Tathastu review: Zakir Khan’s special is an oddly rewarding watch
Tathastu review: Zakir Khan's comedy special could have used more punchlines but the comedian's life journey is still a treat to listen to.
It's been a while since we’ve had a buzzy new Prime Video comedy special. What was once the home of the Indian stand-up special (they have close to 50) gradually started dwindling in recent years in the face of platforms wanting to distance themselves from the outrage against “edgy material”. It’s why a number of leading comics have started experimenting with releasing new specials on Youtube. Enter Tathastu, a new special from Zakir Khan - arguably one of the biggest Indian comics, and certainly one of the most original voices. (Also read: Kapil Sharma I’m Not Done Yet review: Comedian's Netflix special is low on laughs but wins on storytelling)
What first struck me about Tathastu - Zakir’s second Amazon special after 2017’s Haq Se Single - was the lighting. Instead of the theatre-style darkness considered conducive to the communal stand-up comedy experience, Zakir’s audience sits in a brightly lit auditorium with everyone visible to one another. The audience (which is peppered with familiar faces like Sunny Hinduja, Vishal Dadlani, and Meiyang Chang) and their laughter are quite clearly on display. They also all seem to be decked up in fancy festive attire in what looks like a flashy Manyavar commercial.
Split into three chapters (titled Paradise, Exile and The Return), Tathastu essentially tells the Zakir Khan origin story. The special’s two focal points are his relationship with his late grandfather, the singer Ustad Moinuddin Khan, and Zakir’s journey to becoming the superstar comedian that he is. From his upbringing within a joint family to his college days and first job, to eventually navigating comedy before having his career turbocharged after being discovered by AIB.
Zakir has possibly the most dedicated fan following of any Indian comic. Make no mistake, no one is sitting in that audience primarily because they love laughter, live comedy, and/or a great stand-up set. They’re there because they love him. Repeatedly through the show, the audience shouts out his famous catchphrases and breaks into applause for even the most straightforward statements. Laughter in Tathastu is often the sound of passionate fandom more than it is the response to a punchline.
I can’t say I laughed much during Tathastu. Zakir’s distinct brand of comedy has always, for me, been an acquired taste. You’re either all in from the get-go or you feel relatively alienated throughout - like walking into a beloved Indie movie halfway through and trying to understand what the hype is about. But it’s to his credit that that’s not entirely a dealbreaker. It’s a special that exists somewhere in the curious intersection between soulful Ted Talk, motivational speech, and poetry peppered with jokes. Even if the laughs don’t come, it’s hard not to be taken by a formidable storyteller taking us through his remarkable journey of getting rejected from RJ jobs left, right, and centre to then selling out tours in New York City in a matter of years. A journey marked by, as he puts it, seeing dreams he never even had, come true.
So smooth and casual is the flow of his material, that none of this feels written. His fluid conversational Hindi style means you can barely see the design of a Zakir set. The result is a special that sails off the back of his pleasant presence, panache, and poetry rather than punchlines (though I personally would have liked more of those).
While the first chapter of Tathastu takes off slowly, once you're accustomed to the style and pace, the second, covering his early days in Mumbai and writing with AIB is a breezy watch. But it's in Chapter 3 - The Return - in which Tathastu the special finds real meaning as Zakir explores grief, discussing the passing of his grandfather, the biggest creative influence on his life.
As comedy specials go, Tathastu may not win on laughs, but it’s nonetheless an oddly rewarding watch to see an exciting artist recounting his journey so far. While it isn't particularly funny, it’s sure to make the sakht launda’s fans happy. Not that that’s a tall order these days.