Amazon Prime Video | 50 min | Released: March 2017
Half an hour into his Amazon special, Varun Thakur raises his arm, declares, “That’s my time” and exits the stage. If you didn’t know what to expect from the show, it’s a surprising moment. But immediately after, the announcer announces the entry of Vicky Malhotra, a struggling actor character created by Thakur that grew wildly popular on social media, with taglines like “Mahself Vicky Malhotra, yohsulf?” The name of the special then makes sense—Thakur performs the second half of the show as Malhotra, dressed in an Ed Hardy T-shirt and leather jacket, his face caked with makeup, strutting his way through a set that showcases his sexist, bigoted worldview.
As a performer, Thakur faces an interesting predicament—he’s a talented writer and stand-up comedian, but his Malhotra character quickly outstripped in popularity any comedy set that he had created. He’s a likeable comedian, perfectly capable of holding a stage with his observational material, but the frisson that the Malhotra character generates in his audience and viewers is so palpable that Thakur’s stand-up work feels a bit flat in comparison.
Once the outrageousness of the character wears off, the show slips into a series of observational and anecdotal bits that grow decreasingly amusing.
The quality of his observational writing is partly to blame—he has an amusing extended bit on the Indian middle-class mentality, a superbly performed bit on two-way answering phones and another on strange teleshopping ads. But overall, you get the sense that he’s skimming through his material rather than diving deep. His skill and charm as a performer makes a lot of it work, but in what is an increasingly crowded comedy field, Thakur’s material doesn’t feel sufficiently novel.
The Malhotra character does stand out, as an absurd, over-the-top caricature of a rich boy struggling to be an actor. (“I don’t wannu be an actor, I AM an actor.”) Performing stand-up as a character, particularly one as unlikeable as Malhotra, is a risky choice. To Thakur’s credit, he makes it work, and has you cringe-laughing through some of the second half. But it’s difficult to keep the act up—once the outrageousness of the character wears off, the show slips into a series of observational and anecdotal bits that grow decreasingly amusing. There’s enough spark in the writing (fellow SNG member Kautuk Srivastava is credited as an associate script writer on the special) to keep the show from collapsing entirely, but it does flag in its second half.
In his first special, Thakur surrendered to the success of his struggling actor creation by giving over half the show to him. This is unlikely to work again. Vicky Malhotra is amusing in sketches and short social media videos, but not really strong enough to hold a show—or even half of one—on his own. To grow as a writer and performer, Thakur may have to dig deeper to find his unique comedic voice.
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