Vasudha Srinivasan | May 19, 2016
When the strains of “Adi Rakkama Kaiya Thattu”, the toe thumping hit from Mani Ratnam’s film Thalapathi*, filters through the speakers, you know you’re in the thick of a full on Tamil experience that will be S Aravind ’s Madrasi-Da.
Both the opening acts, Bhargav and Rajiv, were representative of Chennai’s men. One, a fast talking smarty pants and the other, an older, married and weary representative! Bhargav had my attention from the get go, with his spontaneous chiding of a guy who strolls in late with his friends, “First you come late, then you walk in with 2 girls. Bastard, just showing off.” In contrast, it took a little time to warm up to Rajiv’s act but ultimately he triumphed, winning me over with his one-liners such as “NRIs in Singapore? That just means Nearly Resident Indians”.
Madrasi-Da, as the name implies, is about a fella in Chennai, the capital of an Indian state, that is so different from the rest of India. The show is ageist, occasionally sexist and is unabashedly Chennai. Just ask the grandfather who had the (mis)fortune of being in Aravind’s line of sight when he first stepped on stage . Without skipping a beat, Aravind asks “Today’s show isn’t going to have any Sahasranam*, Thatha*! Did your grandson buy this ticket for April Fools?” before neatly segueing into his exciting non adventures in Bangkok with a Thomas Cook tour group.
As with any Indian function, the beginning was peppered with some awkwardness. There were a few titters in response to his early jokes, some of which were a little tired “Of course the Komalas in Chennai closed down within a year…we don’t believe in self service”. But Aravind soon came into his element, starting with a spot on comparison of a visit to Mustafa with a concentration camp,“Once you get in, you can’t get out!”
It wasn’t soon before he was slyly playing on stereotypes, covering the indignities a single male Madrasi suffers. The adolescent pain of learning about sex – “The Biology ma’am looked around the class sternly – “Girls, no giggling or laughing. Boys, all of you, hands up!”; the reason why Indian boys are the only people, getting turned on when the fire alarm goes off (Want to know more? Watch the show, macha!) and having to step up because his perfect brother was being visited by a potential bride – “The whole family was cleaning the house like we were going to have an Income Tax raid!”
Performing in English, with a much exaggerated Tamil accent, Aravind’s energy on stage is infectious. While only occupying a small square of space on stage (he’s not circularly endowed for sure!), he throws his whole being into every joke, with his arm stretched out, questioning, stating and inviting the audience to conspire with him. While not every joke proved to be a hit, those setbacks didn’t throw him off his momentum; an indication of an amatuer maturing into a seasoned performer.
I must say, the end was truly the coup de grace. Aravind spends a few moments contemplating the stereotypes that Tamilians are accused of by their North Indian* counterparts. The biggest offender of them all? “Chennai Express” (was there any doubt?) and in that, “Lungi Dance”. Taking it apart line by line, with his Tamil accent getting heavier as his outrage multiplies, he accurately expressed a sense of comical injury on how Rohit Shetty had not only insulted us but committed the most grievous sin in taking Thalaiva’s name in vain. At this point, it is obvious that he titled his show using Madras, a throwback to the colonial name for Chennai, rather than use Chennai and suffer the indignity of being associated with Chennai Express.
In the unexpected but magnificent ending, Bhargav and Rajiv join Aravind on stage for a parody tribute to North India, in the brilliantly entitled “Chappathi”. Thumbing the collective noses of Tamilians at the stereotypes that they face, Chappathi includes threatening lines such as
Madrasi-Da makes no apologies for being niche. S Aravind is a Tamil Brahmin Boy from Chennai and Madrasi-Da is at turns, Chennai, Tamil, Brahmin and Boy. Yes, it helps if you understand Tamil. Yes, it helps if you understand Chennai Culture, and yes, it helps if you understand boys as well. But not understanding doesn’t prevent you from enjoying his comedy.
Paradoxically, that is the charm of Aravind’s standup. Someone is always going to get the joke, even if they may not follow every part of the show. By keeping it personal, Aravind sticks to what he knows best: his life. But his life also happens to be the life of a million other Indian youth, which makes it instantly relatable – whether you are the Indian laughing or the Indian (looking at you, North Indian Machas* ) being laughed at or the dad nodding along, thinking of his his son, while his son nods, commiserating with Aravind about his dad.
And that is really the magic of Madrasi-Da. After all, what else is standup comedy other than shared moments between comedian and the audience?
Madrasi-Da was brought by Evam Standup Tamasha and performed in Singapore on 2 April 2016. Evam Standup Tamasha returns to Singapore with new shows this June 2016. Catch Karthik Kumar with two shows of Second Decoction, Sorabh Pant and Daniel Fernandes.
Jokes that have been reproduced may have been paraphrased for editorial reasons. The author is a Singaporean Tamilian with strong ties to Indian culture, which may have affected the understanding of the show. For more coverage on Aravind, see here
<Enna: What? Macha: Bro! North India:In this context, anywhere north of Tamil Nadu. If you are a resident of this place, you are a North Indian. Yes, Mumbaities you are North Indians. Sahasranam: Literally, meaning a 1000 names, it refers to a type of Hindu chants. Thalaiva: Leader; nickname of Tamil cinema superstar, Rajinikanth Thalapathi: Arguably one of Rajinikanth’s best films, directed by Mani Ratnam. Thatha: Grandpa
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