Vir Das’ new Netflix special, For India, which released on Republic Day 2020, is his third special for the streaming giant. Long story short, For India, rounds off the ‘trilogy’ in a solid manner, picking up from the brilliant Abroad Understanding and smoothening what didn’t work in Losing it.
For India, also seems in many ways Vir Das’ attempt to go back to his comedy roots and present to the global audience his narrative for India’s history. For those who’ve followed him for a while, this special will feel familiar. In his early days, he had successfully toured with ‘History of India – Virriten’ which used the format of blending visuals, Indian history, storytelling and comedy effectively. It’s a show I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live along with the current special (in New Delhi), which has been recorded in Mumbai.
For India is a polished and refined version of what Vir Das started in “A History…” and this time, given how much the socio-political context has changed, it works like a charm. His ‘Marc Maron’ stylization, combined with effective set design and visual storytelling through illustrations of iconic products, historical moments and general milestones in Indian history, comes together to deliver a set that is two parts hilarious and one part reflective.
Let’s explain the format first – it’s just Vir Das on stage, sitting against a random door, with a ‘chai ka kulhad’ and some slides with illustrations in the background. It’s almost as if you’re in a presentation meeting with the comedian. He takes the audience through a history of India – selecting iconic movements, moments and products and weaving his jokes around them. In the first act it’s all Parle-G, Chawanprash and Tinkle Comics. The Chawanprash and Parle-G segments are hilarious and lead to pay-offs later in the show. Midway through he’s taking on movies like Amar, Akbar, Anthony and Dil Chahta Hai and even the Jungle Book.
Through all this are a segregated bunch of foreigners in the audience with a designated front-row view – Vir Das uses them as comedic foil, pausing in between segments to explain context in a ‘white people-friendly’ format. For me, this part was perhaps the weakest segment in the show – it was more jarring and annoying than funny.
Towards the end of the second and third act, he touches upon more ‘important’ milestones – taking on immigration, religious harmony and 26/11, among others. He even takes on punching babies and Mother Teresa, effectively managing the fine balance between audience cringe and comedic timing. At the end Vir Das tries to find the ‘light in the dark’ from India’s worst moments – and wraps up with a fun segment on India’s independence and the ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech.
With For India he delivers a special that feels more like theatre – and that’s a good thing. His content works best when he is mixing storytelling and history with observational comedy – and in that regard the special plays to his strengths. It is funny, poignant, cringe-worthy, has its own genuine voice and a story to tell – in many ways like his first Netflix special.
Are there weaknesses in the show? Yes, but none that needs to be written down or warned about here, they can be for the viewer to judge. In today’s socio-political climate, For India is an important stand-up special. It balances its liberal narrative with enough relatable content to crossover. That makes it an important, and a must-watch.