Mallika Dua in conversation with Suhel Seth
Presented by RED FM
By Rushati Mukherjee, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
‘I’ve always been full of shit for as long as I can remember’: this declaration set the tone for comedian Mallika Dua’s session. Speaking to writer and entrepreneur Suhel Seth in a jam-packed tent, she spoke about her humble beginnings, sky-high aspirations and everything in between.
‘I take comfort in playing characters,’ said Dua, who is, in actuality, quite a shy person. After graduating from the Franklin and Marshall College in the United States, she worked in the advertising industry for three years. In her bid to find her passion, she landed on comedy whose ‘pulse’ she had always felt. Then one day, she found her platform on the internet. Dua’s Shit People Say in Sarojini Nagar, based on the people she observed in the famous Delhi market, became a national sensation. Several characters soon followed, including the famous ‘Make-Up Didi’. Dua finds a great release through these characters. ‘I observe and then exaggerate them through imagination,’ she said. ‘If it makes me laugh, it’s good to go.’
Dua’s education as a comedian largely stems from theatre, which was the subject of her major in college. She credits her experience at college for giving her the confidence to open up. ‘There is no learning ground like theatre,’ she said. ‘Theatre is magic.’ This does not mean that Dua wants to isolate herself from acting in films. ‘I wanna be Fawad Khan’s leading lady,’ she declared, to approving applause. ‘I don’t want to be the heroine’s chubby saheli (friend); I know I can carry a film on my shoulders.’ Her top pick for directors are Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bharadwaj. ‘I want a role with good substance,’ she said, ‘Gender has nothing to do with it.’
‘Are you a feminist?’ asked an audience member. ‘Of course,’ was Dua’s immediate reply. ‘Why would I not be? It would be disconnected to everything that I am.’ When asked for advice on dealing with eve-teasers, she encouraged girls to speak up, narrating her own experience of violation in public spaces. ‘There’s nothing to fear,’ she reminded her young fans.
Does the rise of upcoming comedians mean that Indians are finally able to laugh at themselves? Yes, Dua speculated: under the influence of social media, the ‘pernicious tendency to mock others but not themselves’ is changing. The line between comedy and offence is, for her, very clear: comedy must not be used to spread hate. ‘If it is done with malicious intent, it is neither nice nor funny,’ she asserts, referring to actress Tannishtha Chatterjee’s experience on a comedy show on which she was taunted for her complexion.
The confident, outspoken Dua is an inspiration, both for her young fans and for women in general. She regularly stands up to body-shaming and abuse online, calling out bullies and trolls. On a panel with Seth, she held her own, shutting down uncomfortable questions and situations with a simple, ‘If your mansplaining is over, can I say something?’ She encouraged girls to be confident in themselves: ‘I think I fell in love with my boyfriend when I discovered that he was not an asshole,’ she proclaimed to a cheering audience. In an interaction filled with laughter and fun, she passed on an important message to young women: ‘When your self esteem is higher,’ she said, ‘Know that you will start loving people who love you.’
Photo Credit: Rajendra Kapoor