When I called comedian, actor and former radio jockey Danish Sait earlier this week, what I expected was a conversation primarily about humour and his one-minute viral clips that have kept his fans in good humour through this difficult lockdown period.
Instead, we began on a rather sombre note about the tragic suicide of film star Sushant Singh Rajput.
“Sushant’s demise has really shaken me up. I have been battling depression myself for three years now. I have been on antidepressants and since the start of this lockdown I have done six sessions of therapy. Depression doesn’t have a face. It’s a feeling so deep inside that you don’t know what’s going on. Getting professional help is the only way forward,” says Danish.
The 32-year-old goes on to recall a moment three years ago, when he stood at the 10th floor home of his sister, Kubbra Sait, wanting to jump because of all the pain in his body and mind. His anxiety levels were so high that he couldn’t articulate to his sister what was going on.
“My body would pain 24/7, and I was on continuous painkillers. It was only when I saw a doctor that I realised that all of it was a result of deep anxiety. You’re just one moment away from doing either something drastic or making a phone call to somebody to be there. It’s not easy to take someone’s life let alone your own. You never run across the highway straight. You always look left and right before crossing the road because you care about yourself,” he mentions.
But amidst all the shock and chaos, there is a clarity of mind in how to personally deal with low moments and loneliness.
“I am grateful for my family and friends who let me breathe, help me identify my troubles and overcome them. However, I must also mention that taking my antidepressants regularly and therapy sessions, is what truly helped me. Also, I have reached a point in life where I play by the rules of what is kept in front of me because you can’t fight against time. It’s the most futile and difficult battle in the world. So, it is important to make time an ally in good and bad times, particularly the latter, with thoughts of ‘this too shall pass’,” he says.
Comedy as Therapy
Through these stressful times, Danish has delivered relentless comedy via his viral ‘lockdown conversations’ videos. With great humour, he manages to seamlessly channel all our frustrations and obsessions during this lockdown using bizarre household items as props as a replacement for a mobile phone like a room freshener aerosol can, tissue boxes and even a bottle of rum.
Thanks to his inch-perfect characters, which represent different strata of Bengaluru’s society, and hilarious imitations of their accents, his videos on Twitter alone have crossed on an average 100,000 views, not to mention other social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.
Conversations about 18% GST on Parotta ?? pic.twitter.com/8SDe0xcoZN
— Danish Sait (@DanishSait) June 12, 2020
How does he deliver relentless comedy through these difficult times? How does he find humour through so much adversity?
“My only take is what choice do I have. You wouldn’t like it if I sat down brooding, and I’d rather celebrate whatever is out there. Also, there is nothing else I know how to do. I can’t become a doctor, grow a vegetable or cook something. I feel like a lot of people don’t put up stuff online because of fear of failure. In my case, I have nothing to lose. It’s the only thing I know how to do, and if I don’t, somebody else will. Now that I have done it, I feel happy and great. At least I have made most of my time during this lockdown,” he says.
When the lockdown started, a lot of people—right from his family to his management team— were extremely worried about him and kept calling to ask whether he was fine or needed anything.
Although he said all was well, he realised his need to see a therapist first.
“Mental health is the basis of everything. When I fix that, now I am good to go. If these one-minute clips failed, I would have kept trying other things. In many ways, comedy was therapy because whatever is happening around us isn’t good news. So, what do you do? You either ride the tide or get washed away. I don’t want to be washed away because I tried to wash myself away once. I don’t want to do it again,” says Danish with real defiance.
“Honestly, if it weren’t for the comedy, I would have gone into my shell and cried, which I did for a bit initially. That’s when I realised that my mental health is going to be of top priority in this period because I was going to be locked up. See, I love working because it helps me forget my miseries. I do, what I do to escape the mundanities of everyday life,” he adds.
These one-minute lockdown conversation clips started when the lockdown began in late March.
Through these videos, we have come across memorable characters who are all played by Danish. There’s ‘Ramoorthy,’ the Kannadiga uncle, ‘Jaya’, who is a house help, her benevolent employer ‘Didi’ who speaks in a high pitched anglicized accent, the spoilt Bengaluru boys who say ‘machaa’ and ‘bro,’ the religious Muslim man who counsels a young female relative but knows nothing, the faux ‘feminist’ women and of course, Jaya’s drunk husband who usually makes an appearance in dark glasses towards the end.
My personal favourites are Jaya and Didi, particularly the latter. Didi is the benevolent employer who always wants to talk to Jaya, take her out for meals sometimes, discuss family and everything.
“My inspiration for that character is my mother. We had a domestic help named Jaya, and another lady named Pushpa and I have seen her closely interact with them over the years. She has always been kind to them—conversing about family, children, and their lives. Of course, it’s funny sometimes and I have obviously heightened the emotion of whatever she says,” says Danish.
He says that a lot of his comedy comes from personal experiences, because without them, it is hard to replicate and duplicate situations. For the first video he made about the domestic help not showing up because of the lockdown, he actually spoke to five of his friends and their wives, and realised that all of them were having similar conversations.
But another fascinating facet of his comedy is that unlike many of his contemporaries, he isn’t confrontational. Without being highly critical of governments, politicians or famous personalities, he jokes land nearly all the time. That’s not because of his ridiculous props or funny accents, but because there is a subtle streak of social and political commentary.
From expressing the inability of many in the South to understand the Prime Minister’s sanskritised Hindi during his 8 PM addresses to the ridiculous furore surrounding the ‘Boycott Chinese Products’ trending on social media, he does his bit.
“In one of my videos, where the characters are discussing the opening up of flights following the lockdown, Didi tells Jaya, ‘my sister is coming from Delhi.’ In response, Jaya asks, ‘Chalke aa rahi hai, Didi?’ (Is she walking down to Bengaluru?). It’s both funny and goes on to show the class divide that exists. It shows how one class is taking flights and another unfortunately has to make the treacherous journey back home on foot. People are laughing at the joke, but thinking about these issues as well,” he says.
— Danish Sait (@DanishSait) May 22, 2020
His clips resonate because these are real conversations people are having at this time. It’s impossible to be a great comic without being present and a sharp observer. Moreover, his presence online is more about the relevance of his content versus mere presence.
“I could put up a picture of myself on Instagram, but that would be just to say that I am present and really have nothing to say. There was a phase when I went through it and that’s the pressure of the industry we work in. No one tells you the difference between presence and relevance. As a comic, the idea is to pick up conversations and observations that are relevant to what’s going on today. The key element here is awareness. I am no expert on COVID-19, but I am aware of things happening around me. I am living in that moment,” he says.
Also, there is skill in what he does. For example, take the video clip following PM Modi’s ‘Atma Nirbhar’ speech on 13 May, which was a straight improv piece. Of course, there is the craft, which he practices at a high level, but then there are the characters he creates.
“It’s easier to say things through them than say it yourself. The moment I figure out what this character is going to say, I am going to make my life simpler as compared to thinking about what I am personally going to say. I have my opinions, but they are good for my family and friends to know about. At this moment, I don’t want to be heard in public. But the moment I get into character, it becomes a lot simpler,” he adds.
Radio Created The Internet Star
It was in 2009/10, that Danish returned to Bengaluru after an unsuccessful stint on the radio in Bahrain and Dubai.
“I was very disheartened, but luckily, for me, that was when I met Darius Poonawalla, who is one the biggest names Bengaluru radio has ever produced, and he became my friend and mentor. Unlike other industries and jobs, where there are people who will invariably guide you and tell you right from wrong, in the entertainment industry you don’t meet them easily,” recalls Danish.
Soon, he was hired as a radio jockey by Fever 104 FM. There, for nearly a decade, he entertained the city with his show ‘Supari,’ where he made prank calls on unsuspecting listeners.
“Working on shows like Supari on Fever 104 FM was my school—I learnt so much there, especially about my boundaries and strengths as an entertainer. I also learnt the power of a minute. You can literally make someone laugh in a minute, become a part of their life, and make them a part of yours as well. Of course, you need discipline to constantly put out content. If I had done one video, and not done anything for another 15 days, nobody would care. You need to keep doing it whether you’re making mistakes. We learn on the job. After doing 3,000 minutes of prank calls on Supari, the fact remains that I still don’t know what works and doesn’t. In the process of doing radio and uploading calls on the internet, however, I realized how many options exist today for us entertainers,” he says.
Danish has already made forays into cinema with films like ‘Humble Politician Nograj,’ a Kannada-English comedy film directed by his friend Saad Khan, in 2018.
Playing the lead role, he won the ‘Best Debut Actor’ award at the South Indian International Movie Awards, also known as the SIIMA Awards. He has a sequel web series coming out soon, although there is some shooting still left to do.
Currently, Danish is excited about his new Kannada-English-Urdu film French Biryani, which will appear on Amazon Prime Video in July, where he plays an auto-rickshaw driver ferrying a French tourist around Bengaluru.
“But I don’t know what’s next looking at the way the world is going. The only objective now is to be happy, live everyday well, be kind to people around me and do what I have been doing to drown out the cacophony from outside. It’s about living every moment well and seeing where life takes you. After all, nothing is permanent,” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)