Myself, Danish! Comedian on Puneeth Rajkumar, depression & offensive jokes
Danish Sait is so many people rolled into one. He can be the bemused, Hindi-challenged south Indian wondering whatever did Narendra Modi say in his TV address to the nation on ‘atmanirbharata’ or he’s the ‘la-di-da’ privileged, gated community Bengaluru resident and her house-help Jaya reacting to events around the country. Danish can be the young millennial ‘bro’ or Mr Nags of IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore ribbing world-famous cricketers, or a Muslim housewife moaning about the lockdown. Or, even the humble, morally corrupt politician Nogaraj or simple, virginal Gopi looking for a bride. He has eight alter egos, says his website.
His rib-tickling videos, including his viral lockdown videos, on the Internet (Danish operates one of India’s biggest Sound Cloud accounts with over 32 million plays, which includes his famous prank calls) can have you collapsing with laughter. Though his dialogues are peppered with local lingo phrases such as ‘bewarsi kudka’ (drunk bastard), he has fans all over India, which include the likes of actors Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor. Also, he has been the face of RCB’s several digital campaigns and is all excited to appear in a podcast titled, ‘How IPL Changed My Life’.
In a brief snappy chat with The Federal, on the eve of the release of his new Kannada film, One Cut Two Cut on Amazon Prime Video today (February 3), Danish points out that being funny, the comic timing et al comes to him quite naturally. He is “blessed” in that way.
As Danish would say, “What da! the lucky sod does not have to do much preparation for his Internet videos. All he does, is just to ‘simmplly’ churn them out like popcorn dropping from a machine.”
Danish, who has also hosted TV shows and sports events (what does this guy not do?) has forayed into cinema with his Kannada film, Humble Politician Nogaraj (streaming on Amazon Prime Video), which has been turned into a series. His second film was French Biryani released in July 2020, in which he played Asghar, the auto driver.
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On his approach to his film roles, this former radio jockey, who started out as accounts servicing executive at an events firm, says: “I don’t over-complicate the acting process. I am mindful of the opportunity I have got. But comedy comes to me effortlessly, the comic timing and so forth. Yes, acting in films is very different but I don’t overthink it or stretch it beyond what is necessary.”
Late Puneeth Rajkumar’s inputs in One Cut Two Cut
Danish describes the films he acts in as ‘boutique or indie’ films. Both French Biryani and One Cut Two Cut, have been produced by the late Puneeth Rajkumar’s production house, PRK productions, which is known to encourage experimental films. Taking ‘baby steps’ into Kannada cinema, the actor says he was “enthralled” by the late Puneeth’s simplicity.
He found Puneeth to be an “incredible human being”, whose vast experience in cinema and valuable creative inputs helped new age filmmakers like him. (Danish has also written the script of One Cut Two Cut).
“Puneeth sir was a great reader of talent and ability, and was gracious enough to give us freedom to do what we wanted. After seeing the film’s edit, he gave us a few suggestions we readily accepted,” recalls Danish, who is still grappling with the fact that the superstar is no more.
Danish gives a “great example” of how the late actor would help them. “We all know Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan had applied for a job in All India Radio and was rejected. In One Cut Two Cut, actor Prakash Belawadi plays the person who had gone on to bag the job which Bachchan did not get. So, his character’s biggest grouse is that if he had not got the job, he would have become Bachchan, big Bollywood star,” he explains with a chuckle.
Puneeth advised them to carry this Bachchan story as a note at the beginning of the film. “It was Puneeth sir’s idea to put it there since some people may not know this story. Experience counts, even if we had gone looking for it, we would not have got it so easily. We just rolled with his recommendations,” shares Danish.
Simpleton Gopi-the unlikely hero
In One Cut Two Cut, a quirky adventure comedy, Danish plays an arts and crafts teacher, Gopi. “Most human beings see life in grey not in black and white, but when it comes to Gopi, it is all about rainbows and unicorns. He looks at people in multi-colour, he sees only the niceness in people. I call him simpleton Gopi,” says Danish.
The film is about a gang of social media activists who want the government to fall and take over a school with a gun. The unlikely hero Gopi swings into action to save the day.
Funny people & depression
Danish has been open about his battle with depression like many celebrities have done of late. Says the comedian, “I don’t know why funny people always end up with depression. One’s IQ has probably nothing to do with EQ. In my case, I have grown up in all kinds of situations, comedy has been a great outlet for me to drown out the difficulties I faced in my life. I have looked at real life situations through the lens of comedy. Luckily, the friends and family circle I have around me too would end up laughing with me during many a tense moment. But deep down, after finishing the performance, when you are not performing and you don’t feel like your funny self, it gets a little quiet. I am not new to being under the stress of mental health. I have been on anti-depressants for four or five years. I treat it as a way to cope with my depression and learnt over the years how to handle it.”
No doubt the pandemic has brought this hush-hush topic of mental health to the fore. Danish’s advice to people struggling with challenges thrown up by COVID-19 is: ‘hang in there and don’t take the onus to find a quick solution, mental health is as crucial as physical health’.
“It takes time to cure oneself but you will find a solution. The first thing is to accept you are under stress and anxiety. Speak to a professional that’s the only advice I would give. I found help when I needed it and I have no qualms admitting it. It made a huge difference to my life,” he says candidly.
Also, he adds, “I was watching Kapil Sharma’s show, where he admits he’s under therapy. It is absolutely fine to admit. Especially, in the times we are going through, it is critical to acknowledge how you are feeling.”
Loves the live stage
Danish loves the stage a “dot more” than being on celluloid screen. “There’s something about doing live shows, the feedback is so instant. People can mask their feelings while reacting to films. It is a good one-time watch, they say. What does that even mean? Did they like it or not? But at the same time, when they are vocal on text (reviews) you get hurt. On stage, there have been times when I wanted to evaporate. I know looking at people if they are liking my show or not. It is interactive. I would love to be a part of movies when they do get interactive,” he says.
Crossing lines in comedy
Of late, stand-up comedians have had their shows banned and hauled off to jail. Luckily, Danish has had no such brush with bans. He says on crossing lines while cracking jokes, “Obviously, as comedians we keep this in mind. Lines are evidently drawn but sometimes you don’t know you have crossed the line and offended someone. Jokes by nature are meant to be offensive, depends on who you offend.”
He does get brickbats however. Says Danish, “It is a mix, some find my work entertaining, others think I am terrible. It is part and parcel of putting yourself out there. But as an artist you mature and begin to respect the fact that people are entitled to their opinion. They have a right to voice their opinion – I am happy they are seeing my work. If they ban it then that is a problem. So far, nothing of mine has gotten banned.”
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Danish in a dream
Conversations are on about another film on politician Nogaraj. His RCB broadcast is about to kick-off soon, which he’s excited about. ”I am basically spamming people on every platform possible!”
He is writing two films, and one is with One Cut Two Cut director Vamsidhar Bhogaraju. “There’s lots of creative work happening in Kannada films. I am just going with the flow. This is my third film, I have a series to my name. I would not call myself self-made, it is about right people who came at the right time and risked investing in me to make my dream a reality,” he says modestly. Call it luck or talent, Danish doesn’t want to be woken up from his dream anytime soon.