(INTERVIEW) How Kunal Kamra Cuts Through The Noise That Is Indian Mainstream Media
The death of Bollywood actress Sridevi last month served as a reminder for two realities that are especially relevant in the times we live in— one is the uncomfortable reminder of how we haven’t tamed mortality with our superior cognitive abilities, and two, the new lows to which Indian media can stoop.
The latter is only an extension of the phenomena to measure the quality of news through increasing decibels on ‘primetime’ debates. That’s exactly why the likes of comedian Kunal Kamra are all the more relevant in this day and age. The 29-year-old former advertising professional’s invigorating take on serious issues, regarding politics and media, has culminated in a podcast called Shut Up Ya Kunal. The show has, so far, featured public figures ranging from BJP spokesperson Madhukeshwar Desai, in the opening episode, to Gujarat MLA and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani and former JNU student leader Shehla Rashid in the latest one.
Kunal’s 200,000-plus strong social media following are now familiar with his antics, but his anti-right-wing stance has earned him plenty of haters and some tough love from trolls as well. “I was trying that premise and joke since the JNU episode. The joke was the same. It’s just that more people started hating Narendra Modi more. I went for a show and that one set did very well. Zakir Khan, Varun Grover and I were in that show,” he says, about his first stand-up comedy gig, at Mumbai’s Tuning Fork, which took potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi & co.
“I’m attempting to come up with content that is informative, funny and slightly different from what other comedians are doing right now. And in the quest to do so, and feature interesting voices and people you don’t see on any other forum, it’s just a by-product of exercising your creative muscle in comedy and seeing what you can do differently” he adds.
One of the most interesting bits in the podcast is the editing, which intersperses footage from the podcast with relevant bytes and clippings from various politicians and media personnel, including a certain Arnab Goswami of The Republic. “The postproduction isn’t done by me; it’s an editor/creative director called Ramit Verma (from the popular Facebook page Official PeeingHuman). I shoot the podcast and give him all the footage. He does his research and starts editing it. Then I turn up and tell him ‘Abhi tak funny nahi hai.’ (it’s not funny as yet). Basically, that’s my only role in the post-production. I just keep rejecting it. Phir do maheene me ho jaata hai toh hum nikaal dete hain (after that, if it’s done in a couple of months, we release it).”
Kamra confesses that the first episode was the most challenging to pull off, but also the most amount of fun, because ‘you’re asking questions to the people in power. ’ “Of course, Priyanka Chaturvedi is the national spokesperson of the Congress party, but they’re not in power, so you can’t ask them questions and press them to the wall like other news channels.”
Who should we expect to see on the show in the future? Definitely not Arnab Goswami, he says. It’s because he believes there’s too strong a bias in his head against the Republic man, and it might lead to disrespect — something he doesn’t aspire to do. But definitely someone like a Vivek Agnihotri (‘unofficial BJP spokesperson’) or, from the other end of the journalistic decency spectrum, NDTV’s Ravish Kumar.
Does Shut Up Ya Kunal also aspire to change the conversation about mainstream media? “Nothing will change. People will press the button they have to. You can’t influence people’s minds when you don’t have the money to do so. Their minds are only influenced when you put so much money into your cause/party/propaganda. Neither am I too invested nor do I think I can change a lot of things. All I want to do is create good content, which might help me sell more tickets for my stand-up comedy gigs.” But isn’t that the case with most things in life? The state of being is more about its direction than its destination. You never know what it could lead to.