Review: Aakash Mehta Talks Sex, Intimacy, Consent & Love On His Latest Special ‘Nasty’

By Akhil Sood 10 July 2023 4 mins read

Aakash Mehta’s newest special, Nasty, a 75-minute meditation on sex, intimacy, consent, love, and relationships, swinging rhythmically from blasé, profanity-laced patter to astute insight and self-awareness.

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For a country of nearly 10 bajillion people, India doesn’t talk nearly enough about sex. Everyone’s doing it (or dying trying), but nobody will admit to anything. Thus goes the premise of Aakash Mehta’s newest special Nasty, a 75-minute meditation on sex, intimacy, consent, love, and relationships. Almost all of which are topics considered too ‘taboo’ or ‘bold’ or ‘risqué’ and ‘ribald’ to be discussed openly. And so our people—young men and boys particularly, with all these gaps in their understanding—develop an unhealthy relationship with the act, learning about it from priggish elders, awkward internet searches, and classic Chinese Whispers: a friend’s older brother announcing over a cracked phone line that the penis goes in the ear, as one joke here describes.

Mehta’s style is observational, swinging rhythmically from blasé, profanity-laced patter in typical metro Hindi and English, to astute insight and self-awareness. Even when he picks a tired premise—his last special had an extended section on life as a travelling comedian—he peppers it with enough of his idiosyncratic worldview for it to fall in place without feeling too stale. He brings that same energy to Nasty: amiable, jittery, thoughtful and reflexive, oftentimes bitter, aggressively crude and vulgar, but rarely obnoxious. But given the subject matter, and given that this is a guy from an industry that, infamously, has never had the greatest relationship with sex, Nasty requires further tact.

And so Mehta spends some time here talking to the crowd, guiding them through his intentions and explaining what he’s trying to do. He recalls an older man, the classic uncle prototype, who took offence at his jokes about oral sex and consent, and how those same attitudes could filter through to newer generations; how people remain squeamish at the mere mention of ‘doing it’. He justifies his approach, while also acknowledging the need for introspection as a comic. It’s fine if people don’t appreciate his jokes. But he doesn’t, he stresses, want to ruin someone’s evening. He also contemplates, with clear self-awareness, his obliviousness of the rot in the comedy industry that the Me Too movement in India had exposed a few years ago. Was it really hidden from him, he wonders, or was it just convenient for him to remain ignorant about it? It’s not a lot, but it’s not nothing either.

At one point, Mehta smacks his hand against his forehead in exasperation at the unimaginative approach that far too many Indian comedians have, with their staple joke about their mums sending them to the market to get dhaniya. He doesn’t want to get stuck in that holding pattern of mediocrity and pandering. ‘Relatable’ humour bores him. He wants to talk about social mores, conservative attitudes, difficult discussions around consent and desire. Even basic anatomical functions that (some) people never get to learn about; menstruation, for instance.

The thematic structure of Nasty may provoke discomfort, but the puritan attitudes around sex are also fertile ground for comedy both cheap and profound.

Where are the jokes though, you wonder. Well, they’re everywhere. The thematic structure of Nasty may provoke discomfort, but our puritan attitudes around sex are also fertile ground for comedy both cheap and profound. In fact, one of the highlights of this special is how the audience and comedian are locked in; the pauses in delivery don’t seem contrived, the laughs from the crowd build the atmosphere with each escalating story. Of course, there’s the risk of such a show descending into laddish, locker-room humour. But mercifully, Mehta largely steers clear of those pitfalls. There is one long bit about millennials and the commitment required to consume porn in an age of Limewire, dial-up, and mislabelled files. But Mehta takes care to acknowledge the existence of women as more than objects of lust or desire, as fully formed human beings with their own experiences and desires.

He packs the set with a broad range of jokes, not always resorting to the easy punchlines, often circling back to make sure he’s projecting a mindful and healthy attitude to love and intimacy. There’s a didactic element to Nasty—there are sections on sex ed, literally, and Mehta even ribs on someone in the audience as they try to explain emergency contraception to him—wherein he acknowledges the ignorance in society and, instead of mocking it, extends grace. It’s an attempt to rectify things and look at the bigger picture. Sex is only an instrument here; the show hints at growth, understanding, empathy, and self-improvement as the goal. The merits of such an approach will depend entirely on a viewer’s own understanding of the subject and their perception of Mehta as the voice of it. But it’s an interesting formal attempt in a movement getting saturated by more of the same old, same old.

It’s also a strong contrast to his previous special, No Smoking, which came out just a few months ago. That one was a loose, meandering collection of thoughts; here, we get a tightly structured narrative set around a clear theme. There’s a versatility, an exploratory spirit, to his comedy that’s refreshing. And while most comics will spend years working on and fine-tuning a single special, Mehta’s prolific output—he mentions an unreleased special, Dark, here, and apparently has five (!) more lined up —suggests a comedian who’s willing to engage with their own work and their audience in real-time, imperfections on full display. He’s obviously someone who has a lot to say, and judging by the strength of this special, it’s all worth paying attention to.


Akhil Sood

Akhil Sood is a writer. He hates writing.


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