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India's TV Satirists Poke Fun at Politics, Family

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Pakistan's neighbor, India, is borrowing a kind of comedy that America's late night TV talk shows specialize in. It's taking potshots at political big shots. NPR's South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves met one young man who makes fun of the high and mighty.

PHILIP REEVES: Cyrus Broacha's TV show is not in New York or Hollywood. It's on the other side of the planet, in India. Yet that doesn't deter him from having fun with American politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

CYRUS BROACHA: Hillary, let's start with you. This political question always crosses my mind. Why do men cheat?

HILLARY CLINTON: It is part of their whole being. It is what gives them meaning in life.

REEVES: The other day India's defense minister keeled over at a public event and had to be carried off. Broacha loved that.

BROACHA: What can be funnier than your defense minister taking a salute and fainting? He's your defense minister. He's like Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Unintelligible) big tough guy who's full of, you know, bellicosity and things like that. And then he can't even, you know, stand in the sun for more than one hour.

REEVES: Until a few years ago, Indian television was state controlled. TV writer Sharlat Ja Badgepi(ph), a senior editor with the Indian Express, says in the old days television was reverential to those in power.

SHARLAT JA BADGEPI: It was just a very government-oriented (unintelligible) and government affairs. It didn't go into the realm that you could actually poke fun.

REEVES: Badgepi says Indians don't really go in for that kind of humor.

JA BADGEPI: We have a huge tragic and melodramatic tradition, but you don't have one of comedy, and you still see that even in the pop culture, for instance, on television; all your soaps do well. There's hardly any comedy.

REEVES: That's changing. India's TV airwaves are flooded with highly competitive private news channels. A politician embroiled in scandal can expect a good grilling. He can also expect to be lampooned by Broacha.

BROACHA: Just when they do silly things, because they do silly things all the time.

REEVES: Cyrus Broacha belongs to an emerging group of TV satirists in India. He hosts and co-authors a show called "The Week That Wasn't" on the CNN/IBN channel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BROACHA: It's a nice platform because in the English-speaking India world, the slightly up market, the part of India, the so-called movers and shakers, we can push the envelope a bit. And we have tried. But yeah, hopefully a lot of politicians don't watch the channel because there's no sexy girl on it.

REEVES: Mention Leno and Letterman to him and he admits he watches their work. But he says he's his own man with his own style, though he does allow one comparison.

BROACHA: The show that actually - we would be closer to is the Jon Stewart show.

JA BADGEPI: I think, yes, you have an attempt now to laugh at all the politicians.

REEVES: Sharlat Ja Badgepi again.

JA BADGEPI: He is the only probably who looks at the larger picture. It's not just the politicians (unintelligible), but it's also the presentation of news. He's almost making fun of television news on television news.

REEVES: Some of the subjects of Broacha's mischievous editing are predictable. Like Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: I think enough is enough.

BROACHA: Sorry, general. Thanks for being on this show. But in brief, how do you rate this interview?

MUSHARRAF: In brief, nonsense.

BROACHA: So in brief you're saying I'm a moron?

MUSHARRAF: Two hundred percent.

BROACHA: Obviously, Pakistan is the easiest and the most popular joke machine, if you like. A mother-in-law, 100 percent very funny. And you know, we've got series on mothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law and all that, joint family. But here you cannot disrespect your mother and father so much. When we do gags, there is a little line that is a little different as against in the West.

REEVES: A comic anywhere should expect his prime minister to do something you can laugh at, but what do you do when it's Manmohan Singh - a man about as amusing as a traffic cone?

MANMOHAN SINGH: Ladies and gentleman, India is fully aware of its responsibilities as a nuclear weapons state.

BROACHA: Personally, he's a wonderful man. He really is a nice guy. And you don't want to say anything about him personally because he's polite. He's well-read. He's an intellectual. But there's this one thing - and it only takes one thing - he's working for the boss.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

BROACHA: (Unintelligible) Manmohan Singh is still prime minister of India. Sonja Gandhi is still in charge of Manmohan Singh.

REEVES: Sharlat Ja Badgepi again.

JA BADGEPI: It's not so much of his mimicry, but his ease and I think the sense of identification we all have with him too. He's everyman in a sense, in urban middle class.

REEVES: Broacha says even now he has to tread carefully with India's politicians. He'd like to be able to go further. Someone's got to keep the high and mighty in line.

BROACHA: That's our job as custodians of liberty.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.