Humour is an unfunny beat these days. Satire is trickier. But Sawan Dutta seems to be doing a neat job in her vlogs that take the sting out of her harshest lampoons with a sensuous voice, a poker-faced metronome and an accent that is probably the most recognised one after the American – the Bengali one.
The music composer, producer and musician’s alter ego is a Bong Aunty with hot pink lips, big bindi, thick glasses and black sari, who has captured the Bengali imagination with a certain fierceness. The internet sensation sings of things that Bengalis all over the world hold dear – Boroline (a green tube of multipurpose skin cream that has travelled the world and time), maccher jhol (fish curry) and the monkey cap (self-explanatory), in tones that jazz-swing from stern and matronly to seductive.
True, she is equally passionate about living in Mumbai for seven years and a Harmonica Man or even Auto-tune among other things, but the responses to the vlogs poking fun at her kind has “blown” her away. She clocked 15,000 plus views and more than 1,000 subscriptions on her YouTube channel within hours of going live with Maccher Jhol – in which she takes up a popular recipe and marries it to an abiding Bengali concern, acidity.
“This entire vlogging process is as much of a learning, analysis and discover tool for me as anything else, to try and see what really works versus what I think or hope will work....each post is an education in audience behaviour! No one's more surprised than me at the enthusiasm with which the Bong character's been received! I'd not really thought of extending it beyond Boroline until I saw the unexpected reaction the song and video evoked! So a huge learning curve for me there,” said Dutta in a conversation with scroll.in
Dutta, who was part of the original lineup for veteran Indie band Indian Ocean, said she began these blogs to do creative and artistic work that was free of commercial considerations. She did not want to sing about heartbreak either as is the norm.
“But I wanted something that was honest, straight from my heart,” she said. Dutta was aware of how touchy Bengalis are about being made fun of, and says she posted the first Boroline video with “some trepidation…wondering how much of a negative reaction it would evoke.”
"For some reason I was assuming we Bongs are not great at laughing at ourselves. The reaction was a very very pleasant eye-opener! After this experience, with these three songs, I'd say we're as cool, if not cooler than any other people about having a sense of humour about ourselves!”
But would Bengalis have received the songs as spontaneously had she been a “Non-Bengali Dutt” instead of a Dutta? Sawan laughed. “Perhaps you are right...it is because I'm a Bong and therefore making fun of my own kind. I've been receiving the odd request to do a Mallu thing and so on, but somehow I don't quite feel right about doing that. So a non-Bong Dutt doing it may or may not have had a similar impact.”
Dutta teams up with her tech-wiz husband CB Arun Kumar for the videos, which take around ten days to shoot and a couple of weeks to post. “I don’t remember the last time I worked as hard without a break!" she says. Going by the popularity of her latest vlog, Dutta assured us: “Bong Aunty ain't going away!”