INTERVIEW

YouTube comic Fitoor Mishra: ‘The only way to fight restrictions is to go out there and say it’

‘Nothing is a no-go zone,’, says Anahad Madhav, the creator of the merciless online critic of Bollywood and beyond.

Six months ago, an internet star emerged quite by accident. Anahad Madhav and his team did not expect his take-down of the Half Girlfriend trailer in actor-poet Piyush Mishra’s voice to go viral. The concept of a person providing commentary in Mishra’s voice was one of the many ideas thrown around in the offices of the media company Arré. Madhav’s boss knew that he could mimic Mishra’s voice. So why not run with it?

“I know a lot of people who can do the voice better than me,” Madhav said. “My boss thought that the voice could be used to comment upon a bunch of things like the way we live our lives. It could have mass appeal.”

Pushed by his friend and writing partner Gaganjeet Singh, the 24-year-old comic talent recorded himself mimicking Mishra’s voice and also wrote a script. When the opportunity to make a comic video on the trailer of Half Girlfriend presented itself, Madhav wrote a script within 15 minutes. Within 24 hours of the video’s release, Fitoor Mishra’s “commentarré” on Half Girlfriend went viral, and with good reason.

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Fitoor Mishra on Half Girlfriend.

Released in April, the Half Girlfriend video hit the internet around the time the nepotism debate was gaining ground. Madhav began the video by referring to Arjun Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor as “Boney ka launda” (Son of Boney Kapoor) and “Shakti ki bitiya” (Daughter of Shakti Kapoor) respectively. Apart from playing to the gallery by punching up at the two star kids, Madhav also livened up the video with cuss words laced with Urdu.

The video was a hit. Arjun Kapoor found it funny (though he added that he had seen funnier stuff), but did express his misgivings on being called “Boney ka launda”. Nonetheless, Fitoor Mishra had arrived.

Back in Delhi, Madhav’s friends, college mates and colleagues from his theatre days were stunned, especially since he had a reputation for being an introvert. His family and relatives were not pleased with the expletives.

But Fitoor Mishra’s CommentArré had now become a fixture for his team. Similar videos were created about the trailer of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, Sarkar 3 and Tubelight. Arjun Kapoor had to undergo another unpleasant Fitoor Mishra treatment for his next film Mubarakan, called Mediocrity ki Mubakaran. (This time, Arjun Kapoor is introduced as Boney Kapoor’s son who forces Daniel Day-Lewis to go into retirement).

Former Central Board of Film Certification chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani became a target for his comments on Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under my Burkha. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s onscreen persona was the subject of another video, which came after much trepidation at Madhav’s end.

“When my boss suggested MSG, my first thought was that I don’t want to be lynched,” Madhav said. “But then why make fun of the guy when we can make fun of his films?”

His latest videos include trailer takedowns of Tiger Zinda Hai and Judwaa 2, criticism of Shah Rukh Khan’s choice of films (which was released on the actor’s birthday on November 2), and a satirical review of iPhone X.

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Fitoor Mishra on Shah Rukh Khan.

While the script for the first video was written under 15 minutes, the others took over a day. “From the second video onwards, I felt a pressure to live up to the first one.” Madhav revealed. “I didn’t want the first video to be a fluke. Between the second video and the fifth video, I tried to create a vocabulary: half Hindi, half Urdu, half millennial. Sometimes, I try to rhyme.”

If the measure of a video’s virality is the number of views on YouTube, none of the Fitoor Mishra videos were as popular as the first one. His work, however, has developed a steady following on social media. To his surprise, he has seldom been the victim of troll attacks, given that his comedy has the potential to invite outrage from the fans of superstars whose films are the butt of his jokes.

“I go back to my videos and check comments and I have seen that... there is some kind of social media acceptance for what this guy [Fitoor Mishra] is saying,” Madhav said. “Maybe not for the content but for the way he is saying things. So if I say Sohail Khan is a bread pakora in the Tubelight video, nobody is offended, but they could be if it was said outright without the voice.”

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Fitoor Mishra on Tubelight.

Piyush Mishra’s voice is one of many that Madhav could mimic from a very young age. “In school, there’s that guy who mimics the teachers, that’s me,” he said. Hailing from a Oriya family in East Delhi, his schooling and childhood helped shape his comedic sensibilities. He picked up different accents and dialects prevalent in the northern belt. A specific brand of bro-humour became part of his repertoire, which shows up in the scripts of his Fitoor Mishra videos.

Studying English literature at Delhi’s Kirori Mal College, and later, mass communication at Jamia Milia Islamia sharpened his aptitude for understanding literature, writing scripts and shooting videos. The three years at Kirori Mal College were spent doing theatre. A literary environment in his family helped too: his mother is an editor with the Times of India, his father is a researcher.

Work brought Madhav to Mumbai. One thing led to another, which led to Arré, where he donned several hats as a cinematographer, script writer and voice-over artist until Fitoor Mishra clicked.

“I remembered Piyush Mishra in his serious role as a cop in Dil Se,” Madhav said. “But it was Gulaal which made me a fan. I understood him as an actor and a writer. His songs were basically folk songs but lyrically they referred to everything happening around us, from Uncle Sam to Bisleri bottles to 9/11 to Bush. This guy was taking form and playing with it. At the time, I couldn’t grasp the politics of his work but I was intrigued.”

Mishra’s voice became particularly famous after Gangs of Wasseypur, which he narrated. The voice was soon mimicked for a parody video Gangs of Social Media – Valentines’ Day Q-tiyapa, produced by The Viral Fever, and it became popular. To choose Mishra’s voice for his commentary thereafter became an easy choice for Madhav.

For the past two months, Madhav and his team has been thinking of ways to diversify. What subjects besides film trailers can Fitoor Mishra make fun of? He recently did a mock review of iPhone X, which was warmly received. Madhav wants to pick up subjects that he personally finds funny and topical.

“On the top of my mind right now is the Gujarat elections,” Madhav began. “Then, the sexual harassment controversy surrounding Weinstein and Spacey.” He is considering making a video on Republic TV debates or do takedowns of Hollywood films with mass appeal in India. “As a matter of principle, nothing is a no-go zone,” Madhav said.

But his first reaction to a video on Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Singh was, indeed, a fear of being lynched.

“There are certainly restrictions on people like us, writers and journalists,” Madhav said. “Only way to fight that is to go out there and say it.” Citing the example of Shyam Rangeela, the comedian whose mimicry of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was dropped from a television comedy show, Madhav said that he doesn’t know what is allowed and what is not anymore. “Should I make a video on demonetisation? I don’t know. That’s a call everyone should sit and discuss and take,” he said.

Among Madhav’s recent inspirations is the satirical Facebook page Humans of Hindutva . “It has taught me how to think and challenge the establishment,” he said. “I am slowly trying to do that through my work by going into traditional no-go zones like discussing sexism or racism. Maybe this is the time we start talking about these things.”

Anahad Madhav.
Anahad Madhav.
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