With the general elections around the corner, the few Indian comics who dare to take on the powers-that-be are dealing with fear and intimidation on the Internet. We ask leading political satirists Varun Grover, Kunal Kamra, Sanjay Rajoura and Rajiv Nigam about how they ensure that they don’t go too far with their jokes, and dealing with hate. Excerpts from our editor Anupama Chopra’s conversation with the comics:

Anupama: How do you gauge how far you can go? Do you test jokes with friends given that you all have got death threats?

Kunal Kamra: I should tell you, whenever I think I have crossed a line, the first call I make is to (Varun) Grover. My metric is simple. If you get less retweets and more replies, that means you have screwed up because the people who genuinely agree with you also are not willingly ready to endorse it. They are like mere liye bhi yeh zyada ho jayega.

Varun Grover: They press the ‘like’ button.

Kunal: Haan. It means you are not on board entirely… So yes, I call Grover and say ‘yeh zyaada ho gaya kya?’ The worst person to call in a scenario like this is (Sanjay) Rajoura. He doesn’t think anything is zyaada … the funniest thing was when I had put out my first video two years ago, I was getting threats and I was very paranoid. I was hearing footsteps outside my door and I was staying alone… That’s the first time Rajoura called me and I knew him because when we were starting he was our hero. So he called me and said ‘Arre Kunal maine suna tune comedy ka video daala hai, uspe death threaths aa rahe hai … video toh maine dekha nahi lekin main death threats ke bare main bata raha hoo … Paanch log aye na toh tum ek ko dharke peeth lena toh woh kaha aur jaaye toh chaar ho’. I am like yeh kaisi advice hai! And I was already nervous. If somebody stared at me for more than two seconds I would think ‘ooh he is out to get me’ because what the Internet does is that it creates a fake panic which makes you believe this is real life.

Sanjay Rajoura: Usually joh threats dete hai, unse aap mil lo na personally, toh aapko daya aajayegi uske upar, ki tu aah main tereko roti khilata hoon…Lekin joh computer ke peechhe baithkar bakwaas kar raha hai, generally woh itni pathetic soul hoga… Main ek aad se mila hoon, woh rone lag gaye the apni life ki story bata bata kar. Toh maine kaha yaar trolling kar hi le warna tu toh mar hi gaya.

Varun: I was speaking to Ravish Kumar when his number got leaked and everybody started abusing him. He had to block some numbers of people who were abusing him. Then much later he noticed ki usi number se woh banda help maang raha tha, ki meri naukri ka kuch karo, thoda problem ho raha… So Ravish reminded him that till a few days ago he was abusing him! The man said, ‘Sir woh toh chhodiye na. Woh toh purani baat ho gayi’.

Anupama: But have you guys genuinely felt fear? 

Kunal: It took me one year to get over it now.

Anupama: Were you afraid for your life?

Kunal: I always thought what if my number leaks on Twitter and Whatsapp, what if somebody approaches my parents … I realized if you are living in this fear, then you are already dead so might as well give up this fear. I realised I should focus on the art more than just saying things which are outrageous and now I am genuinely working on the craft of it. 

Rajeev Nigam: Darr laga… For about 90 hours straight, I got about 10 phone calls every minute. Mumbai jaise sheher main mujhe apne ghar ke andar police protection main rehna pada 15 days … Usme toh direct wahi ata tha ki bas maar doonga. Doosri koi baat hi nahi. Gaaliyan aur maar doonga. 

The full conversation will be up on our YouTube channel on 8th April

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