Improv artist and actor Kaneez Surka made a career out of speaking incorrect Hindi. Ahead of her show, this weekend, she talks about growing up in South Africa, her bold humour, and finally taking Hindi lessons.
“In India, people assume if you’re into comedy, you’re a stand-up comedian,” says Kaneez Surka (33). And although Surka has dabbled in stand-up, she stresses that she is a sketch and improv artist, and comic actor. Surka is part of the troupe, The Improvisers, and often collaborates with All India Bakchod and stand-up comedians, such as Kanan Gill and Kenneth Sebastian, for sketches. “Honestly, people have told me they have been disappointed with my stand-up shows, and loved my improv humour and my act in the show, The Week That Wasn’t (TWTW),” she says, adding, “It requires a different skill-set altogether.”
Surka will perform this weekend at Festivelle, a women-only event, that features panel discussions and various performances. Surka, along with theatre artist and ex-video jockey Anu Menon (known for her act as Lola Kutty), will present their sketch, The Rinse Cycle, which is about life as a woman in India. “We borrow from our lives. There’s a segment about visiting the gynaecologist, one about mothers and technology, and one about two young kids, based on our friend’s children,” she says.
One of the few women in the comedy circuit, Surka’s material is often edgy — she candidly talks about her breasts and her divorce. She says, “If a guy gets on stage and talks about his penis, people don’t bat an eyelid. With women, people tut-tut. It’s not coming from a place of ‘How dare you talk about it?’. People don’t want to hear those things from a woman. It’s just easily digestible for people when guys are being a little crude.”
Back in time
Surka grew up in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and realised her love for comedy and acting early on. When she was 10, she had a little sketch of her own where she imitated a Scottish, British and American accent. “My parents thought it was hilarious. Rather than make me sing or something, they made me perform that everywhere,” she recalls. She also studied drama as a subject in grade 10. “My drama teacher always told me, ‘Comedy is your strength’.”
Surka moved to Mumbai to pursue theatre in 2005, initially for just a gap year — post which the plan was to get a post-graduate law degree. Soon, she discovered and joined an ‘improv’ troupe — The Imps (she has gone on record to say their shows were actually scripted).
At one such show, Surka was spotted by Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijayakar, who were looking for a female member to join the cast of their TV show. The characters she played in the TWTW sketches invariably spoke terrible Hindi — replete with grammatical errors and mispronunciation. It’s not an act though. “My Hindi is legitimately bad. I watched Bollywood movies, visited Mumbai every couple of years, and my parents spoke Gujarati at home, but they never taught me Hindi or Gujarati. They were keen on me learning English well and fitting into the country,” says Surka.
Currently, she is taking Hindi lessons, and working on her diction: “I’ve built a small personal brand around speaking bad Hindi, but I feel I’m ready to move on. If you want to work in India, there are a lot more opportunities that come your way if you know Hindi.”
What: Kaneez Surka will perform at Festivelle on December 18, 4.30pm.
Where: Juhu Hotel, Opp Hotel Ramada Plaza, Juhu
Tickets: Rs 1,000 onward on bookmyshow.com (For 18+ women only)