Forget Sardar jokes! Indian stereotypes are making jokes on themselves #LolOnUs
Social media is a great place to explore contradictions. For instance, on the one hand, you’ll find Sardarjis fuming about Santa-Banta jokes and petitioning the Supreme Court to have them banned. On the other hand, you’ll find Sardarjis sharing Santa-Banta jokes and petitioning the Supreme Court to concentrate on serious cases. Both sides have a point, but if you ask us, we’re all for sharing Santa-Banta jokes. And Sindhi jokes. And Bong jokes. And Mallu jokes. And Tam jokes. Because if there’s one thing that unites most Indians, it’s the ability to spot the funny in the real. Never mind political correctness. Taking that thought forward, we’ve found three cultural clichés who are great at showing us who we are.
To Bong or not to Bong
The huge Godfather poster assures me that I have reached the right house. After all, what is a Bong without Godard and Godfather? So I am expecting to meet a Bong boudi in cotton sari, sleeveless blouse, huge red bindi, and monkey cap, holding a turmeric-stained khunti (a steel spatula without which no Bong can cook, and which doubles as a weapon against husbands and strangers at the door).
Instead, I am welcomed by a girl in a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and a hoodie. She hardly looks 45 years old, and definitely doesn’t look anything like the Bong in my head. Neither does she sound like one. “I have lived my whole life in Delhi, so in real life, I am more Jat than Bong,” she laughs.
This is Sawan Dutta, 45, a graduate from the School of Planning and Architecture and one of the earliest members of the fusion band Indian Ocean. For the last 20 years, she’s been composing for ad jingles, TV shows, plays and even an occasional film. But these days, she is the Machher Jhol girl. Her vlog, called The Metronome, sees her dishing out traditional Bengali recipes through quirky songs sung with a typical Bengali accent, and has YouTubers drooling. Sample this:
“Heat mustard oil, till it smokes in the pan
Fry fish and potato as lightly as you can
If every now and then you forget to turn,
It will be very bad, your potatoes will burn
What is our goal? To make macher jhol...”
How to be a Bengali
Dutta’s vlog stereotypes Bengalis, not only using food, but other cultural constructs like Boroline (the ointment for everything) and the monkey cap.
But she has to really work at it. Her look, she says is her alter ego. “Maybe if I had lived in our North Kolkata house all my life, this is how I’d dress!” she laughs. “If you notice, in every video, I am wearing a black blouse. That is because I only have one blouse! And sometimes I wrap the sari around my shorts.”
Her Bong accent comes from watching Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee videos. And despite the popularity of her recipe songs, she cannot cook. “I know the basics, but I hardly cook. And when I do, I have to call my mom and ask for instructions!”
The recipe songs began because Dutta missed her home food. “Our feasts never end until you are down with an upset stomach. Then the diet shifts to medicines – and rossogullas. These are considered perfect for a weak tummy, so you are allowed to have as many as you want!”she laughs.
Rock of ages
Dutta not only writes, composes, produces and performs the songs on her vlogs, she also conceptualises, shoots and edits the videos: a lot of work for a self-confessed lazy person.
And while most social media stars are in their 20s, Dutta believes her age works for her. “Earlier, when I was trying to make a career as a solo musician, there were too many people suggesting too many things. I got confused in the din. Today, at 45, I can say, f**k that shit, I am what I am and I will sing what I want to sing. I can wear a crumpled sari over shorts and still rock it!”
Mallu till I die
Talk to any ’90s kid and they’ll instantly join you in singing Lola Kutty’s favourite song – By the Rivers of Babylon – or recreate her catchphrase. Lola was youth television Channel [V]’s resident Beauty on Duty and the most popular Mallu of all times.
The accent was not offensive, it was funny and it still is. Anuradha Menon, who brought Lola to life, is glad that she belonged to a time when cracking a joke did not mean that you were immediately beheaded by the goons of the Twitter universe.
Lola Kutty was a typical Malayali character, with oily hair ornamented with gajra, and traditional silk saris. She had a thick Mallu accent, and it was that accent that made her such a success. She was a refreshing change from the constantly decked up bunch of VJs, which explains why we still remember her catch-phrase, ‘simbly enjay!’ almost two decades later.
“The character had to be an exaggeration of a stereotype because if I had been ‘normal’, I would have never caught anyone’s attention. We needed to give that cultural context,” adds Menon.
During her life as Lola Kutty, Menon received only one hate letter. “There was no social media to troll me at that time,” she laughs. “But I don’t understand why people think stereotypes are so bad. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, because there is some truth to them. It’s not as if we are degrading anyone; it is a fun take on reality. A lot of people are influenced by their mother tongue when they talk in English, but what is wrong with that? Why shy away from it?”
Punjabi Aunty Masala
There’s no Punjabi aunty cliché that Ssumier Pasricha aka Pammi Aunty doesn’t bring to screen. Yet the ones laughing the loudest are the Punjabi aunties of the world. Pammi aunty is the typical Delhi aunty, talking about everything from koftas to the Kailash Colony market. She wears a face mask and colourful shades, has rollers in her hair, and an opinion on everything from her daughter-in-law’s habits to demonetisation.
Pasricha created the character inspired by people he’d been surrounded by all his life. “One of the videos I’ve done is called Dinky ka Roka, which is covering Dinky’s wedding functions,” says Pasricha.
“The inspiration for this comes from seeing how Punjabi women talk about weddings, what to buy, where to shop from and so on. We all have such characters in our homes.”
His favourite episode is the one in which Pammi Aunty criticises her daughter-in-law for acting to like football, promising to treat her BFF Sarla Behnji to chhole kulche, if the daughter-in-law actually understands anything about the sport in the first place.
That Pammi Aunty is a social media rage is an understatement. He’s got over six lakh Facebook likes and over 83,000 followers on Instagram in just six months, all thanks to the videos. But he’s had a good share of trolling too, ranging from Pammi Aunty’s comments on the ‘boring’ Teej celebration to her statement that ‘Batra’s bahu is a dark, overweight Gupta’.
“The media asked me why I did that, and I explained to them that this is how actually Punjabis talk,” says Pasricha.
His videos do not encourage stereotyping, adds Pasricha. “Everyone connects with my characters, even people abroad. It is clean humour that people relate to. I don’t defame or demean anything or anyone.”
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From HT Brunch, March 19, 2017
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