The Telegraph
Wednesday , January 20 , 2016

Comedy comes calling at book lovers' meet

A literary meet is about sitting down for a good old chinwag, but this time Team Kalam is taking a different "stand". The Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet (Kalam 2016), to be held in association with Victoria Memorial and The Telegraph from January 21 to 26, will feature stand-up comedy for the first time in its five years, with comedian-writer Anuvab Pal presenting his take on the British Raj.

"My act is called Empire and there's so much Bengal in it. I think it will be very amusing to talk about the Raj right under Warren Hasting's nose," said Anuvab, referring to the venue, Victoria Memorial, one of the relics of the Raj.

Anuvab, who laughed his way to fame with the 2007 film Loins of Punjab Presents, will also interact with the boys of La Martiniere in their school as part of Kalam 2016. "Born and raised in Calcutta, the cynical Bengali sense of humour is the only humour I know. It was only after I stepped out of my hometown that I realised that the rest of the country is not that funny!" said the Martinian.

This is what worries festival director Malavika Banerjee. "We are living in strange times. Now jokes on Sardarjis are banned. Are we looking at a time when Bengalis will be the only ones capable of laughing at themselves?" she wondered, recounting the reason behind holding the January 26 session, 'Why so serious, India?'. It will have Shovon Chowdhury, who recently wrote a parody titled Murder with Bengali Characteristics, chatting with Anuvab and actor-writer Jayant Kripalani on whether India has sacrificed humour at the altar of political correctness.

Not just belly laughs and hearty discussions, there will be "dark humour" too, though the man in question has questioned the label. "I offer a different point of view, which sometimes can be taken as funny, it is not especially dark. The word 'dark humour' has become a bit of an industrial-preset Photoshop filter," said graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee, who will speak on his new novel, All Quiet in Vikaspuri, on January 22.

Sarnath, who has participated in Kalam in previous years as well, says he finds a "real cosmopolitanism in the Calcutta audience".

"The post-session Q&As are a great touchstone to gauge the pulse of a city. This meet proves that Calcutta is still holding on to its tradition of openness to new and challenging ideas and revealing its essential enlightened core. Also, the choice of writers has been very good and hospitality splendid," he said, adding with characteristic self-deprecating humour, "I don't think I am particularly humorous, although it does come through every now and then, like body odour through deodorants or low-brow accent through carefully cultivated diction. I am pretty nervous meeting people who call themselves humorists or are compelled to be funny in a joke-a-minute sort of way."

According to Malavika, each humour session has its own story. "It's only later that my team and I realised that there were multiple sessions on humour," she laughed.

And, if you want more, there's always "observation uncle". You know, the elderly gentleman who is the first to raise his hand after every session and proceed with a long, meandering, comment on something related to what was being said on stage, oftentimes on things entirely unrelated.

♦ Victoria Memorial sessions open to all, no passes required.

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