India’s stint with satire can be best described as a comedy of errors. Caught up in a paradox of a thriving community full of creatives looking to effectively challenge society on one end and regressive authorities that aim to withhold the proliferation of uninhibited content on the other, India’s potential to challenge its own social fabric and functioning has been significantly limited to a handful of hit and miss attempts.
While influential voices of satire and comedy continue to be lulled into a whisper, a look at India’s attempts at satire reveals why the genre and conversations around it deserve a larger stage and a bigger audience.
From powerful visual metaphors to effectively implementing allegory as a means of storytelling, we take a look at three contemporary filmmakers with distinct voices and their homegrown creations that almost perfected the art that is Indian satire.
I. Tungrus and His Pet Chicken from Hell; Rishi Chanda (English, 2018)
In 2018, a documentary brought to fore the life of an average Indian family and their pet rooster. In the 12-minute slapstick and very intentionally layered commentary that follows, Tungrus unpacks the making of every Indian middle-class family and their absurd expressions of love. A bird’s eye view (pun intended) reveals the fallacies and the shortcomings of the Indian familial fabric. With wavering wide-shots of Mumbai’s cityscape offering an onlooker’s perspective to the story, the film challenges the relationship we share with our cities, modern Indian housing, and more.
II. Mandela; Madonne Ashwin (Tamil, 2021)
It is not often that a commercial feature film with a powerful political satire at the core of its narrative with a little known cast makes headlines. This is what Chennai-based director Madonne Ashwin managed to conquer with his latest film, Mandela. Starring Tamil film industry’s favourite on-screen comic Yogi Babu in the lead, Mandela is an unconventional watch in more ways than one. The story is set in a village where the two prominent political parties are at loggerheads ahead of the local elections. A hair-dresser played by Yogi Babu becomes the game-changer to the rest of the story that unfolds. Mandela is equal parts funny, reflective, and mindful of the facets of local Tamil politics that it chooses to talk about.
III. Eeb Allay Ooo; Prateek Vats (Hindi, 2019)
To challenge India’s socio-political fabric and do so in an effective way against the backdrop of its political institutions is a gift that director and storyteller Prateek Vats has decided to share with the world. Prateek’s debut feature made headlines post its initial screening at the Dharamshala International Film Festival in 2019. Vats masters the craft of allegorical filmmaking and the premise itself is a very promising example of that. In an attempt to hold up a mirror to India’s turbulent socio-political climate, Vats explores the plot through a riveting exchange that goes on between the city’s monkey repellers and the government officials that employ them. Vats’ tale is thought-provoking, uncomfortable, and filled with moments of comic absurdity between the lead Anjani and his trainee days as a monkey repeller.
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