Published: 16th July 2019
How Rohith Vemula's suicide and JNU's Azadi incident changed Kunal Kamra's life. And comedy
Ahead of his performance in Phoenix Marketcity Chennai, the comedian spoke to us about his college days, Twitter and political comedy
Sitting on a chair inside a makeshift greenroom, Kunal Kamra picks up his iPhone and points at its screen. Contrary to what one may expect, there were no notifications. For this comedian, switching off notifications and keeping social media out of his personal life was a conscious choice. "I have no reason to read anyone's comments, nor listen to their criticism or get their validation. I'm clear that this will be one-way traffic. If I stand to be corrected, it will be with the people around me, who have access to call and tell me," he says, giving many, a much-needed life lesson, ahead of his show at Phoenix Marketcity, Chennai.
Controversies and trolls aren't alien to Kunal, who unlike most of his tribe, bases a large section of his content on the country's sociopolitical scenario. He is unapologetic and quite straight-forward about his political views. Many of you would have noticed his series of images with the message 'Don't Vote for Modi' before the elections. Unsurprisingly, he is often called an anti-national and bashed by the right wing supporters.
Dose of Anti-Nationalism anyone?
This includes big names too. Case in point, Vivek Agnihotri. But talking about the filmmaker, Kunal shares a fear of his. "I have a deep fear that in my 50s, I'll be irrelevant, everyone will call me an uncle and say that all my ideas are dated, like Agnihotri's. I attack him to remind myself that," he says. But at the same time, he appreciates Twitterati who put in a genuine effort to make fun of him and his views.
Then again, Kunal's comedy wasn't always political. He made jokes about Indian parents and schools when he started doing open mics in 2013. "I went for an open mic with my friend comedian Siddharth Dudeja and thought I must give it a shot. This became an everyday thing for six to seven months and finally I realised that I had enough material to perform 30 minutes straight," he recalls. "It also was a time where there was a dearth of comedians to perform in the comedy clubs in Mumbai," he says, adding that he was at the right place at the right time.
The Vemula effect and the Azaadi angle
However, a major shift in Kunal's comedy career happened in 2016, which was a quite eventful year. That was when he started writing jokes on politics. He tells us about the trigger. "Rohith Vemula's suicide had a huge impact on me. In fact, that was when I started following news quite regularly. This was followed by the JNU Azadi incident," he says. "This was when the shift occurred. As an artist, when you consume a certain thing, it's natural for you to talk about it." He then picks up his phone and shows a minimised YouTube window. He had watched half of Anupama Chopra's interview with Sandeep Reddy Vanga (the man who directed Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh). "Right now, I'm watching this godforsaken bad interview and at some point, it will reflect in something I write or tweet," he says.
Here's lookin' at you Kanhaiya
Now that is one guest Kunal may not want on his show. In fact, he says that the show has had all the people that he wanted to talk to on and off camera and he's quite happy about it. "Of the people who've come to my show, the person I find the most inspiring is Kanhaiya (Kumar), followed by Umar Khalid, Ravish Kumar and Javed Akhtar. I always wanted to talk to them and meet them off camera," he says. "Now I'm looking for people who'd make an interesting conversation. Whoever can come with a free mind is welcome," he adds.
Shifting to a lighter topic, Kunal talks to us about his college days, or do we call it the days where he pretended to go to college? "I quit studies right after junior college and landed a job. I didn't tell my parents initially. I did tell them eventually, but at that point, they didn't have a better plan than what I'd decided to do. My parents still think that I'll complete my graduation. But I don't see that happening," he says wryly.