Urooj Ashfaq, Sonali Thakker and Punya Arora are part of an exciting generation of comedians causing a stir in India
Indian comedians Queens of Stand Up hoping to take Dubai by storm
In recent years, some of the most exciting voices in stand-up comedy have emerged from India. Vir Das is perhaps the most famous of all, last year becoming the first Indian comedian to record a Netflix special. But there are dozens of others – Varun Grover; Zakir Khan; Rahul Subramanian – making audiences laugh night after night in the myriad comedy clubs that have been popping up all around the country over the past decade.
Three of the most intriguing of this batch of young Indian comedians are coming to Dubai to perform a one-off show. The Queens of Stand Up, which takes place tomorrow at the Ibis hotel at Dubai World Trade Centre, will feature sets from Urooj Ashfaq, Sonali Thakker and Punya Arora.
“I’ve known the other two ever since I started stand-up,” says the 22-year-old Ashfaq, the youngest of the all-female line-up. “They have been showing me the ropes.” Not that Ashfaq seems to need much help. She has enjoyed an impressively rapid rise through the comedy ranks in India – and it all started because she failed her exams at school. “I was a real loser,” she says. “I had to start doing something.”
It was a risk that paid off. Earlier this year, Ashfaq, who was born in Abu Dhabi and lived in Dubai until she was 12, was a finalist on the popular Netflix India series, Queens of Comedy. And she is now regularly endearing herself to audiences in Mumbai with her off-beat observations on everything from her parents’ divorce to the trouble with tattoos. “Honestly, my stuff is really random,” she says.
Thakker and Arora are more seasoned performers. The former has appeared at India’s premier comedy venue, the Canvas Laugh Club, as well as the cavernous National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai. Arora, the most established of the three comedians, has been featured on the BBC Asia Network.
Thakker’s route into comedy is an illustration of why India’s comedy scene continues to mushroom. “Comedy was just something that I used to enjoy watching. I never thought I would do it as a profession,” she says. “But then I happened to see an open mic night and thought: ‘Hey, this looks fun,’ and I ended up trying it and that was it, it just never stopped. I always say that I didn’t choose comedy; comedy chose me.”
With its emphasis on gender, the name of this night – The Queens of Stand Up – is striking. “There has always been this stereotype that women aren’t funny,” says Arora. “But as more and more women get on stage, audiences are starting to see it as normal. We’ve still got a long way to go but we’re on the right track.
“And it’s not just in comedy, either,” she continues. “Women’s voices across all fields are getting louder. They see all these other women doing amazing things and think: ‘She’s a woman, she’s just like me, I can go ahead and do something like that.’ This feeling of empowerment has started spreading.”
Thakker, who has already performed three times in Dubai, scoffs at the notion that women in comedy should be treated any differently from their male counterparts. “If I think something is funny, I just go ahead and say it, regardless of the conditions around me,” she says.
Arora, particularly, has good reason to champion the rights of women. Her father, who was part of an ultra-conservative Indian family, wanted a son and warned his wife that he would kill any daughter she gave birth to. “My mother had to fight for me,” says Arora. “She managed to get a divorce and told my father: ‘I want nothing from you, all I want is for you to have nothing from us,’” she reveals.
It is this shocking story that forms the basis of Arora’s show. She is keen to stress, however, that as serious as that sounds, she has managed to find humour amid the darkness.
“There’s no chance of people feeling sad for me at one of my shows,” she says. “I’ve never met my dad and I think that’s really funny because I can pick anyone to be my father. If someone asks me who my father is, I’m like, ‘Hmm, it depends who’s asking and what my mood is today.’ This is comedy and I want people to laugh.”
The Queens of Stand Up is at Hotel Ibis in the Dubai World Trade Centre on Wednesday. Tickets: dubai.platinumlist.net