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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Mumbaiwale: Deepa Jhaveri, pageant winner and comic, wants punchlines and world peace

Stand-up comedian and beauty pageant winner, knows how to make disparate worlds collide

cities Updated: Nov 02, 2019 08:47 IST
Deepa Jhaveri
Deepa Jhaveri(Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)
         

As anyone who’s used a joke to defuse an uncomfortable situation knows, it helps to be funny. For Khar resident Deepa Jhaveri, it’s also helped her shine in a world where smiles and waves count for more than laughs and witticism. Last month, the mother, stand-up comic and former advertising executive participated in the Mrs India Earth pageant, performing a comedy routine for her talent round and winning the crown. “I’m not surprised I won Earth, I’m quite grounded, you know?” she says laughing. “People see comics as losers, strugglers without any self-worth. They see beauty queens as exactly the opposite: divas or people who are personable but dull.” See how she’s used her experiences in one world to shine in the other.

“I wasn’t aiming to be a beauty queen. I got into it by chance.”

Jhaveri says she chanced upon an ad for the contest on her phone, and decided to put in her application just for the experience. “I didn’t tell anyone at home,” she says. They only found out when, after an interview round that features current-affairs and home-life questions, she made it to the finals in Delhi.

“My family’s supportive… I guess”

Jhaveri describes her family (she has a husband and 15-year-old daughter) as loving but irreverent. “When I told them I was chosen for a pageant, they said ‘What? What’s wrong with them?’. My daughter told me my style was outdated. But I ended up also winning Mrs Stylish Diva.”

“Pageantry is serious business”

There are married contestants from across India – a majority of them doctors, wives of wealthy businessmen. At least one competitor, Jhaveri says, came with her own make-up artist, and had outfits flown in from home. “All I did was join a kundalini yoga class – and hurt my back,” Jhaveri says. Her unusual background helped her stand out. “Most contestants do a Bollywood dance for the talent round, moving parts of their bodies that I didn’t know could move.” Jhaveri did a stand-up comedy routine, tailoring her set for the situation. “I switched from English to Hindi and did jokes about how pageant emails address me as Queen, but at home I was already a rani... a naukrani.”

“The crowd loved it”

After the set, waiters at the venue came up to Jhaveri with praise and questions about how they could become comedians too. Photographers asked her for tips on timing. She ended up winning the contest, walking away with an air- conditioner, beauty products, and other gifts. “I also use the platform to popularise issues that I’ve always worked on – tree plantation schemes, particularly in light of the crisis in Aarey, and educating daughters of domestic help.”

“I’ve performed stand-up in my crown”

For her first set after winning, Jhaveri thought it would be fun to wear her crown and sash on stage. “I never had the dieting-and-dating struggles of most comics,” she says. “I live comfortably, I’m happily married. So my routine covers observations from domestic life – malls, sales, selfies and my father-in-law, a doctor who sat several medical exams but should have taken one more – a handwriting test.” She’s also used the pageant for material. “I thought offers would pour in after my win, that at least my Instagram following would rise. Not only has nothing happened, my followers actually left me. They saw me in a crown and thought I’d lost it.”

“Bigger pageants are calling”

As an India winner, Jhaveri qualified for an international contest, held in the UK this weekend. But she chose to stay home and help her daughter prepare for Class 10 exams. “With her school exams, I don’t have the time to be anything, let alone funny.”