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Laughing Matters: Comedy and Free Speech in India

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Photo of Bhakthi Puvanenthiran, Daniel Fernandes, Neeti Palta and Sapan Verma

Bhakthi Puvanenthiran, Daniel Fernandes, Neeti Palta and Sapan Verma

‘This is EIC Outrage, where we talk about issues … and hope to not get assassinated’. That’s how comedian Sapan Verma chose to introduce one episode of his popular Outrage East India Comedy YouTube series.

India’s comedy scene is currently enjoying a moment; it’s a space of seemingly unpoliced free expression within a conservative culture and an environment of tightening media censorship. Stand-up comedy is where many of the sharpest Indian voices are commenting on social issues as they find humour in subjects as diverse as Bollywood, terrorism, Tinder, feminism, international cricket, youth suicide and Game of Thrones.

As part of the 2017 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, some of the brightest stars of Indian comedy, including Daniel Fernandes, Neeti Palta and Sapan Verma, performed in Australia. In this panel discussion, the three talk stand-up, censorship and how comedy might change the world with Bhakthi Puvanenthiran.


Portrait of Bhakthi Puvanenthiran

Bhakthi Puvanenthiran

Bhakthi Puvanenthiran is Managing Editor of Crikey, writing mainly on politics and the media. Previously Bhakthi was a journalist and editor at the Age and Sydney Morning Herald covering arts, entertainment and business. She co-hosted the podcast Hard Bargain, is a regular media commentator and sits on the board of the National Young Writers’ Festival.

Portrait of Daniel Fernandes

Daniel Fernandes

Daniel Fernandes is one of India’s leading English stand-up comedians. He’s a regular at comedy venues across the country, and has performed internationally at comedy festivals in the Netherlands (Utrecht International Comedy Festival), Singapore (Singapore Fringe), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur International Comedy Festival) and Australia.

Portrait of Neeti Palta

Neeti Palta

Neeti brings to India's English language stand-up comedy scene what it sorely lacks – a female perspective. She presents her unique point of view on a variety of subjects: from the life of a woman in India and Indian idiosyncrasies to daily irritants and current affairs, all while indulging in a spot of poking fun at men.

She has a background in writing, and her first full-blown Bollywood screenplay, O Teri, was released in 2014.

Portrait of Sapan Verma

Sapan Verma

Sapan Verma is one of India’s most popular and experienced stand up comedians. He's a co-founder of The East India Comedy, India’s leading comedy collective which has more than half a million followers and 80 million views on YouTube. 

Sapan is also the first Indian comedian to release a special on Amazon Prime Video, Obsessive Comedic Disorder. In 2016, he performed to a crowd of 80,000 people at the Global Citizen Festival India where he opened for Jay Z and Coldplay. Sapan has done over 800 live shows in the last five years – not just all across India, but also in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Barcelona, Dubai, Singapore and China.

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