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Comedian justifies Mahatma act

Brooklyn-based Gautham Prasad has sparked controversy in India by posting a web video of himself playing Gandhi, reports Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2007 13:19 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Gautham Prasad, the Indian-American comedian who sparked controversy in India by posting a web video of himself playing Mahatma Gandhi doing a strip dance, says his purpose was to entertain, not offend.

Prasad, who is Bangalore-born and Brooklyn-based, said, "I take full responsibility. I know this is a controversial topic, but my intention was not to offend but to entertain."

Prasad has a professional entertainer’s credentials. The 29-year-old worked as a clown for two years for the best-known US circus, Ringling Brothers and now makes a living as a stand-up comedian and a playing clown at private events. He also teaches yoga.

The Gandhi dance, which is on his website, is part of a recording of his comedy act at a nightclub. It has been part of his repertoire for almost three years and the video clip was posted on the internet "five to six weeks ago."

He describes the performance as one of him dressing up in Gandhi’s clothes, then doing a slow stripping dance but falling short of nudity. The outrage in India, Prasad says, "is the first negative response I have ever received. The audience loves it. You can hear their laughter in the video."

Prasad is careful to explain the nature of his performance. "I am not making fun of Mahatma Gandhi. I am making fun of a character who is dressed up as the Mahatma and does this dance. I am making fun of myself," he says.

"Not many people are clowns, so they miss this distinction. If you look at my video you will see I am even wearing a clown’s red rubber nose." Prasad admits this seems a semantic distinction, but insists that when he walks on a stage he is "not playing Mahatma Gandhi, but a character."

Prasad further argues that "no one is above parody." Nor is any event. He explains, "Comedy is tragedy plus time. You can have something that is awful and painful and over time you get the maturity to laugh about it."

Citing how kings gave court jesters the right to make fun even of the monarchy, Prasad says, "Where I am coming from as performer, I see it is my job to entertain."

The Mahatma dance is only part of his comedy act, which includes jokes about his experience growing up as an Indian-American. He has never performed before an exclusively Indian-American audience – "There isn’t much of a market."

Asked how desi Indians should respond to his performance, Prasad says: "Honestly. I am not going to tell people how they respond to my work. I just hope they respond honestly."

He denied reports his act had scenes of Gandhi carrying guns, flirting with women or drinking alcohol. "Please see the video," he responded.

First Published: Jan 12, 2007 12:38 IST