Vasudha Srinivasan | December 07, 2017
Editor’s note: This interview is Part 1 of our conversation with SA. It has been edited for grammatical accuracy and clarity but may contain speaking quirks of the interviewee. This piece is not for the weak as it contains strong language.
I feel that a good chunk of people who came to watch Madrasi Da are going to come to this show and be like “I was not ready for this da!”
When you talk to Aravind, also known as SA, you come to this realisation quickly: He is unmistakably Chennai. Not just Chennai in language, accent, or in the liberal use of “da” as punctuation but Chennai, as in the place the world sees as today. Increasingly sophisticated with a taste for international everything, Chennai is coming of age now. And in many ways, Aravind through his comedy represents that era. No longer just the wide-eyed ingenue using material from his comedic comfort zone, Aravind launches ” I was not ready da!”, as an evolution of himself. Irritatingly coy about the exact content, he does hint that the plot of this show revolves around how much he has grown since we last saw him.
Almost audacious in his honesty, it is refreshing to hear Aravind share his opinions with candour and thoughtfulness. This grown-up version of Aravind has taken his time to unfold his personality. And it shows, in the polish of his expressions and ideas. Yet, it is comforting to know that buried not very far beneath, still exists that goofy eager Chennai kid that we all fell in love with. And trust me, none of us is ready for this new SA!
*laughs* It’s not that I am not ready to perform – that’s all you should be worried about. The things I am not ready for are the things a 30-year-old man will be going through such as Tinder *laughs* I wasn’t ready for any of the things that were thrown at me and those are the things the show is about.
I have always been the guy where things happen to me when I am least prepared and that adds to the drama in my life.
I was born a caesarean baby and my mother’s first reaction was not, “how sweet!” but “I was not ready da!” because she was really not ready and I forced my way out! And it’s been like that ever since: I keep facing situations where either the mistake is mine or the universe decides to conspire against me; the repercussions seem amplified simply because of my personality. Most of those incidents have been compiled together and some of them are such epic f***ups you can’t even imagine. But hey, the advantage of standup is once you reach a certain level of confidence and momentum, you are able to say things where you can hide the truth, or rather should I say, the pain! *laughs*
I find this show to be really liberating that way. I would not have been able to talk about these things a few years ago, even in a personal circle because of embarrassing consequences. Now, I am getting on stage because it is no longer embarrassing!
Extremely different. I think of it as natural evolution.
When Madrasi Da happened, I was not a full time stand up but by the time it ended, I was. When I started, I was dabbling but in those 2 years of Madrasi Da, I evolved as my exposure to stand up became far bigger than what it used to be.
All of this culminates in your personality improving and a greater understanding of the craft and what goes into the construction of a joke. I feel a lot happier about what I am doing today than what I did in Madrasi Da. In Madrasi Da, I was a kid; it is from the point of view of a repressed creature. It is a very safe, very easygoing likeable show; this show is bold. I feel that a good chunk of people who came to watch Madrasi Da are going to come to this show and be like “I was not ready for this da!”
That’s what confidence does, you are suddenly able to pull off things! The question is whether I can pull it off seamlessly, retaining the bits that people like me for while slowly introducing this change I see in me. You don’t want anything to be drastic. Now that I am becoming more political and socially aware, I’m a bit “out there.” Evolving has made me realise that I didn’t want to be shoehorned, the audience is far bigger and the jokes and issues I can write about are much wider.
This show was workshopped, tested and performed in Delhi and Bombay, where I am unknown and don’t have the advantage of the home turf. It is the most neutral platform to know if these jokes work and that’s what makes them more “foolproof” as opposed to making it work in Chennai and Bangalore. The challenge was to try to take my content and remove local references but ensuring that flavour would come out because of me being me. The thoughts are still coming from a Chennai boy, the accent and the ideas are still Chennai, just not as overt as it was in Madrasi da. I have tried to make it more Pan Indian this time.
*pause* Mmm, the real issue is just ego, manifesting itself in a sociopolitical way. For Hindi influencers, Hindi is seen as pan indian, and by making it “Indian”, it becomes aspirational for the person on the other end who doesn’t speak it, Tamil or not. For the non-Hindi speaker, the message is that it doesn’t need to be done at the expense of writing over our native languages.
However, there are not many nuanced arguments in this sort of debate, especially on the internet. On the internet, you can’t expect nuance, it is the wrong place for that. The internet is where the easy thing to do is to create polarizing points. The truth lies somewhere between the two. The truth is there is good in everything but if something is imposed upon anyone, it should rightly be called out. Some will point out the good, others will do the calling out. As a comedian, I will do the calling out. *laughs*
In reality, this joke happened because I needed to connect with a non-Chennai audience and happened before the special on Amazon. Before I launched into my Chennai based content for my show, I realised the easiest thing for them to connect with me on is Chennai Express. However, I frame it such that I can tell you how Chennaites think about Chennai Express. I can afford to be cheeky because, in the bigger context, I am the “oppressed candidate”. Something cheeky, therefore funny, therefore has a valid argument can be understood by people who get stand up. For those who don’t, this can come across as stirring shit just for the sake of it.
Fundamentally I am an attention seeker but I am indirect about it *laughs* It is about processing it the right way. More people are watching so what other things can I do more? If I sit here and think, ‘I’m just a Chennai guy doing Chennai things with Chennai humour and I will stay in Chennai’, I am doing injustice to all the good that came from Madrasi Da. So I deal with it by looking at it from a data point. Beyond that, there is not much to read into because as much as there is good out there, there is also bad. You should not invest in either as they are equally influential. The more you swing one way, the more it can equally swing the other way.
Honestly, there isn’t much a difference between a Tamil and non-Tamil audience. Ultimately there is one type of profile: the audience interested in stand up; that is a unifying factor across the country. You can connect with Indian references, with English as the common language. Of course, with the references you make, the closer you perform to your home, the more enjoyable and likeable it can become. The most irritating part of producing the show is to make the effort to make changes to my non-Chennai version! If I don’t make those changes, they will still get 80 to 90% but I feel that is doing a disservice when the show has a version that can be devoid of a Goundamani* reference and can be replaced with something relevant.
The duty of the comic is not to take his audience for granted. That is something I do see some Indian comics do. Firstly, comics from Mumbai and Delhi don’t come to Chennai because they feel “If I can’t use Hindi…” and I’m like, “What the hell bro, it is very difficult for us but we are coming there and making the effort!” Secondly, I am not going to go there and rely on Tamil but a lot of comics do come to Chennai with jokes that may be classics in Mumbai or Delhi because of quirks in their middle class or Bollywood but they would not make the effort of finding the Chennai equivalent.
Sure, that can be only 5 to 10% of my content but rather than drop a Tamil line and be like, “You guys won’t get it, it’s a Tamil thing…” I mean, why the hell would I go to Gurgaon and say that da! Of course, 50% of the crowd will be Tamil because of who I am and like attracts like. But I can’t do the Tamil jokes and be that is for my fans, the rest of you are just paid tickets. Everyone has paid for the same ticket!
I like seeing people lightening up and enjoying jokes about what they agree with and what they hate. I want people to come and see all kinds of views, showing them the funny side of things, rather than the “scary side” we are conditioned to see.
I think comedy works the way it does right now in India because there are so many boundaries around us. Nobody is able to say things so the comedian ends up saying lots of things! The evening is about 300 people sitting, wanting to support the one guy who is saying the many things that people enjoy would like to but doesn’t get to. It’s that synergy that I would like to create in every show.
Get nervous and work myself into a frenzy. All the paranoia, anticipation and fearing the worst from the crowd – you end up overcompensating. Now I am used to it. I have a show tomorrow in Gurgaon, I know I am going to prepare two or three hours before the show and will be cursing myself for not starting earlier and not spending my Saturday talking to Vasudha. (hey!!!) In my show, I end up sounding like I am pissed off about the points I am trying to make but it’s because I am pissed off at myself; it’s like my father is sitting inside and shouting at me.
Psst, interested to see how it went done? Take a look at the behind the scenes!
Its all in your head, not mine. The way I see it is that in the first poster I am topless, in the second one I am bottomless. The third poster, I’m going to go for full exposure.
Watch “I Was Not Ready Da” for ONE DAY only on 7th January at 7pm, Nexus Auditorium, 5 Koek Rd, Singapore 228796, For more information on buying tickets, click here
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