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Meet Preeti Das and Shefali Pandey, Stand-Up Comedians Who Are Making Ahmedabad Laugh

  • IWB Post
  •  September 25, 2019

It’s been noted that male comedians’ voices are consistently elevated over women’s, as society is still not okay with the idea of a ‘woman with an opinion’. So, stand-up comedy is still dominated by men, but we can be a part of the wave of viewers that takes women comics to the next level of fame.

Breaking the barrier of stereotypes, The Mahila Manch, a stand-up comedy group in Ahmedabad, is entertaining the audience with laughs and some real talk. From performances at coffee shops to open mic nights, The Mahila Manch is slowly garnering attention and fame.

In a conversation with IWB, Preeti Das and Shefali Pandey, founders of The Mahila Manch, discussed their shows and the current situation of stand-up comedy in India with lots of jokes in between.

Excerpts:

Who is the part of the Mahila Manch family?

Shefali: Mahila Manch is a collective started by women and anyone who doesn’t get the stage to perform can come and perform with us. A transwoman, a health worker, or a person from minority section, I mean, anyone.

It all started with a meeting that included Preeti, myself, and Renu in December 2017. We met and laughed but our conversation came to a halt at the point of mainstream comedy happening in today’s time. Like, that was just a part of it but we also want to joke about our boyfriends. Half of the comedy in India revolves around bahu-saasumaa.

We have a few performers, Vasim Habib, RJ Aarti Boria, architect Nancy Dixit, Vidya. In every new show, new people keep joining us. Some are permanent, some are not.

How are they contributing to the collective?

Shefali: They cover various issues, like Aarti discussed being single, and how men approach her on Ola and Quickr. Nancy talks about the middle-class perspective on living alone. Basically, we are talking about the things that are not being talked much.

Also, there are certain issues that people won’t listen from you, like gender issues, or they will end up calling us feminazis. But if you do it with humour, they will listen to you. Because without humour, they will directly state, kya bakwas kar rahi hai or yeh vulgar hai. But if you make a joke about it, it’ll be okay for them.

Mahila Manch

Mahila Manch added a new photo – with Preeti Das.

What has been the takeaway from the audience?

Shefali: Ahmedabad is slowly shifting towards western culture. The audience is adapting to the culture and our content. We have a dedicated audience with 1500 followers on Facebook. They like the content. There’s always a surprise element for them, we’ve often received reviews like, Ahmedabad mein aisa ho raha hai.  Secondly, our creatives are quite quirky. Memes are weird. It attracts the audience.  

Preeti: We often end the shows with talks and questions the audience really wants to discuss. We have a group of people in the age group of 50-60. But in our shows, they laugh, agree, and keep coming back to be with us.   

What’s been the response of cafe owners?

Shefali: We struggled with venue owners in the beginning. We had our first show in a living room, and we had around 80-90 people with us. Then we started going out and exploring more. In one of our shows, Acche Din Acche Jokes, the venue owner refused for the show to be conducted at his place. You see, Acche Din has a controversial connotation. The whole weekend went in running around, hunting for places, frantically calling our contacts but almost everything was booked. Finally, a generous dance studio embraced us with open arms. Now, people know about Mahila Manch. So luckily people ask us to come to their place.

Tell us about being a woman in stand-up.

Shefali: Our audience is quite diverse. Mahila Manch is a safe space. There is no such struggle of being a woman stand up comedian but personally, outside of Mahila Manch, when you are on the stage with men, they don’t share the mic.

Every country has its own flavour of sexism. In India, power and authority are usually not given to women. It is not expected from women. I have observed a little bit of generalisation in politics and comedy as well. We get called out for this, but men usually get away with it.

Like, I can see the reaction. You say jerking off, but people would shower us with shy giggles. It is common between men but when women say something like that, we can observe stronger reactions. Some would laugh or get shy or some would just declare us ashleel auratein. It is a title we’ve been called.

Preeti: Most people think that it is not hard for a woman to be a stand-up comedian. But it’s been seven years since I have been doing stand-up. Humour is associated with intelligence. When you are on stage, power also adds up to the intelligence. But power is always associated with men. I think equations are changing very slowly. It’s always been a boys club. They are constantly talking about their wives and laughing at it. In humour, people are ending up endorsing the stereotypical point of view about women.

Also, we are not male bashing. It is very easy to label women. If we joke about contraceptive pills or condoms, they will say, we are doing non-veg jokes. We talk about the things that we go through, be it contraceptive pills, sanitary pads, or condoms. We are judged as women and not as comedians.

Mahila Manch

Mahila Manch added a new photo – with Shefali Pandey.

In this political climate, how are gender and comedy contributing?

Preeti: The relation between politics and comedy is not new. A political aura is always there. We have this satirical taste to such conversations. Look at Tenalirama, he is telling the emperor about society and the world with the help of humour, sarcasm, and satire. Comedy revisits the issues occurred five years back, or education, health, I mean, anything.

Also, when women start talking about politics, they will say, go and look after your home. I think, from day one, we have included politics in all our shows. Talking about politics is always a man’s thing for society. Even now, Page 1 contains visuals of men but turn to page 3 and you will be bombarded with women’s photos. As a stand-up comedian, I want to generate an opinion.

Preeti: People don’t think women should have an opinion at all. Opinion is always associated with power. They want an opinion on certain issues only. People are okay when we are talking about clothes, looks, or a pimple which is good, yes, we do talk about that. But beyond that, they also need to appreciate the things that we are constantly challenging.     

 

Mahila Manch

Mahila Manch added a new photo.

What are the future plans for Mahila Manch?

Shefali: We want to hit every city. We want to go to more cities like Ahmedabad. We want to get this conversation out of the monthly show.  We never used to charge for the tickets, but as we observe The Mahila Manch growing, we need to develop certain plans around it. The management would be more efficient if we start hiring people for digital media, data handling, video making, and marketing, etc. So, the money could be used to put all these in operation.

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