Sitting in the manager’s office of the stunning Art Deco Liberty Cinema flicking through the actual original programme from the 1947 opening I could hardly contain my excitement – this was a real treat! The elderly but spritely owner Mr Nazir Hoosein was a delight to talk to – sharing with us the rich historical tapestry of the building – it’s triumphant marathon runs of Bollywood Blockbusters and star studded premieres, followed by a sad decline in business as the multiplexes opened in soulless shopping malls and the clientele shifted downmarket, fouling the once plush red carpet with chewing gum and tobacco spit. It was this transposition that had led to my purpose for being there today – the cinema had turned it’s back on commercial film screenings, extended it’s stage, treated its walls to improve its acoustics and now has become a top venue for shows and events, such as the comedy show I was working on the techincals of that day.
Aptly named “Liberty” after the declaration of Indian Independence that coincided with its birth, the building stands proud and opulent, capturing with its architecture the sense of freedom and optimism that marked the era. Little did we know, a maverick energy was to once again to surge through its corridors and fill the auditorium that very next day.
The Royal Turds is a satirical Bollywood award show by premiere comedy collective All India Bakchod. To be honest I knew pretty much nothing about the actors, films, politicians and singers they were joking about, but still found them to be very funny so I guess you can take that to be a credit to Indian comedy. Some of the comedians kindly explained some of the jokes to me in the wings in between acts and were generally a very nice bunch to fit microphones onto. So when I came backstage on the second day to fiddle around with the guys belts and packs and turn them on before the show I was most upset on their behalf to find various worried looking production guys talking with them about whether they should pull the show and even all future performances!
It turned out that an email with a distinctly terrorist tone had been sent to them protesting at their jokes about political parties and various gods and warning them to “expect the worst at today’s show” as a consequence! I asked one of them who it was they had pissed off – apparently it wasn’t too bad – a nutty right wing religious fringe group (as opposed to I guess, any important or influential politicians). Once the safety of the audience had been established, a gaggle of police with sticks had installed themselves outside the building and anything too controversial was quickly edited from the script the show went on as planned. It opened with a big projected screenshot of the email and a speech from the comedians about how they were going to perform their art anyway and if anyone didn’t like it they could bloody well leave now! The audience cheered accordingly.
It all made me feel very lucky to be British – as I got scolded for rather smugly pointing out – we can take the piss out of whomever we want to in the UK and not have to worry about crazies with guns and red sparkly bandanas! I asked one of the comedians if he had experienced such threats or political/religious censorship before – apparently most Indian comedians choose to stay away from politics and religion for just these reasons (i.e. wanting to keep all their arms and legs intact!) and yes there had been an incident of being forced by the powers that be to apologize for a political joke on stage before. While incidents like this weren’t common, he expected this not to be the last – if you want a ‘safe’ career in Indian comedy you had better just stick to good old-fashioned racism and sexism jokes!
Once again I had a joke made about me onstage by Tanmey Bhat (highly embarrassing but definitely an honour!) – “This is Caroline – she’s British – nice to see she is now working for us!” rather appropriate for the Liberty Cinema!
You can find out more about the very funny All India Bakchod here: