Edited Excerpts from an interview •
This is from an interview that you gave back in 2010 when you had a leaner body profile. Anyhow, clichéd jokes apart, in that particular interview, you had mentioned how reviewing and creating spoofs out of movies of a bygone era would be tough considering the task you already had at hand. Cut to 2015, and you are promoting a book spoofing movies from the ’90s. What led to this massive transformation and why the ’90s?
I’m now as lean as I was back then, okay! Not from any actual fitness activity but I got TB last year and lost about 15 kg in two weeks. About the question, that interview was back when I wasn’t getting paid by anyone for the comics. So what I actually meant in 2010 was that I was too lazy and unmotivated to take on anything other than what I was already doing. Cut to a few years later, and publishers were willing to give me cash (and, more importantly) the motivation to actually move my butt and do something different. Hence, this book.
The book, 42 Lessons I Learnt from Bollywood, is an absolute delight. I cannot stop gushing over it. So before I ask you questions on your book, how did this book happen?
Like I said, once The Vigil Idiot went a little viral, it started getting attention from publishers. It took a little while to decide what this book was actually going to be, though. It seemed a little lazy, even to me, to just string together some reviews and release it without any structure. Which isn’t to say that the book isn’t just lazily strung together now. But, once we landed on the nostalgia frame the book is leaning on now, it was just about how long I’d take to write it (Almost two years. Don’t ask).
Do you realise that you did not simply write spoof after spoof in the book? For instance, you mentioned how the ’90s saw the joint email system when you introduced one of the movies in the book. How did you manage to get the nitty-gritties of the ’90s right like that? Was it lot of work for the self-proclaimed lazy Sahil Rizwan?
(Laughs) I actually don’t know if I did get it right. It was just based on memories of my childhood. So, by and large, I tried to keep it to stuff that was universal and to the things we went through as Indian kids. If it clicks, it’s mostly because desis are so boring that all people of the same age grow up with practically the same exact experiences.
There is no end to the Shah Rukh Khan bashing, I must say. On the contrary, I am happy with the way you call out on Aamir Khan’s perfectionist claims. Case in point being, some of Aamir Khan’s ’90s flicks including the spoof on the 1995 action thriller, Baazi. How do you see the Khans vis-a-vis The Vigil Idiot?
I know, I probably like the Khans more than most of their fan boys! And not just because their movies get me the most hits (General rule of thumb — the more popular the movie, the more page views the comic gets). I love SRK in real life interviews and hosting shows and stuff, no matter how silly his films are. He’s probably the smartest guy in the industry. It might seem like I’m more harsh on them than any other actors, but honestly, I don’t think their films are any more or less dumb than the general Bollywood standard. It’s just that the comics on their films happen to be the ones that get the most attention.
Did anyone from Bollywood ever get back to you on one of your spoof reviews?
Yes, a bunch of people from the industry have messaged me over the years, including people whose movies I’ve spoofed. You know, Bollywood has a better sense of humour about itself than most people give it credit for, at least in private. Even Shah Rukh Khan had once commented on the Ra.One comic in a tweet.
Let us unanimously agree on the fact that The Vigil Idiot, the web comic, is not about the art per say. I mean, one could think of a recipe like The Vigil Idiot through ingredients like the stick figures, ‘gaalis’, new-age lingo and of course, movie plots with no logic. Yet, the concoction remains unique. How do you manage to keep the spirit of The Vigil Idiot going for the bored Facebook generation?
I honestly don’t know how more people aren’t bored of it yet. A lot of people are wise but I’m surprised there are still loyal readers around. I’m the laziest guy in the world, so I haven’t even tried to change the ‘formula’ an iota since the first comic. The Vigil Idiot can only get as different or repetitive as the films that Bollywood comes out with. But there’s always that one film in four that inspires and lends itself to a brutal review. And one in four is pretty much what I think the strike rate of really good The Vigil Idiot comics is these days than when I was just starting out.
In 2009, The Vigil Idiot had been an event. It was path breaking as the phones of that period were. Today, you are part of a collective. For instance, the YouTube series Pretentious Movie Reviews from Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath and the Pictorial Film Rewind from Imaan Sheikh have quite a following. How do you see this trend?
We have our niches. Kanan and Biswa do videos of old cult films. Imaan does memes of popular old films. I do comics of new releases. There’s actually very little overlap there. But I still pretty much hate all these guys for stepping into my territory. Imaan and I actually work at the same place now and I let her know every day that I was the original gangster. Jokes apart, the Internet is such a huge place. There’s actually space for a lot of other Bollywood comedy based works to come up yet. Just look at Hollywood — Honest Trailers, How It Should Have Ended, Funny Review Podcasts, etc, all exist independent of each other.
I know enough has been said about the Roast episode from team AIB and it has been already forgotten. But, post the episode, a stand-up comedian from the team had faced sharp criticism for misogynist and sexist brand of humour. While banning alternate forms of expression is akin to shutting dissent, how do you perceive humour when it almost always becomes a terrain to indulge in gender insensitivity?
It’s a complicated debate and I honestly don’t think I’m knowledgeable or smart enough to engage in that discussion. Personally, it would take some really really dark humour to really offend me. I’m mostly okay with jokes on any subject as long as there’s no malicious intent behind it. And I think the world would be a much better and happier place if everyone thought like that. But I understand it’s foolish to assume that everyone is there on the same level as me. So even if I don’t agree that the words ‘rape’ or ‘retard’ or domestic abuse jokes or whatever should be blanket banned, I wouldn’t use them myself till I understand that other side’s point of view completely. In fact, I’ve made my share of sexist jokes in my comics (drawing actresses with huge bosoms or long legs or whatever), and I’m pretty sure someone will point at those soon enough and cry foul. And at this point, I’m not even sure if I have a valid defence. I’m not even sure if it’s something that I should defend. It’s just the times we live in now. And till things get better and society becomes less sensitive as a whole, comedians will just have to figure out a way around it, I guess.
So, the book is done. After Chetan Bhagat exploited his ideas of love in IIT, he became a spokesperson for the nation’s state of affairs and a contributing story maker for Bollywood. Similarly, would we see The Vigil Idiot on the screens?
I highly doubt The Vigil Idiot is going on screen, because any movie made from one of my comics has already come and gone from the screens. Then again, I did say in that interview that I wouldn’t review old movies, so let’s talk again in five years.
I am running out of questions and I must sign out. So, could you say something funny to help me get over this *awkward silence*?
The *awkward silence* thing is my most overused joke and I really wish I had a new gag to exploit.