Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Nostalgia and cultural memories in intelligent Indian comedy
Social media superstar Kanan Gill's Comedy Festival show Teetar was a blast of nostalgia for his Indian audience in Melbourne, especially for those who grew up in India and experienced much of the show's subject matter first hand, whether in school or at home. There was no pretence of universal appeal in this show - as Gill said at the start, an international tour for him means performing to Indians with different accents all around the world, and for this audience, his content was solidly on point.
The show title Teetar is a reference to a Hindi riddle that many of us were taught in our childhood, about a teetar bird (partridge) and its relative position to other teetars. Along with the riddle, we were also taught the one correct answer to this riddle (spoiler: it's "three"), and I, for one, never questioned the validity of this answer until I saw Kanan Gill mathematically dissect it on his whiteboard, and propose alternate solutions.
Gill's discussion of the teetar riddle may have been a tiny part of this show, but his logical dissection of things taught to Indian children was not. Over one hour of very intelligent and funny comedy, he took us on a journey through a delightful series of flashbacks into Indian school life. His analysis of the classic annual "march past" event, complete with observations about creepy chief guests and children fainting in the sun, added a new dimension to some pretty unique memories (which we'd otherwise have no reason to revisit as adults). A set about Julius Caesar and the single Latin line in Shakespeare's text ("Et tu, Brute?") segued into a reminder of lessons from middle school Sanskrit. The most relatable and absurdly humourous reminder, however, was of the incredible emphasis that schools lay on correct formatting in formal and informal letters (which as adults, we are entitled to feel more than a little indignant about).
While nostalgia was definitely the overpowering flavour of the show, Gill did switch things up a bit, and also shared personal stories about his medical history, his brief tryst with being in a band, and his dog's sex life, among other things. Gill is a very entertaining storyteller, and is masterful in his systematic approach to organizing content. He milks every punchline for all it's worth, saturating his show with callbacks (bordering on overuse) which makes his content extremely memorable. He reels in his audience with relatable content and maintains high energy levels in the room throughout the hour, so that when he starts to hit subtle life messages and surprisingly dark mental health content, it enriches the show rather than dampening it.
Teetar was a comedy show that combined polished performance with raw humanity, intellectual humour with groanworthy puns, and personal storytelling with cultural memories. It was a work of excellence that promised not only a ton of laughs, but also depth and lasting impact, for those more sensitive to subtext. It was certainly an example of the quality of work that goes into gaining a loyal fan following like the kind Gill has established for himself.