In a fragile socio-political atmosphere when even drawing room discussion between family and friends can turn volatile, causing us to tip-toe around each other’s political beliefs, Aisi Taisi Democracy, a musical satire of contemporary India and all that plagues it, is a whiff of fresh air. Part musical, part comedy and part biting tirade on issues of our times, Aisi Taisi Democracy is the brainchild of three diverse minds — Varun Grover, an IITian turned comedian and lyricist, satirist and actor Sanjay Rajoura, and Rahul Ram, music composer and bass guitarist from the iconic band Indian Ocean (Kandisa, anyone?). Between Varun’s deadpan style of delivery, Sanjay’s matter-of-fact yet razor sharp wit and Rahul Ram’s spell-binding musical genius, Aisi Taisi Democracy makes for a cerebral big O.
Talking about this unusual coming together of creative minds, Sanjay says, “Before being called a stand-up comic, I was a software techie. Initially, all three of us were friends and then Varun and I decided to do something together because of our similar political views and ideas. Varun suggested we should have songs too and that’s how Rahul came in. We asked him and he immediately agreed.”
“It was almost an accident,” Varun quips, adding, “We came together in June 2014 only for a couple of shows and requested Rahul Ram to sing a few songs of protest we wanted to write. We liked the response, our chemistry worked, and so we kept doing it. We complete 50 shows this month in a span of less than five years.”
So, what does Aisi Taisi democracy stand for? “We intend to drive home only one message — nothing in this world should be above making fun of. No holy cows,” Varun says.
Before one can even begin to appreciate these brilliant performers for the content of their shows, the name ‘Aisi Taisi Democracy’ catches the eye. In a political climate when people are killed over fake WhatsApp forwards or the food in their refrigerators, does a controversial name like this not invite backlash? “The name ATD was coined before the current climate came into effect,” says Sanjay in his trademark matter-of-fact manner.
Varun quotes Werner Herzog — ‘Better apologising later than asking for permission first.’ “We don’t think the name is controversial. We belong to a nation with a rich heritage of dissent, vyangya, respect for diverse view points and tolerance for artistic expression,” he adds.
Speaking of unpleasant encounters on account of the name or the content of the shows, he says, “Nothing major till now, except we were stopped mid-way during a performance in a college in Allahabad because the professor was offended by us talking about the lack of sex education in India.”
Blending in stand-up comedy, satire and music in a single gig whilst addressing issues of governance, patriotism, gender biases and more can be tricky. The trio is mindful of the risk of becoming preachy when jamming for lyrics and ideas. They work independently to collect stories and then come together to weave it into one cohesive act. Having a musical genius like Rahul Ram on the team definitely makes the challenge of composing, singing and writing songs that much easier. “The craft of comedy rests on making the most serious of messages non-preachy and we simply (try to) practice our craft. We try to tell stories instead of telling jokes and that helps a lot in masking the message,” Varun explains.
Parodies are a recurrent theme in the Aisi Taisi Democracy acts. Given Varun’s experience as a lyricist and Rahul Ram’s musical genius, one can’t help but wonder why they chose to not compose their own music instead? “We have done a few original songs too. In the ongoing tour we have a song dedicated to our angry news channels called ‘Jhaag’. But, yes, we rely mostly on parodies because, in a live show, people need to latch on to a tune quick and then head for the joke element in the song. A completely new song takes a while to become hummable and in the process of figuring out the tune, people lose out on the fun of it,” Varun replies.
Aisi Taisi Democracy is currently on the Aazaadi Tour that coincides with the General Election. So will the current political atmosphere be a focal point of the acts? “Political atmosphere is always the focal point, election or no election,” says Sanjay. The Aazaadi Tour was to traverse through Chandigarh on April 20.