Tag Archives: satire

“The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it”


Jayanth Tadinada, aka g2, is the author of gtoosphere, a blog of satire inspired by his life as an IIT student and a member of India’s growing upper middle class youth. He is also my colleague on The NRI, contributing regularly hilarious posts such as his aam aadmi interviews.

His posts on gtoosphere are a mix of observations about television media, social networking culture and Indian society in general, and they often seek to explode myths and inspire people to look at the world around them in a more mindful way. In the line with his heroes, his method of confronting people is to amuse, something at which he succeeds apparently effortlessly. His irreverent ideas come across as equally inspired by Indian and American senses of humour, and will hopefully strike a chord with many.

Jayanth did me a favour and answered a few questions to help me get this Inside the Bloggers Studio thing rolling again, even though he is a busy college student preparing to join the salaried masses.

***

Why did you start blogging?

There was a phase when I was bunking a lot of classes and yet I was not happy. (Those were pretty depressing times!) I felt I needed a better reason to continue bunking classes. So I thought a hobby might help.

In your first blog post, you mention a diary. Is gtoosphere an extension of that diary, and do you still write it alongside your blog?

No, I don’t write a diary in the traditional sense anymore. I maintained a diary for a couple of years in high school. It was mostly about what was happening in my life around that time. After coming to IIT, I no longer felt the need to keep an account of things happening in my life.

I was into reading psychology for fun (nerd alert), interpretation of dreams and stuff like that. I started maintaining a dream diary where I describe the dreams I have at nights (afternoons actually). We remember our dreams only for a very few minutes after we wake up. So I always sleep with a book and a pen somewhere close to my pillow. (Yeah, I know that’s weird!)

For the last year and a half or so, I developed the habit of noting down funny ideas, silly observations and interesting thoughts as soon as they pop in my head. I store them in Google Wave (yes, Wave!) and refine them from time to time. So technically, I do write a diary but it’s more about what is going on in my head rather than what is going on in my life.


What is your first memory of writing creatively?

The first time realized I enjoyed writing was when I was writing essays in high school. Most of the topics were very dull and ordinary like ‘your hometown’ or ‘post man’. I took it as a challenge to write those essays in interesting ways.

I often broke the conventional school essay format and made up stories with long dialogues, exaggerated descriptions and bizarre storylines loosely inspired from the Famous Fives and Hardy Boys I was reading at the time! Luckily my English teachers did not discourage that sort of behavior and often rewarded me (with generous grades) for my attempts, however lame they were!

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

I consider any of the little things that momentarily make me lose sense of time as beautiful. It could be a movie or a book; a conversation or a cat playing; filter coffee, National Geographic channel, a warm shower on a cold morning, dessert before main course, an intelligent conversation, yawning, huge spiders, useless trivia… it’s a very long list.

I also find extremely complex stuff like snakes, Scarlett Johansson, the human brain, religion, the Internet, Godavari, classical music, history etc. all to be very beautiful.


gtoosphere fits quite nicely into Indiblogger category of ‘humour’. Are you ‘the funny one’ among your friends in real life?

Yes, I am definitely ‘a funny one’ if not ‘the funny one’. Most of my friends have a very good sense of humour too. I get most of my ideas from the conversations I have with my friends and my brother.

What differences are there between telling a joke in real life and telling it on your blog?

The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it. That is usually how it is. A joke in real life is about timing and spontaneity, it just happens. But when you’re writing a joke, you have the time to think and build the context. So the onus is on how funny the idea is to begin with. Maintaining the flow, the punch lines, the comic art – all just follow from the idea.


Speaking of Indiblogger, you’re quite active on there, as well as on Facebook and sporadically on Twitter. How important are social networking sites in relation to your blog?

Very important! They are the lifeline for my blog. I would have never got myself to write anything more than sticky notes if it is not for the instant feedback that I get from readers through social networking sites.

Comic art is integral to many of your posts. Which do you enjoy more, drawing/design or writing?

What I enjoy most is the ideas – coming up with them and connecting two or three ideas that people wouldn’t otherwise think of connecting. That is what drives me. I also immensely enjoy the process of refining the lines over and over trying to find that elusive economy of expression. I feel I am moving in a direction where words come easier to me than strokes.


Name some of your favourite satirists, and whether they’ve influenced your own creative style.

The first comedian that comes to mind is Jerry Seinfeld (his standup). He has this ability to point out really silly things around you which makes you go, “how did I not think of that first?” In one of his interviews, he explains that he never uses profanities in his material because he feels that (in many cases) they are a shortcut to get a few cheap laughs. I adopted that policy for my blog too.

One more thing I picked up from him is to not misrepresent anything just for the sake of getting a laugh. This pushes me to work from an honest feeling about something. So when I joke about how the aam aadmi doesn’t deserve any sympathy, I really mean it!

George Carlin is a personal hero of mine. His body of work is just so vast that it’s an encyclopedia on how to construct a joke. The philosophical undercurrent that runs through his material had a huge influence on not just my writing but on me as a person as well.

Larry David, the genius behind Seinfeld (the sitcom) and Curb Your Enthusiasm is another big influence. He kind of convinced me that profanities are funny when used in a tasteful way but I decided to stick with Seinfeld on that one ;)

When it comes to political satire, Jon Stewart is the best it can get. All my posts on politics and media were directly or indirectly inspired by him. I also like Bill Maher (I did a couple of “New Rules” posts) and Woody Allen.

I love Telugu comedy in general. I think we people have an amazing sense of humour. I am a huge fan of Mullapudi Venkataramana. He is a genius when it comes to capturing the beauty, the simplicity and humour in middle class life – something that our entertainment industry completely overlooks.

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

If I have to choose one, I’d probably choose my take on Meter Jam. This campaign sort of summed up the attitude of the young city folk of my generation. They protest because it is cool and they only do it in the comfort of their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Their anger in most cases is justified but none of them are inclined to do anything more than cathartically yell at the symptoms.

I am also proud of the articles I wrote for The NRI. I really pushed myself to write about issues that I wouldn’t have written otherwise and they were very well received too.


Do you believe in God?

Depends on how you define God. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I was like, “If the Gods are really that powerful, why do I even have to pray? Don’t they have access to the wish list on my Facebook profile?” That was when I realized praying for material things makes no sense. I’ve been kind of agnostic since then.

But I feel that Hinduism (technically, it’s too broad to be an -ism) is an awesome religion to be born in. It gives you a lot of freedom of thought. You can be atheist or agnostic and still be a Hindu. The line between culture and religion is really blurred in India. I never pray but I do celebrate all festivals. (If you remove the puja from the festivals, all you’re left with is good food, family reunions and fun activities. Now who doesn’t like that?

I love the culture. I love the mythologies. I have immense respect for the religion and its philosophy. I just don’t subscribe to the over-the-counter-30-million-Gods-in-the-skies version of it! I only scratched the surface of Hindu philosophy and I definitely want to go deeper. Not now but maybe later!

***

This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire.  (Apologies to James Lipton.)  To view the archive, click here.

9 Comments

Filed under India, Inside the Bloggers Studio

Film Review: ‘Four Lions’ (2010)

IMDb / Ben Walters (Sight & Sound) / Kim Newman (Empire)
Written by Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Simon Blackwell & Chris Morris
Directed by Chris Morris

Rating: E

Four Lions, from the mind of Brass Eye/The Day Today genius Chris Morris, is that rarest of cinema commodities: something different. Earlier this year a film about a man sewing people’s mouths to other people’s anuses was released, and among seasoned viewers barely a bored eyebrow was raised; another, whose content contains purportedly the most controversial rape scene in film history, is upcoming and anticipated largely with detached groans and eye-rolls. But here is Four Lions, here is a film that is genuinely fresh. Rather than aiming solely for the gutter – which it hits in esteemed fashion with some of the most erudite dick and fart jokes in years – it also reaches for the stars, skewering almost everyone in its satirical sights and eliciting tears of laughter and pathos in the process.

Omar (Riz Ahmed, in a hopefully star-making performance) is the leader of a tiny stand-alone cell of British-born-and-based mujahideen, planning their entry into heaven by way of martyrdom as they blow themselves up at… a Boots chemist’s, perhaps? Well, they haven’t quite decided where yet. His brethren are Waj (Kayvan Novak), an imbecile whose idea of Firdaus is a ride at Alton Towers theme park; Barry (Nigel Lindsay), an Englishman convert to Islam in desperate need of a sense of humour; Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), a camera-shy, softly spoken guy unsure of the mission, and also a very poor impressionist; and Hassan (Arsher Ali), a wannabe rapper convinced of the worthiness of suicide bombing by Barry’s unusual methods of indoctrination. While this sorry lot look on paper like a typical motley crew in another stupid buddy comedy, they are elevated by a combination of sharp writing and excellent, naturalistic performances.

Indeed, one of the major elements that sets Four Lions apart is that emphasis on keeping it real. A clash of so many varied ideas could all so easily spiral out of control, but while the overall premise and events of the plot are almost all completely absurd, an insistence on a documentary feel grounds the film throughout. Omar and his band are shot in a mixture of sharp zooms, medium close-ups and detached long shots, and their performances overall seem improvised (although given how neatly each scene fits together, they probably weren’t). Most of the music – with the notable exception of Hassan and Waj’s hilarious rhymes, and the repeated use of a terrible pop classic – is simple Arabic-sounding tones and used only in rare cases during scene transitions, allowing the characterisations and dialogue of these lovable idiots to shine.

The key to the film, however, is in the scenes with Omar’s family, and one imagines this is where many viewers will lose interest and/or respect. His disapproving older brother, sweet and supportive wife and doting son could all come out of a season of EastEnders (and the actress who plays his wife is presently, as it happens, acting in EastEnders)… but this is precisely the point. The spectre of terrorism and terrorists, so puffed-up and sensationalised in the news media, is brought crashing to earth in a comparison with the preposterous unreality of a soap opera. At the same time, folks who watch soap operas on a regular basis probably swallow most of what popular news media throws at them, from nukes in Iraq to the inherent perversion of Britain’s footballers; Morris grasps the opportunity to bring that greatest fear of the day as close to home as possible, and show that, you know, these guys maybe aren’t all that different from us. There is an outstanding scene between Omar and his wife at the hospital where she works, a showcase for both the superb script and note-perfect performers that sums up the entire film before you can even realise it.

As for the jokes, there are often several classics in a given scene, and they cover the gamut – encompassing ridiculously rabid anti-Semitism, making fun of English and Asian accents, brutal slapstick, and of course the above-mentioned toilet humour (which, in a clever twist, is often in Urdu). Alongside all this are the innumerable perceptive lines that are at once amusing and disheartening, or in some cases deeply moving. One can only imagine that the process of writing was arduous: first to think of something funny, then to put it into a character’s voice, then to make it work within the framework of a scene, and finally to fit all this into the fabric of the film as a whole. Rather than trying to select some of the finer gems, it’s probably better to simply allow you to experience them fresh as you watch the film – much of their greatness is in their delivery, particularly by the fantastically poker-faced Barry. Anyway, if I tried we’d be here all night. It’s the kind of film where if you see it with friends, you start quoting it to each other immediately upon exiting the cinema and continue for days, months and quite likely years afterwards.

At bottom, it’s simply extraordinary that a comedy film about a group of suicide bombers was made at all, let alone one so expertly crafted. When it ended, I felt a rare sense of exhiliration – at having been completely enveloped in the film’s world, at having laughed myself silly, and at having witnessed something so brilliantly subversive it might even one day deserve comparison with that great master of absurdist cinema, Buñuel. I can only hope that Morris, a renowned near-recluse and non-participant in the modern media circus, suddenly starts to take pleasure in being highly productive, and we don’t have to wait another ten years for his next slice of Zeitgeist-distilling greatness.

Leave a comment

Filed under Film

Imprints: Four Lions; Erykah Badu & dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip

Four Lions (dir. Chris Morris, 2010): I have never seen a film like this before. It feels like an entirely new kind of satire – very smart, provocative, and extremely funny. Hard to see me finding any better new films than this before the year’s out. Somewhere between highly recommended and essential.

Erykah Badu – Worldwide Underground: Saw the Badu light when I watched Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, and this is a fantastic (if somewhat poorly sequenced) album. She’s like a superhuman, so otherworldly. ‘I Want You’ is a phenomenal track, and Lenny Kravitz’s guitar at the end is RAD. Recommended.

dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip – Logic of Chance: Another solid offering from this beats merchant/spoken word duo. It’s not as good overall as their previous Angles, but it has I think their best track so far in ‘Five Minutes’, and definitely their most catchy – and probably the most enjoyable three minutes of pop all year – in ‘Cauliflower’.

Leave a comment

Filed under Film, Imprints, Music