Meet him in person and Vir Das, known best for his stand-up comedy, doesn’t really tickle your funny bone the way you expect him to. Perhaps that’s a trait he has reserved for the stage. However, the pleasing personality, charming demeanour and wit are intact. In Chandigarh to play Banta in the upcoming Hindi film, Santa Banta, Vir gets talking about taking respite in comedy and turning jokes with double meaning into a heavy dose of humour.
Born in Dehradun and raised in Africa, Vir’s father is a farmer, mother a wildlife enthusiast and sister was a documentary maker. Finding Nigera unsafe to live in, Vir went to the US, where he started pursuing a degree in economics from Knox College, Illinois. “One day, I took an acting class and my mentor told me to do theatre instead of economics. For four years continuously, I did theatre, mostly dark roles. Since these were turning me insane, I started doing stand-up comedy as almost a rebellion,” he says.
As soon as he finished his degree, Vir started doing odd jobs to survive—security guard, dishwasher, painter et al. He says it was poverty that motivated him to perform as a stand-up comedian. “A performance at Comedy Club in Illinois would get me 80 dollars and therefore meant everything because it took care of my spending on alcohol, cigarettes and rent. That is how I became inclined towards writing jokes,” Vir adds.
With Delhi residents warming up to Vir’s jokes, his India return in 2003 earned him name. But, it was clearly his debut in 2011 Hindi film Delhi Belly that brought him a horde of work and a lot more fame. “Delhi Belly brought the biggest change in my life,” he says, adding, “Post the film, I got 35 scripts in around 60 days, out of which I signed five.”
Apart from Santa Banta (in which Santa is played by Boman Irani), the anchor-actor has Super Se Upar, Golu and Pappu, Go Goa Gone and Shaadi Ke Side Effects lined up. Vir says all the films bring the spice of variety in his work profile. “Super Se Upar is a love story set in Rajasthan, featuring actress Kirti Kulhari and directed by Shekhar Ghosh. Golu and Pappu is a film on kids that also stars Kunal Roy Kapoor while Go Goa Gone is a zombie film starring Saif Ali Khan and Kunal Khemu. Meanwhile, Revolver Rani is dark and rural, starring Kangana Ranaut and directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia,” he shares. Vir jokes that he gives a ‘stupid appearance’ in Shaadi Ke Side Effects, “a small role in which he had the most stupid thing to do.”
For now, he is most looking forward to Santa Banta, which he terms as a contemporary, plot-driven film. “The film’s director Akashdeep is a Punjabi, so we have a Punjabi dialect too. Wherever I go wrong, the crew corrects me.”
To be seen in seven films this year, Vir claims it was his initiation in stand-up comedy that had earned him a niche in films. “My audience is large, since I have dabbled in comedy, singing, anchoring and now films. So, expectations from me are bigger,” he says.
Vir, who believes “life has a double meaning,” continues to joke on chocolates, farting and human behaviour, based on his observations. He has his trademark quirk attached to the difference between his original occupation—stand-up comedy—and the latest, acting. “You get instant applause as a stand-up comedian, but as an actor, you have to wait for at least nine months to know if you will be appreciated or you have screwed up.”