A follow up to his landmark 2017 stand-up special on Netflix ‘Abroad Understanding’ – Vir Das’ Losing It hit the platform on December 11. With a running time of just over an hour, Vir Das’ special, this time around, is designed to be more intimate. Gone are fancier stages and brilliant quick cuts from Delhi to New York stages – they have been replaced by a much more desi San Francisco (SF) audience; one that laughs tepidly at punchlines that land, occasionally.
Losing It as a stand-up special is meant to be much more intimate and intended to showcase a much more nuanced, confident and reflective Vir Das. This is supposed to be a calmer, humble Vir Das we see on stage – one who carries off his formal coat outside and kurta inside attire with the same amount of comfort, as the set pieces that lead to his punchlines.
Which is to say – not that much comfort, really.
Full disclosure here, I have always been a fan of Vir Das’ body of work and in my humble opinion, ‘Abroad Understanding’ is a landmark special in Indian stand-up comedy. Vir’s sophomore attempt with Losing It, tries to veer away from ‘Abroad…’ and attempts to stand-out as a different kind of creature – in terms of stylization and theme.
The overarching theme of Losing It supposedly revolves around Vir’s personal journey in the past few years and tries to weave in situational, political and reflective comedy into his experiences. It covers a wide variety of topics, from his struggles with being labelled anti-national for his views, his experiences in Africa as a teenager, to his failure to launch in Bollywood with the ‘sex-comedy’ Mastizaade.
The set is meant to be an honest reflection into the average middle-class life in India and the aspirations of a man trying to make it across the world. In the first half, Vir talks about his experiences touring 33 cities across the world and throws in a masturbation joke. He continues about his family becoming ‘overnight poor’ in Africa and having to move back to India to a 6-bedroom flat in Noida – and moving from a top boarding school in Sanawar to becoming a scrotum scratching Dilli-boy in one of the Delhi Public Schools.
In the middle act we are treated to a stoner’s rant on mythology, a story that stars appendicitis, caricatured Sardar doctors and a philosophical treatise on the power of a ‘beautiful lie’. By the time the third act rolls, the audience is working with Vir as he powers through his ‘edgy’ take on what feminism should be and the overrated nature of masculinity. In the last few minutes we are left clutching onto what is meant to be a story of a successful man going through a bad patch in his career and life – and finding meaning in a life affirming fillet-mignon beef steak and a $ 350 tip to a suspicious waitress.
Now, when I put the narrative of the whole set, the way I did, Losing It seems to be awkwardly all over the place – and that is not far from the truth. I wish it was though, I wish Losing it was a gloriously awkward, zany masterpiece that works all these crazy stories and moving pieces into a seamless, beautiful whole, but it isn’t. It is probably as average as the beef fillet mignon that helps Vir Das attain his mid-life epiphany.
Vir Das, for all the problems I have had over the years with his delivery, has had some of the best content in the market. Vir at his best is not only one of the smartest comedians in the Indian industry but can go toe to toe with some of the best in the international circuit. His ability to weave a story, or a bunch of stories, has been his biggest strength.
Losing It doesn’t play to his strengths and much like his wardrobe feels like a contractual exercise. It seems as if Vir Das decided to bring to the SF desis, his best impersonation of a Zakir Khan or Biswa because a Netflix special was due. As a viewer, if I wanted to watch THAT kind of content, I would go to Amazon Prime and stay there, since it charges yearly – but like any cheap Indian, I expect more of my Netflix content, since I pay that same amount, monthly.
The primary factor that makes Losing It a cringe-worthy mess is the sheer lack of self-awareness. If Vir did attempt all of it in jest and sarcasm, it just doesn’t come across. It is hard to empathize when your protagonist ‘downgrades’ from a mansion to a bungalow, and from a privileged boarding school to a privileged day school. It’s hard to take poignancy and self-reflection on failure seriously, when it is punctuated with a $ 350 tip to a white waitress.
One can only hope, that all of it was a ‘beautiful lie’ and the joke is this reviewer missing the sub-text. But I suspect that is not the case. Losing It is three parts laborious and 1 part brilliant, or 80/20, as Vir would put it. I would recommend skipping this one and waiting for Vir Das to make a streaming special comeback worthy of his considerable talent.