Review: On ‘The Good Child’, The Incorrigible Navin Noronha Delivers A Thoughtful & Audacious Debut

By Aditya Mani Jha 27 June 2023 3 mins read

The Good Child is a cleverly crafted special in which Noronha is able to see himself and others as complex, complicated human beings.

Spread the love

In 1988, Mira Nair released her film Salaam Bombay, remembered today as one of the most honest and humanistic portrayals of life in a Bombay slum. Among other things, it gave us the great Irrfan Khan’s first-ever film role. In one bittersweet scene after another, we marvelled at the funny, wise, acerbic—and yes—vulnerable children-of-the-slum. These scenes were on my mind while watching Navin Noronha’s standup special The Good Child (streaming now on the comedian’s YouTube channel). Noronha describes his childhood in a Bombay chawl with a certain droll mastery. A very funny routine about 15 minutes in (the show spans 80-odd minutes in total) sees five-year-old Navin ‘training’ his body to control his excretions, because bathroom time is precious and hard to come by. Incontinence, however, does happen eventually and on that day Navin’s mom has to cover for him—she tells the complaining neighbours that the shit they see lining the corridors does not, in fact, belong to her son.

She tells him, “Apne tak theek hai, baahar jaake mat karo (As long as it’s inside the house it’s fine, don’t do it outside)”. This is a marvellously broad punch line and it reinforces a typical Indian middle-class attitude—to keep self-expression confined within the house at all costs. While in public, the only acceptable affect is rigid, forbidding stoicism. This punch line allows Noronha to project all manner of narrative onto it, including and especially his identity as a gay man. But, as the comedian notes, there is so much more to him that is equally unacceptable to society—he is an outspoken atheist, an incorrigible stoner and so on.

This is what makes The Good Child such a cleverly crafted special—Noronha is able to see himself and others (even those who are openly bigoted against him) as complex, complicated human beings who cannot be defined with a single idea or a single axis of identity. Even the name of the special, with its obvious Biblical grounding, is connected to Noronha’s Catholic upbringing. But ‘good’ is also phonetically similar to a commonly-used slur directed at homosexuals in India, especially North India.

During his set at Laughing Dead, DeadAnt’s comedy festival held in March this year, Noronha had performed a routine about taking his (vegan, Punjabi) boyfriend to meet his mother. As good as that bit was, here it has been edited, polished and deployed as part of a larger narrative. You’d expect most mothers to be awkward or even politically incorrect when it comes to the question of homosexuality—instead, Mrs Noronha is stumped at the boyfriend’s veganism. What do we feed him? What do “they” eat?

Despite the easy-going stoner persona he maintains on stage, Noronha is a person who thinks deeply about most things, especially the role of his art in the world.

The relationship between Noronha and his mother, however, is not a cheap source of easy laughs—its defining mode is dramedy, not slapstick. Hannah Gadsby plays with audience expectations and the idea of ‘wholesome’ vs ‘uncomfortable’ humour in the special Nanette. Something that looks like a grisly story turns out to be harmless hilarity…until it returns firmly to grisly or uncomfortable territory. This is Noronha’s first special and so obviously, a similarly structured gambit on his part is not always as elegant or seamless, comparatively speaking. But it’s ambitious, thoughtful, competently-crafted comedy.

It helps also that Noronha excels at physical comedy, at hamming it up. In the middle of a difficult conversation with his mother about mental health and marijuana, he channels Madhuri Dixit’s ‘adaa’. In a different joke, he’s miming a stoner Osho character: “When I smoke up, I get naked. I’m like Osho. Breathe in, breathe out. Yeh ilaaka meraa, main yahaan ka Gaykant Shikre.”

That last bit is superlative, not just in terms of how well it was performed, but also the silly, goofy wordplay of Gaykant Shikre (“Yeh ilaaka mera…” is a reference to a similar line from the film Singham where the antagonist, played by Prakash Raj, is called Jaikant Shikre). It’s classic Cheech and Chong-styled stoner content—it’s silly and it’s fun. And sometimes, that’s enough.

The Good Child is also distinguished by some well-executed crowd work interludes, like when Noronha has a very funny and sweet conversation with a group of queer women watching the show together. You get the feeling that despite the easy-going stoner persona he maintains on stage, Noronha is a person who thinks deeply about most things, especially the role of his art in the world. With more experience under his belt (and I know he’d chuckle at this metaphor) some of the rough edges and not-quite-coherent bits in his craft will be smoothened out. But the talent is all there and it’s amply on display during The Good Child, a frequently hilarious show that wears its wisdom lightly.


Aditya Mani Jha

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist. He’s currently working on his first book of non-fiction, a collection of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.


comments for this post are closed