comedy central

Meet Temple Monkeys, the crew behind the hilarious spoof of the NEET dress code

‘What if you don’t become an engineer?’ ‘I’ll be a meme creator.’

Six years ago, when Tamil comedian Vijay Varadharaj and his friend first began making videos for their YouTube channel Temple Monkeys, everyone thought they were wasting their time.

They had no steady jobs and no income. Their early years as struggling actors and directors were spent queuing outside film studios in Vadapalani, the industry hub in Chennai. Viewers for the videos were hard to come by. Each video garnered just a few hundred hits – and when one reached a thousand views, they rejoiced.

Little did they know then that one day, their YouTube channel, among the first in Tamil, will bring them thousands of subscribers and recognition from the film industry’s top directors.

Temple Monkey’s latest video I Don’t NEET You has cemented that popularity. A spoof of the strict dress code enforced by the Central Board of Secondary Education for the National Eligibility and Entrance Test for dental and medical courses on May 7, I Don’t NEET You has gone viral since it was uploaded on May 9. It is visibly generous in its scope: it pokes fun at religious majoritarianism and cultural imposition by the north, while making oblique references to the news reports that at some NEET centres, students were made to cut the full sleeves of their tops, remove nose rings, even take off bras with metal hooks.

Varadharaj was left incensed when he read about the harassment. Once a student of the state education board, he empathised with the irate state board students, especially from rural areas, who felt it was unfair to make them compete with graduates of other boards. The 29-year-old immediately brought together his crew for a shoot. After a day’s work, the satirical video was ready.

“Most of our jokes are spontaneous, I make them up as we shoot,” said Varadharaj. “We try to make our language, tone and look reflect regular people, even if it involves using Tamil cuss words.”

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It is not enough to watch a video of the Temple Monkeys just once. Each YouTube creation, even if a few minutes long, packs a string of pop culture references and is rich with word play and comic timing. That is not all: layers of subversive subtext are cleverly crafted into the joke. For Temple Monkeys, no sensitive topic is off limits, be it religious or caste discrimination – but it is invariably dealt with in a subtle, often sly manner.

For instance, in I Don’t NEET You, Varadharaj plays a cantankerous examination invigilator, Professor Rangabashyam, who spouts archaic laws of the Manusmriti. He eyes a student distastefully while snatching his answer sheet.

“Where is the thread-u?” asks the professor, turning over the single sheet. Bewildered, the student replies, “Only one sheet, sir.”

“Don’t have thread-aa?” asks the professor, incredulously. “Huh. FAIL-u!!”

The Temple Monkeys team. Credit: Temple Monkeys via Facebook
The Temple Monkeys team. Credit: Temple Monkeys via Facebook

Varadharaj is the brain behind Temple Monkeys. Whether it is their take on why Kattappa killed Baahubali or a parody of Airtel’s 4G advertisement, all videos are scripted, directed and edited by him. Most of his crewmembers admit that they don’t even get the subtext of his script until the video is shot and they have watched it a few times.

“When Vijay asked me to speak in Hindi for the NEET video, I had no idea why I was doing this,” said Badree R, an actor in the team. “Only after we saw the final edit did I get his point.”

Despite their casual work ethic and jokes, the team is highly deferential towards their director, grateful for having been given the exposure that the channel provides. While some quit after securing a steady footing in the film industry, others still come back for a new project – even though there is little money to be made in the channel. Abdool, who quit his stable job in the IT industry to pursue acting, has stuck with Varadharaj for two years now, even while taking up offers in movies. “It is only because of Temple Monkeys that many of us are being noticed,” said Abdool, 26.

Indeed, making YouTube videos in their small rented flat down a narrow alley in Vadapalani has brought them recognition among film directors.

“Now the assistant directors don’t even ask us to audition,” said Varadharaj. “They directly assign us our roles, since they all watch our videos.”

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Aspiring actors from across Tamil Nadu have been queuing up to work with the Temple Monkeys. About a year ago, 18-year-old Divakaran, an avid fan from Pudukottai district, moved to Chennai in the hope of becoming an actor. One day, he spotted Varadharaj at a bus stop and pleaded with him to take him on board. “He suddenly drove by in a van and asked me to get in to talk,” remembered Varadharaj, with a laugh. “I thought he was an angry Simbu fan planning to beat me up.”

Many like Divakaran come to work with Varadharaj. One moment Varadharaj is an affable colleague, easy to smile, ready to laugh. The next moment, he is an exacting director – entirely in control of the script. The moment after, he has slipped into the role of Professor Rangabashyam, spewing expletives at his students and teaching them how to watch pornography.

Varadharaj says he owes his creative freedom and smart comedy – he often derides Hindutva propagandists – to the fact that his YouTube channel is non-commercial. Here, there are no sponsors to please, no film-makers to assign cartoon-cutout roles. “In film, comedians are always treated like half-wits, they’re slapped around and made to act stupid,” said Varadharaj. “But online, we feel we have space to be witty.”

Amidst the positive feedback, there has been talk about I Don’t NEET You pushing the Dravidian ideology – of being anti-Brahmin and anti-Hindi. The Temple Monkeys crew denies this. “We do not subscribe to any particular ideology,” said Varadharaj. “Our take on any issue is based on what we feel is the truth. We don’t believe in putting up a facade. If something wrong is happening in society, there is no point in pretending like it isn’t.”

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.