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Archive for 2019|Yearly archive page

Is Everything Kayfabe?

In Love on June 4, 2019 at 18:28

If I were to ever have something as foolish as a favorite word, it would be Kayfabe, a concept I didn’t know existed till less than a year back.

A word invented by professional wrestling (which is itself an invented term), Kayfabe is the portrayal of staged events as true or real, even when both portrayer and audience know better.

It not only addressed my guilt of still enjoying wrestling, it also explained a lot of other behavior and social phenomenon otherwise described as ‘performative’.

So much that I even used it in a sound-byte during the Me-Too movement on the whose-who of the stand-up industry falling to the most serious of crimes; proven hypocrisy:’Much of what passes as woke is Kayfabe that doesn’t cost much to commit to and happens to sell. Comics are to activism what pro-wrestlers are to martial arts – great on camera but heartbreakingly far from the real deal. We may continue to enjoy their content but never mistake it for real-life intentions, let alone actions.’
To which one Netizen tweeted: ‘Is Love also Kayfabe?’ A question immediately valid and rhetorical in its simplicity.

A lot of our lives is merely performance: the interviews we give, the movies we watch, the parties we attend and the politicians we vote for. All of it an open secret of bad acting and a criminal lack of creativity. Anything to get away from the really important questions in life. 

Most of us have a false sense of immortality. It is the only thing that keeps us going. Once food, clothing, shelter and sex are bought and paid for, nothing else short of a higher purpose is motivation enough to get you out of bed in the morning. And in a Godless world we end up finding this meaning in everything from stamps to Golf to a corner office. Many of us try to find it in a another person. Someone we believe is the perfect compensation for all our insecurities. A match more perfect than a solved Rubik’s cube. The chances of the other person being at the same stage in his/her life and feeling the same way are slim to say the least. But it does enable chocolates, Romcoms and divorce lawyers to continuously be in business.

Love feels good. It feels great. It feels like heaven, even if you are an atheist. So you invest more and more into this one person against all good faith, market sentiment and your own better judgement until he/she can’t take it anymore. The chance to frame your life-long anxiety into this perfect picture of harmony and happy endings is so tempting that is defies mounting statistical evidence to the contrary. Even the most strong-willed among us fall for it, on multiple and successive occasions.

Watching a young couple talking about love is almost as scary as watching an old couple trying to cross the road. You know they won’t make it but they still have to try. You have to love one person unreasonably to be reasonable with the rest of the world. Everything is fair in Love, War and the race for TRPs. But the only thing we underestimate is our ability to hurt others.

The other extreme is also not pleasant, being rational to a fault. Parking all faith and sensibilities in science and logic. Picking consistency over warmth, certainty over adventure and detachment over failure. Science coupled with atheism is a righteous mix. To the point where you start taking an academic interest in your own ruin. A third-person view of your own life. A waking, unblinking Nirvana.

But being a rational person in an emotional world only makes you feel more alone when it’s finally time to switch the Wifi off at night. And you can’t fight loneliness with more loneliness. All that is left then is a familiar blank page in front of you. You could give up on it or make another futile attempt to soar above the toil of fears and longings. And to reduce in whatever small way; hate, if not hurt in the world. If you can’t buy into someone’s Kayfabe, you make up your own.

  • Punt Pania

Comics are not People

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2019 at 17:13

Comics are not people. They are outsiders. We meet people in a pre-ordained way for half an hour a day, sometimes less. And those minutes on stage are really the only time we are truly alive. The rest of the day is an anti-climax.

Comics are not people. We like talking about death, people like to forget about it. Strange things keep us up at night. Like why cows on milk cartons look so happy? Why are broilers on chicken packets are wearing chef hats? If all the CCDs are empty, why are they opening new ones? People don’t think about these things, the horrors right in front of our eyes. They can’t afford to. They have to reach work the next day. It’s a strange barter. They do all the work, we do all the obsessing.

Walk into a restaurant and you see how full the tables are and if the coffee is smelling nice. But he comic sees the guy trying very hard to impress his date, the parents conveniently ignoring their rampaging progeny, the staff fighting in the corner and the general incidence of obesity. In a crowded mall, you make a beeline for your favourite brand while ducking the credit card salesmen. The comic notices how sweaty the guy in the takeaway kitchen is, the rats nibbling on a cake that has fallen down, the kid wiping his hands on his father’s shorts, how the store staff are trying not to listen to Kenny G for the 500th time and how everyone looks generally dead inside.

Not all comics are crazy though. Many are reasonably sane, have a mainstream family life, manage to sleep by midnight and file their tax returns in proportion to the forgettability of their material. They are more businessmen than artists. But it takes all kinds to form a stable market. The other extreme is so much obsession with the truth or your version of it that you have zero empathy left for the audience. And this also works, if your father is rich and you don’t have to pay the bills. The real skill is in yanking the audience out of their comfort zone but not so far that they make a run for it.

We criticize people, we dissect them, we detest them but we need them. Everyone needs an audience. Suffering is everywhere but silent suffering is the worst kind. Even a hanging achieves more meaning in the presence of an audience. If you have suffered without a witness, it makes it that much more unbearable…the fact that no one even knows your story, however good or bad it is. We all want our stories to have some message, if not an outright meaning. And there is no meaning if you don’t share it. The simple the act of sharing it with a group however small liberates the thought both for the performer and the audience. It could be long-drawn suffering, an obsession or just a small annoyance, just putting it out there for other people to consider takes the sting away.

Of course, the audience forgets most of it because as we have established, they need to reach work again tomorrow morning. And the entire market runs on empty calories. But some ideas stick, some linger and some may even change a person’s outlook. In a reality where everything eventually crumbles, only ideas survive and even grow. Like the classic guitar solo that gets covered in all shapes and forms decades after the artist has turned to dust. Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed but only good art can defy the law of entropy. And that in many ways is the only thing worth striving for.

  • Punit Pania

Burning Babies

In art, comedy on March 25, 2019 at 18:48

Dark comedy; like dark chocolate, is an acquired taste. Once you learn to appreciate it, regular chocolate tastes like a conspiracy. But if all of art is subjective, what is considered dark; or not, is also relative. 

Genre-defining and genre-defying are the two most popular uses of the word genre because squarely within the genre there is only mediocrity. Categories and classifications are for critics, historians and Wikipedia admins. An artist creates what is burning him up the most. What segment of the market the work falls in depends on the prevailing Zeitgeist and dominant market forces.

Yet this fascination persists with dark and abstract forms of art largely among the more privileged sections of the audience while the market still continues to reward basic Mom and wife jokes. What is most regularly or visually identified as dark jokes are what I call the ‘Burning Baby jokes’. A childish vulgarity dressed as irreverence. Topics of violence, sexual perversion and plain death presented without provocation and usually also without nuance and temperament. The fact that the irreverence of the performer also extends to response from the audience or lack thereof explains why Burning Babies will remain the domain of those who are neither interested in serious art nor serious business. But the babies will continue to burn, sometimes after a Priest has raped them, sometimes before.

The very fact that Burning Babies is considered dark indicates that its practitioners or voyeurs are deconstructionists without knowing basic creation first. Off course, this is merely an academic discussion. For the foreseeable future; if not in perpetuity, art that reaffirms or simply acknowledges the idiosyncrasies of mundane life or validates the most basic depravities will sell. It is important then to classify *content* as being separate from art. The pursuit of wisdom should have some demarcation from the pursuit of brand deals. The very term ‘Art Films’ implies that regular films are anything but.

Some self-styled rebels dream of a Utopian future where audience’s taste will improve or more suspiciously, evolve…enough to ask for dark chocolate to go with their keto-shakes. But this is just day dreaming. With time what is considered progressive also shifts further so that the rich kids can continue to feel special about themselves and the babies continue to burn.

Buddha basically said that life is hopeless to the point that even wanting to live it well leads to further strife. All of existence is pain and the best one can do is detach the mind to the extreme of a cosmic coma popularized as ‘Nirvana’. Other wise it is only EAT-SLEEP-REBIRTH-REPEAT! Yet he never gets accused of being depressingly pessimistic. That is; in layman’s terms. In academic terms, it is pessimism 101.

Hence, work that is timeless is free of even the most basic classification. It cuts through an ocean of content, apathy and subversion surviving purely on its inherent brilliance. To call it dark or otherwise remains a Reddit formality. There is no dark comedy. There is only great comedy…and whatever else sells.

So when my writing or stand-up gets labelled as ‘dark’ or ‘mirror to society’ I take it not as a compliment but as feedback that my work is still years away from being truly great!

  • Punit Pania


Rock is Dead

In Artist, freelancing, Uncategorized on March 12, 2019 at 14:29

I used to think a band performing live was the coolest thing in the world. Four guys creating music with their bare hands. In cosmic unison. The crowd grooving to it in whichever way they feel right. And; of course, the four guys were best friends, for life. They didn’t have to deal with petty problems like career planning, house rent and hair loss. They were free in the truest sense. Not to mention the life-style and the groupies.

Metallica.snakepit stage.Swiz.jpg

Imitation is the most base form of flattery. And I wrote for a while, poems that I preferred to call songs and stories that I thought were the best things to be ever put on paper. I even struggled with guitar lessons that cost more than the guitar itself. If it wasn’t for the mercy of day dreams city life would numb the senses before they even had a chance to breathe. But day dreams are best short lived. I stretched mine way too long. My over-aged fingers stiff from typing and twiddling finally gave up. Rock itself died a rather painful death making way for more plastic bite-sized music in keeping with the times. And the bands that did survive had to do reality shows.
Years later, while hurtling through the usual minefield of misguided career moves and misplaced love I discovered stand-up – “Blues for people who can’t sing.”  It was perfect. No rules, no limits and you didn’t even need the three best friends on stage. The only rule – to be funny – could also be worked around. You either aim so low that laughs and forgetability become inevitable. Or aim so high that you can absolve yourself of not delivering. And the third option was plain old hard work. Most careers are a mixture of the three, tending towards one based on mood, belief-system and pressure to pay EMIs. Mine would be no different. The right side of market sentiment is often on the wrong side of history. Artists; of all people, should choose more wisely.
Having been both on stage and behind the scenes I now realize how much commerce pervades everything. The amount of bad tea and bad music the average person has to consume in his lifetime has got to be one of the biggest unspoken crimes of our generation. There must be more strawberry flavored gunk than actual strawberries in the world. Cheap imitations and second copies to the point where we can’t recognize good art even if it hits us in the face with a sledgehammer. It is also true that most artists do not know what they are chasing. Some childish idea of perfection protected by an array of delusions, egoism and border-line insanity. Many do come close but most die in obscurity.
All great stories have already been told and reveal themselves to the true seeker. But the passive consumer only gets to see what the doorkeepers and production houses deem saleable. Some of it is still good in the same way that fast food is still food. History only gets written in auditoriums and arenas after several handshakes and contract-signings. Most successful artists are therefore only good businessmen with a flair for words…or inheritance. Power structures are not in your hand but you own expression is. Always write for yourself first and the audience follows, if at all. Writers write for themselves, copy-writers write for the market.
And if you make it through the war-zone of show bookings, promotions, late payments, contracts, cliques, and constant self-doubt, you may have an outside chance at making history. And that by itself is more than worth the grind.
I still think a band performing live is the coolest thing in the world. But it is only the emotion that is to be chased, not the accessories. Rock is dead but revolution lives on.
– Punit Pania