The Spirit of Republic in Vir Das’ Personal Love Letter ‘For India’

The current political climate in India is dominated by the saffron brigade, and common people are fighting for survival. India right now has no strong opposition in the Parliament to counter the hate propaganda and army of bhakts.

Elaborating on this, in a recent stand-up clip titled ‘CAA NRC Protests and Students’, Tanmay Bhat joked that the only two resistance forces in India are students and Kunal Kamra. It seems as if comedy scene in the country has shifted its focus from jokes for jokes’ sake to political activism. In the post-Nanette period, comedy has become a serious tool that navigates the vulnerabilities of the audience, forcing them to introspect.

Das’s minimalist set in his new Netflix special – some steps leading up to a blue door – makes the gathering a warm, close-knit one. It isn’t some man up on stage screaming down diktats. It is a friend sitting in the middle of a circle, reminiscing over the nuances of the place he calls home.

Mashable writes, “Vir Das gets on a roll somewhere between complaining about biscuits to complaining about the current state of politics and culture.” Quint calls the show a “crash course” on India. ‘For India’ re-acquaints us with the true narrative of our country, as opposed to the false Hindutva patriotism that has engulfed our everyday.

The special asks some very poignant questions, such as whether our colonial hangover was self-created, perhaps urging us to take more responsibility for our cultivated perspectives. The British did not favour fair Indians, but we do. We subconsciously associate fair skin with our colonial masters, and hence a higher form of respect. Pursuing the line of self-told lies, Das also takes a dig at the obsession with the Vedas. He counters the “Ved mein likha hai” argument by saying that it is wonderful how much faith we put into these books when none of us have even read them.

Das’s strongest jibe at the present fascist government comes while talking about the fatwa issued on Salman Rushdie. “Hindus, we don’t have a death sentence in our culture,” he says, “If we want to target a particular community or person, we have to design an entire election campaign around that shit.” He adds “hypothetically”, after a loaded pause. This not-so-subtle jibe at the anti-Muslim policies of the Bharatiya Janta Party resonated across the hall, and in the hearts of the viewers.

He takes on biased, sponsored media headfirst when he calls Times of India “the largest selling work of fiction in the history of India”. On the subject of Jungle Book, Das wonders where such a jungle with “loose immigration policies” exists. Transposing characters, he says that Narendra Mougli would be forcibly hugging other animals, our home minister would have been Sher Khan, and all the trees would soon be declared “invalid”. In the agitated hullabaloo of anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, the accuracy of this analogy is both surprising and worrying.

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Talking about forcing people to stand for the national anthem, Das comments, “Technically, we don’t have to. Probably should. Safety issue. Because there are other dudes multitasking in the room, singing while whooping.” As somebody who has repeatedly faced abuse and backlash for not standing up in movie theatres, this hit very close to home. People across ages have been physically assaulted for defying the draconian diktat. There have been instances where the theatre staff have come in to aid the harassers, instead of protecting movie-goers exercising their own right.

Das says, “We have the youngest population in the world, with some of the oldest leadership.” Like old Indian uncles stressing on having an omelette at restaurants not serving the breakfast menu, our leaders also stress on hatred and persecution, even though it goes firmly against our constitutional precedents.

On the mandir-masjid issue, he says, “Look, forget Hinduism and Islam, let’s talk about India’s real religion: Property.” He echoes what most educated, rational people thought about the controversy: In 2.7 acres you can literally accommodate “a church, a synagogue, a mosque, anything.” Or, he says, we could have the “new gods”, the Ambanis, the Adanis, the KVN office, “whoever the politicians worship”.

In one fell sweep, he addresses almost every strain of political struggle we are undergoing. Das makes us feel like a Republic for a little over an hour. Sitting together, discussing the highs and lows of a place we love, ‘For India’ embodies the spirit which refuses to let our country succumb to filth.

In a time where the oppressor thrives upon divisive politics, Das shows us how we will always be united by our personal love letters for India.

Meghalee Mitra is a littérateur and hopes to change the world, one word at a time. 

Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab