1,16,000 subscribers on YouTube.
The lockdown has been a catalyst for not just the Khans but for many of us who have realised the importance of celebrating the mundane part of our lives. Perhaps that’s why many found themselves turning to the digital medium to seek solace in the form of comic videos centred around the realities of the common man. This, in turn, has led to comedy being redefined on social media, with many creators like the Khans putting out short comical videos, depicting our daily lives and chores, and the happy and absurd moments of the unprecedented times we’re living in.
Laughter the best medicine
Be it the angst of the common man during the pandemic, the constant work-from-home struggles or those never-ending Zoom calls, nothing escapes the attention of Bengaluru-based RJ and comedian Danish Sait, who has performed it all and got a thumping response. “During the pandemic, everybody is making a phone call. So it stuck as a format. We live in a virtual world and everything is on the mobile, so why not make phone conversations popular? The video format lasts longer than audio and the recognition and recall are also a lot higher. The lockdown is a boon for me as I get time to sit at home and make videos,” says Sait, who earlier worked with Fever FM in Bengaluru on their prank call show Supari.
What’s striking about Sait’s content is that it is informative, snappy, inoffensive and centered around real-life happenings — the never-ending lockdown in the second wave of coronavirus, suspension of the Indian Premier League 2021, the ship stuck in Suez Canal and so on. With a typical south Indian Bangalorean accent (liberally using words like ‘bro’ and ‘dude’) or dressed in a tee with a fake moustache, Sait, who calls himself an attention-seeker, makes videos that are apt for all age groups, a fact he credits to his corporate background where one can’t crack many jokes. “You can’t say anything political in a corporate world. I guess that’s conditioned me to be a person who doesn’t dwell on religious or political formats, and caters to all,” says Sait, adding that most comedians who end up in a controversy don’t have the conditioning to back their jokes. “Many young comedians get popular with one video and that becomes their career. They are young and bound to make mistakes. Working in the corporate world in general teaches you to taper down what you are doing and cater to a larger gathering,” says Sait, who admires English comedian Sacha Noam Baron Cohen, American standup comedian William Burr, and Indian comedians Johnny Lever and Kapil Sharma for putting comedy on the map for the masses.
Experiences, incidents and life moments make one a better comedian, feels Sait. “My mother nurtured me, but nature has taught me a lot more. You only learn when you get out… experiences teach you,” he says.
Delhi-based comedian Bhuvan Bam’s acts are inspired by real-life people too — parents, best friends, uncles and aunts. One of his most popular characters is Titu mama. “After I introduced my ‘uncle’ to people, most started relating to him as almost everyone has a mama (uncle) like him,” says the comedian who runs the channel BB Ki Vines (Bhuvan Bam Ki Vines).
Bam is no ordinary name in the comedy circuit. With 20.3 million YouTube subscribers and close to 11.5 million Instagram followers, he is one of the most successful online comedians today. His content centres around the average Indian middle-class household, with relatable stories and conversations. “Many people in our country relate to this and for that reason it attracts a huge audience online,” says Bam.
All in a day’s work
A lot of mainstream comedy in India right now is political satire. One such insanely popular act is Rajasthan-based Shyam Rangeela’s who mimicks Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Be it note-bandi or the petrol price hike, he conveys real issues and concerns in a lighter vein. “Comedy plays an important role in raising issues, societal concerns, voicing disagreement and reflecting reality. This is the kind of comedy that can delight the viewer, as well as critically analyse a situation,” says Rangeela, who has nearly 7.18 lakh subscribers on YouTube, 1.30 lakh followers on Twitter and 29,300 followers on Instagram. Rangeela, who is a resident of Sri Ganganagar town in Rajasthan, used to do small shows in villages prior to his stardom. When Modi came to power in 2014, there came a new wave of development and Rangeela thought who better to mimic than a person many followed as an idol. “The internet was all about Modi… that’s when I followed and mimicked him,” says Rangeela, who is a massive star today, thanks to his savvy and charismatic comedy style.
Talking about his decision to turn to social media, he says, “I participated in the show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in 2017 and mimicked Modiji. But somehow it couldn’t be broadcast on TV and that’s when I decided to make my Twitter and YouTube accounts.” Interestingly, the comedian has an ardent fan following even in countries like Bahrain, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. He also performs live acts all over the world.
As a genre, however, political satire is often subject to criticism. Opening up about the same, he says, “Such political acts are bound to have a love-hate relationship (with the audience). There is no subject on social media that is not open to criticism. At least social media is one medium where one can discharge pent-up emotions… political satires convey a lot of underlying thoughts, which normally the public may not be able to speak about.”
Sait, too, treats disapproval as an occupational hazard and is not touchy about it. “You can’t take the bouquets to your head and brickbats to your heart. I don’t either. You’re only as good as your next tweet. I can’t last on the laurels of what I did 10 years ago or one year ago… we live in an evolving world. We learn every day and that has been proved by how much internet entertainment has changed,” he says.
Bam feels criticism means you’re doing something right. “I am all for constructive criticism. This way, I also know exactly what people want to see. There are many instances when I have been condemned. Even if I tweet something in relation to a national issue, which is just my point of view, I have been called out by many. However, I am fine with this because it doesn’t matter how good you do, you will have haters,” he says.
The Bajis, who don’t use any foul language, are judged in several other ways. A Karva Chauth meme post on their channel drew a lot of flak when people started judging them for their cultural beliefs. Even Rangeela ended up in a controversy when a petrol pump owner in Sri Ganganagar filed a complaint against him after he mocked the fuel price hike. The controversial video garnered over a million views on YouTube and over 50,000 likes on Twitter. Rangeela, however, refused to remove his video and posted another one, stating that his motive was not to hurt anyone’s feelings.