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Parliament Funkadelic: Aisi Taisi Democracy

The year-old band featuring Indian Ocean vocalist Rahul Ram, is riffing off on Indian politics and pop hits

Lalitha Suhasini Aug 21, 2015
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Aisi Taisi Democracy Photo: Courtesy of the band

(from left) Rahul Ram, Sanjay Rajoura and Varun Grover of Aisi Taisi Democracy Photo: Courtesy of the band

The Godhra riots, Babri Masjid demolition, Vyapam scam ”“ Aisi Taisi Democracy has the nerve to hold a mirror up to all the warts and bumps in the Indian political system. While the likes of Cyrus Broacha, former MTV VJ and current host of The Week That Wasn’t on IBNLive and stand-up comic Anuvab Pal from Mumbai regularly regale us with their own brand of intelligent political satire, there have been few bands [Indian Ocean, Rabbi Shergill, Imphal Talkies and The Ska Vengers] that have attempted to look to politics in their songwriting.

Formed a year ago, Aisi Taisi Democracy, comprising Indian Ocean founder member Rahul Ram, screenwriter, lyricist and stand up artist Varun Grover and Delhi-based stand up artist Sanjay Rajoura, is by no means a conventional band or stand-up act. All their material is in Hindi and it’s not a puerile set filled with cuss words and sex jokes told in an arrogant, boorish manner that passes off for comedy nowadays. With Aisi Taisi Democracy, Ram plays an acoustic guitar and in his own words, a fool. He says of his new band, “We’re like the fool in Shakespeare. I think when we occupy the position of the fool, a certain amount of dissent will be tolerated.”

Ram, who has been following Rajoura’s shows in Delhi for the last six years, says that he was impressed with the stand-up comedian since the start. He says, “So I told him that if he ever needed to add music to his routine, I’d happily show up.” Subsequently, Ram and his Indian Ocean bandmate Amit Kilam wrote some songs for the 2013 Hindi documentary film Katiyabaaz, centered on electricity theft in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Adds Ram, “I wanted to know who had written the lyrics for the songs, and I got in touch with Varun in May last year.”

Grover and Rajoura, who were performing at stand-up shows together, decided to team up for a new project. Says Rajoura, whose work as a writer on the film Masaan has won rave reviews, says, “I’d asked Sanjay if we could include a musician, and if we could find an up-and-coming artist. I didn’t believe him when he said Rahul Ram could be part of our group.” Music, says Grover, helps to soften the blow. About 30 per cent of their material focuses on politics. Says Grover, “Politics has turned into a touchy subject now. People are divided in defending the right of politicians, and politicians seem to be united in the stance that they’ve taken. This is the time when people should be united. Music makes it easy to talk about things like the 1984 (Delhi) riots and Godhra.”

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Aisi Taisi Democracy couldn’t have found a better candidate to write musical parodies than Ram. The vocalist and bassist of Indian Ocean has championed the cause of tribals and farmers in the Narmada Bachao Andolan and adopted a folk song that turned into one of Indian Ocean’s biggest hits: “Ma Rewa.” Indian Ocean’s last album Tandanu includes “Cheetu,” another brilliant song from Ram’s Narmada Movement days and “Gar Ho Sake,” a collaboration with vocalist Shubha Mudgal, which Ram refers to as a “leftie anthem.”

Reworked Hindi film songs and English pop hits are key to Aisi Taisi Democracy’s performances. So “Mere Saamne Waali Khidki Mein” from the 1968 romantic comedy Padosan works perfectly to highlight cross-border relations between India and Pakistan as “Mere Saamne Waale Sarhad Pe” and Danish band Aqua’s superhit “Barbie Doll” has been turned into “Babri Doll”, referring to the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, which subsequently led to rioting in Mumbai and across the country. Says Ram, “It’s very difficult to get angry at someone who’s laughing at you and at themselves. You just have to turn around and ask them, ”˜Can’t you take a joke?’ and they shut up.”

Although not all of the band’s material is political. The three of them also have a go at the rising number of malls and high-rises in the country, which, according to them, is a misconstrued concept of growth. Says Grover, “All three of us feel strongly about the idea of development that we have in India.” This is the part that’s easy though. The audience members don’t mind personal jibes and willingly confess to being mall rats.

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But it is the political jokes that have been making the audiences squirm in their seats. Says Grover, “The audience at our shows feels uncomfortable at times. Woh humaari comedy ka ek zaroori aspect hai. [It is an integral part of our comedy].” Adds Ram, “A friend of mine brought Modi supporters to our show and they walked out.” Aisi Taisi Democracy heads out on tour this month to Bengaluru, Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai, and Ram is already planning a gag or two in honor of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. “Of course, there will be Didi jokes,” he says. It doesn’t take Grover too long to change his set around either ”“ two days for 30 minutes worth of new material. What if the jokes don’t go down well? The band won’t kowtow to pressures, political or otherwise. Says Grover, “I won’t change my material to please people.”

The aim is to get to reach out to the common man. Says Grover, “Right now, our audience is the urban elite. We want to go to smaller towns next year where the kind of comedy they currently get to experience is pretty harmless — the Kapil Sharma variety.”

Aisi Taisi Democracy will launch their tour next month. Stand up comedian Kamal Trilok Singh, from the Mumbai-based stand up comedy group The Awkward Fruit, will the open the show for Aisi Taisi Democracy across all four cities

in Bengaluru on September 7th at Alliance Francaise

in Kolkata on September 8th at Birla Sabhaghar

in Mumbai on September 9th at St. Andrew’s Auditorium

in New Delhi on September 10th at Kamani Auditorium

Tickets available here

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