December 01, 2006

Shazia Mirza, live

Shazia Mirza played to a packed house at the Juhu Mocha. And I mean packed!
Seats had filled up long before show time. People continued to push their way in: celebrities-in-their-own-right lined up six-deep in the back row; Page 3 People sat on hastily-provided cushions in the front; others squeezed in with friends, four butts on three chairs, local train style; the more athletic perched on window sills. A group of people who insisted on standing in the centre aisle turning a deaf ear to impassioned whispers from behind to sit the f*** down were finally shamed into doing so by the star of the evening. Those who could not bluster their way in watched live video in the open-air area. (Which accounts for two large tripods set up in the middle of the aisle, effectively blocking the view for a large swathe of the audience, causing even more rumbles of dissent.)

Ms Mirza took a short while to find her rhythm; she seemed unsure of her audience, and in the first few minutes, made a few patronising references that stiffened quite a few backs. As the evening progressed, there were other moments when people did not quite know how to react. Partly, I guess, we’re not used to performers using adult language, speaking of sexual acts and dissing their parents (sometimes, all three in the same sentence!) in the relatively intimate confines of a live stage act. Still, one would have thought we’re pretty used to effing and blinding in our day-to-day interaction, and we’re reasonably broad-minded about sex. But perhaps it is more that we, even the relatively worldly-wise sampling that came to the show, aren’t quite used to comedy routines that poke fun directly at us. We’re happy enough with the slapstick, mimicry and the lame witticisms of cricket commentators. But enough already with the sociology.

Ms Mirza played the crowd expertly, and once she segued into her regular routine—with, it must be said, a few repetitions and occasional checking of set notes—helped along in no small part by a face that exudes mischief even when being insulting, the initial nervous titters soon yielded to honest guffaws. Her act is based around her life as a British Muslim woman, and is laced with scathing comment on men, conservative attitudes and family life. Her cheery willingness to make herself the butt of her own jokes notwithstanding, she seems to have made herself quiet a few enemies. Undeterred, she uses her hate mail in her routine, laughing at stuff that would probably drive me to seek anonymity behind purdah.

The audience lapped it all up. And Ms Mirza, did she enjoy herself? It was a roaring success, she told me in an email. And she’ll be back; she has offers to perform in Goa, among other places.

Published in the Times of India / Outlook City Limits Mumbai, December 2006.

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