A tall, lanky and serious looking man with specs and a wheatish complexion- hardly a stand-up comic persona. But that’s Azeem Banatwalla for you. He has that vulnerable, serious and sensitive expression on his face you hardly expect a joke from. But jokes are there indeed. You may giggle, guffaw or just laugh out loud- but Azeem is sure to leave you with laughter. At times he amazes you with his wit and the way he plays with words and expressions.
Azeem is someone who laughs at himself also, brutally rags his own self. But well, that’s the beauty of his show. There are very few Indian stand-up comics who have such a deep and subtle sense of humour when it comes to politics. This becomes all the more difficult when you are a Muslim in this country which stands deeply polarized in today’s scenario.
It must have been difficult to cut jokes on politics in this ‘new’ India, where a harmless joke can turn ‘controversial’ and be understood to be ‘hurting sentiments’. But Azeem walks the tightrope skillfully. It’s like treading on the razor’s edge. That’s the beauty of Azeem’s humour. He does that beautifully and continues to do so. That of course requires a lot of guts.
Be it Hijab or Mumbai’s roads, moral policing, racialism or simply politicians- Azeem covers all with a subtlety which makes you smile at his intelligence. Often we tend to laugh at the stupidity inherent in jokes. But not with Banatwalla. Even when you are just smiling at his jokes, you can’t help but appreciate his amazing wit and understanding of the subject.
Stand-up comics often rely heavily on abuses to make the audience giggle at the sheer irreverence. Banatwalla knows his subjects are too sensitive. He can’t pull a Kunal Kamra. There’s that lurking realization of being a Muslim too. But fearless, he is certainly.
In an interview a few months ago, Azeem talked about his jokes and profession. The interview is a testament to the fact that he is deeply conscious of the dangerous environment he is in, we are living in- where everybody is so full of hatred for the other, where violence and insults have become the most popular means of expression. For him, creating jokes in such a situation is a challenge and a risk that he undertakes before every comic journey he embarks upon.
His latest show is focused on stardom, celebrity status, idiosyncrasies of popularity and fascination with ‘celebrity’ status prevalent in our society. And he does it beautifully. He opines that comedy works as a balancing factor when you discuss sensitive issues.
In a society where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to laugh, even at your own self- Azeem is bravely putting out some creative jokes- not only on our environment, our deeply disturbed sensibilities but also on his own self. It is a compliment in its self.
Listening to him, the belief in the inherent good old wisdom of our society grows stronger, that we have a stand-up comic like Azeem, who, besides making us laugh, is also showing mirror to our very sick environment. Take a bow Azeem! In better times, you will be lauded and admired as one of the most creative and courageous stand-up comic India ever produced!