Comedian Amit Tandon has had a busy year. After a successful US tour, he’s hot off the recent release of his half-hour Netflix special as part of Comedians Of The World – a first of its kind stand-up series which features half-hour sets from a roster 47 comedians from 13 regions across the world in 8 different languages. That’s almost 24 hours of stand up. Tandon is one of the three Indian comics to represent India on the streaming giant’s new globally-aimed special – the others being Aditi Mittal (who already has her own special on the platform) and Atul Khatri.
Tandon, referred to as ‘The Married Guy’ on the comedy circuit is known for his clean, family-friendly brand of humour which focuses on commonplace issues of marriage, parenthood and his middle-class upbringing. This, he feels gives him a specific connection with his audience and following. “People say it feels like I’m telling their story, as if I know them. That connect has always been my USP” he offers.
“Now you can’t just do a joke and be ‘haha funny’ and leave. You have to give them something more to chew on because the audience has seen enough comedy and comics, but who out of them will tell a joke that the audience will remember the next day?.” says the comedian who spoke to us about his Netflix special, Partition-themed series, a Jaspal Bhatti biopic and upcoming stand-up show based on 100 Years Of Indian cinema.
What’s the response to your special as part of Comedians Of The World been like so far?
It’s been phenomenal. What’s good is that now I’m getting messages from people that their kids are liking it a lot. Because largely my audience has been 35+. I normally joke that my audience is the ‘arthritis audience’, that’s why I never get a standing ovation because everyone has just had their knees replaced (laughs). But suddenly there’s a younger side that I’ve started getting a response from which is heartening.
As a top comic do you feel a sense of pressure in being involved in multiple things at once to stay relevant? Like, say writing a web series and doing sketches, and going on tour?
No, I don’t feel that pressure because I have my own long list of things I want to do. Fortunately, now I’m in a position to pursue some of those things. Like right now, I’m working on a series on partition… What I’ve tried to do is give it a little lighter touch. I’m not doing the tragedy side of partition because that’s what everyone does. I’m talking about one family that travels from Lahore to India, what happens on their journey and what they go through and I’m trying to keep it a mix of a thriller and a little bit of comedy.
It’s very close to my heart because my family came here in 1947. My father was born on the way from Lahore to Amritsar on the 4th of August 1947, so we’ve grown up hearing so many stories of partition from both sides of our family. It’s fascinating how they left everything and rebuilt from scratch. I look partition as a story of hope because ten million people moved and found new homes and built their lives again. I’m also working on a biopic on Jaspal Bhatti. He had a very interesting life. He was the first satirist of India and a lot of people don’t even know about him. So those are the kinds of things I’m doing outside of comedy but not on the basis of market pressure, but purely out of interest.
You recently said in an interview that “Everyone’s talking numbers and quick success rather than writing their next big joke.” So how do you make it less about the success and fame and more about the craft and writing the next big joke?
That’s honestly a challenge these days. I’ve also fallen into that trap where you see what other comedians are doing and you think ‘okay even I have to do that’. But now what I’ve learnt is I have my own voice, I have my own audience, and when you release a video or a special, it is going to be out there for eternity, so you would rather release it three months late and not compromise on quality.
I’ve realised that people find you interesting only when you’re honest, when you’re telling your own story. If I try to write about politics only because it’s a hot topic then it won’t work because 90% of the time my concerns are as a parent and as a husband, my kids’ admissions, their marks, them getting on Instagram and making sure they have a private account, things like that.
You’re currently working on your new show based on 100 Years Of Indian cinema. Are you a big movie fan?
Yeah I’m a big Bollywood buff. I’ve read about 20-25 books about the industry. What I’m doing (with the show) is telling the story of Indian cinema from the first movie ever made because there are a lot of things that people don’t know, and then weave it with comedy…People don’t know that the first onscreen kiss was in the 1920s with Devika Rani and her husband and it’s a proper Emraan Hashmi-level kiss. She’s considered the first lady of Indian cinema, she and her husband used to run a production house where she was the heroine in every movie.
Even with the first Indian movie ever made, Raja Harishchandra, no woman wanted to work in the film, not even from the red-light areas. Finally, they hired a chai wala to play the role of a woman in that movie. But from there women quickly picked up in movies. We talk about women empowerment today, in those days there were heroines like Nadira who were charging double of what the heroes were.
Even if you look at what women were wearing at that time, if you watch Tarzan of the 1930s it wasn’t conservative or anything, it was like Kimi Katkar levels. But after 1947 the role of women in cinema changed a lot. You had movies in the 50s, 60s and 70s with stories like the hero is a good guy and good at heart but because of circumstances he ends up marrying two women and both love him and respect him and he has kids with both of them and that’s okay. That’s a storyline that has been done so many times.
Then a lot of those movies came in Mera Pati Sirf Mera Hai.. Sadaa Suhagan… aadmi mera devta hai, uske per dabaou..Jitendra used to do a lot of such movies. That was the time in movies where it was very casual that you slap your wife. It’s very interesting how the role of women in cinema changed when you look at the curve. It’s not that it was bad and has got better over time if anything it was on top then it went down. I do a line in the show where I say in India when a heroine grows old she becomes a mother, when a hero grows old he becomes a production house (laughs).
Then in the 60s and 70s we used to have a buffet system in cinema. You had 5 villains, 6 comedians, 8 heroes, 5 heroines and you pick one from each, mix and match and make a movie. Villain hai toh Prem Chopra ya Pran ya Ajit. Then Amitabh Bachchan came and bloody destroyed the system. He became the best comedian, the best hero, the best villain. He was doing everything so well that he reduced everyone’s space. After Mehboob we didn’t really have comedians in movies.
It’s clear you know a lot about Indian cinema, so are you doing anything extra to research this? Do you have a list of things to go through?
I just pick a genre and dive in. One section I wanted to do was on certain characters that are always in movies, so I picked up a few actors and researched them. These aren’t heroes or heroines, but if you see a picture of them, you’ll definitely recognise them. For example, Jagdish Raj was in 200 movies as a police inspector. If I want to do a piece about lyrics, I’ll read some books on who the biggest lyricists are and what the songs and stories behind those songs are. The challenge is I can’t put it out on a digital platform because now I’ve realised that there are so many IP (Intellectual Property) issues. So now I need to sort those out before I take the show further.
Do you think Bollywood has become harder to make fun of over time? Is it harder to make fun of today, then say 5 or 10 years ago?
No, it’s not harder because we are making all kinds of movies even today. There are more than enough crap movies coming out. Why it is getting tougher is for a different reason. People are becoming more sensitive so you have to be more careful. When you’re writing something, you have to ask yourself ‘do I sound sexist, do I sound racist?’. Yes, you should be aware but when you start getting scared then it’s a problem. There’s less freedom to be funny now.