Last year, Amazon Prime Video commissioned 14 Indian stand-up comedy specials in an attempt to transform India's stand-up comedy scene, and perhaps, more importantly, to make the idea of an Indian stand-up comedy special more mainstream. Before 2017, 60-minute sets were a rarity in India, and shows featuring multiple comedians performing 20-minute sets were the flavour of the month for many years. So last year, when comics took their first real shot at writing and performing 60 minutes of new material, there was no fair benchmark to compare these specials to. Last week, Amazon Prime Video released the first of 23 new specials that will come out this year. This time, we'll have a benchmark to compare them to. So how does the India's first stand-up special of 2018 hold up?
The set's material is largely mediocre, and on multiple occasions feels like it was written to last much lesser than 60 minutes
Rahul Subramanian's Kal Main Udega is marketed as a comedy special with no message, and delivers on that promise. The material doesn't follow one underlying theme and ranges from observational takes on the professional lives of DJs to Rahul's problems with his wife's driving skills, with completely random hypothetical situations such as Sachin Tendulkar checking the temperature of his shower thrown into the mix.
Subramanian employs a fast-paced style of delivery, with several quick punchlines dotting each story – for a brief section in the middle he switches to one-liners, and the series is held together by a few recurring call-backs to jokes made earlier on in the special. Overall, the content and style of delivery aren't too different from the stand-up specials we've watched through last year. While it's fascinating to see the similarities across specials by vastly different comedians, there's also a sense of fatigue that sets in while watching the same type of comedy being doled out in different packaging.
Kal Main Udega is 60 minutes of perfectly passable, moderately entertaining content – it's guaranteed to have you in splits in parts, mostly because Rahul Subramanian excels at finding funny nuances in mundane daily activities – but it doesn't do much to set itself apart from the rest. Different isn't always good (Aadaar Malik's attempt at a stand-up musical last year was unique but not even close to being quality stand-up comedy) but we're at a stage
where Indian comedians have to actively try to stand out from the usual, given that we've seen so much of the usual over the last year.
It's a little unfair to Rahul Subramanian and the other comics with specials lined up in 2018 because they probably didn't have much to do with deciding the order that these specials have released in – but it's equally unfair to expect viewers to care about the inner workings of the comedy space, so the onus is on comedians be fresh. Unfortunately, it's something that Kal Main Udega isn't able to achieve.
Rahul's style is comparable with Biswa Kalyan Rath's Biswa Mast Aadmi (which I ranked the highest among last year's specials) and makes the first 10 minutes of the special easy to watch, but quickly becomes weary and fatigued in itself. Jokes last longer than they should on more than one occasion – and a lot of that unnecessary time is either Rahul repeating a line for emphasis or going on for too long after a major punchline has been delivered, taking away its impact. Rahul's segues into what he calls 'one liners' and 'dark jokes' are also bland
and fail to get many laughs from the live audience. The set's material is largely mediocre as well, and on multiple occasions feels like it was written to last much lesser than 60 minutes.
The high points of the show are the scathing segment on DJs, the call-backs to a joke about air-hostesses and a particularly funny 10 minutes on drugs in sport – but even these cannot propel Kal Main Udega to soar. Here's hoping that Amazon Prime has saved its best content for later.