Let's start with a confession that you won't hear a lot of critics make – the better a movie or TV show is, the harder it is to review. There's pressure to dig deeper to find flaws or plot holes, and often you end up nitpicking. I've often wondered how someone would go about reviewing Inception or Shawshank Redemption. Thankfully, I had never faced the same problem while reviewing Indian stand-up comedy. Then I watched Biswa Kalyan Rath's Amazon Prime special, Biswa Mast Aadmi.
After a spectacularly edited opening montage, Biswa walks on stage wearing a T-shirt and jeans and claims that although this show looks like a big deal, it's just like any other show – and that's what sets him up for success.
Not for a second does Biswa let the weight of the massive production affect him. He's brutally uncensored, doesn't try gimmicks that are out of his comfort zone and refuses to be swayed by the prevailing idea of what stand-up specials are supposed to look like. This is 100% unadulterated Biswa, and he may as well be performing for four people in his living room – and that's what makes it effortlessly funny.
Biswa Mast Aadmi consists of three long-format stories about Biswa's childhood and adolescent life, with a segment on unrelated jokes. The stories are simple and relatable, but the delivery is deceptively complicated. He takes on multiple personas, speaking different languages with different accents and quirks, but you won't notice it unless you look carefully.
In the first 10 minutes alone, Biswa plays the characters of a 10 year-old boy, his father (Jagan Mohan Rath is likely to go down as a cult figure in Indian comedy), his mother, his school teacher and various Gods – but it's tied together as a tight narrative which allows little room for the viewer to realise the depth of his performance.
This is 100% unadulterated Biswa, and he may as well be performing for four people in his living room – and that's what makes it effortlessly funny
The stories revolve around growing up in a middle-class house with strict parents, going to what could be any Indian school in the 90s, trying to be in a rock band, and mundane things like booking an Uber. The long-form stories are a treat to watch from start to finish, but what Biswa manages to do very well is reintroduce punchlines from earlier, seemingly-unrelated stories. This means that jokes which may not have worked very well at first (one bit on Gods in mythological stories takes particularly long to set up) have you in splits by the end.
Biswa's delivery is wholly unique and fast-paced. If you're used to comedians taking long pauses between jokes to milk the laughter from the crowd, then this act is a breath of fresh air. Although he barely pauses to breathe, the sheer pace of the delivery ensures you won't be breathing too much either.
Though the show is split into three segments, the whole act is linked by Biswa making references to his own material, and the results are magical. At one point, he even breaks the fourth wall, asking how it's possible for a comedian to be so self-aware. How indeed?
On the rare occasions that Biswa pauses to breathe or set up an imitation, it's clear that he's cracking up as well, but trying not to laugh out loud. The moments that stand out for me are the jokes that come most naturally to him – a fast-paced math calculation about the maximum runs someone can score in a cricket game, a casual dropping of the word 'quantum' and profound philosophical statements ("give a man consent and he can masturbate for life" is a particularly well-articulated one).
I should add here that I have watched the show thrice in the last 24 hours, and have discovered new jokes every time. Although stand-up comedy specials don't always have repeat value, this one is an exception.
All in all, Biswa's special is the freshest 60 minutes of content I have seen from an Indian comic in a very long time – 100% unique, 100% homegrown and 0% weighed down by its own ambition. In a time where hours of stand-up comedy are available on YouTube for free, Biswa Mast Aadmi is complete paisa-wasool, and so far, the best Amazon Prime Video special out there.
Watch the entire Amazon Prime Video special here.