Photography by Cyrus Dalal
There is something magnetic about the All India Bakchod. Sure, they are loud, obnoxious and their humour sometimes soars to stratospheric levels of obscene—but they carry an undeniably rebellious, almost anarchist flair that draws you to them. A motley crew of oddballs, the All India Bakchod began as India’s answer to ‘a comedy podcast about news’ (and other things) deployed to humour the masses. In the matter of two years since its genesis in 2012, AIB has manufactured podcasts and videos that have gone viral on YouTube, picking on Indian character traits and dysfunctions and exaggerating them to make nibble-sized entertainers. From lampooning Indians’ loud shtick in cinemas to publically poking fun at Indian politicians, AIB has raced ahead on the popularity radar to become a homegrown favourite. And while some may scoff and bandy around their creations as frivolous sketches with wisplike humour, there is a good reason why their fan base on Facebook shows the gargantuan figure of 0.7 million likes. The thing is, the AIB clan is fearless. It mocks, derides, cusses and calls a spade a spade—cocooned in the fluff of deliberate buffoonery.
The conversation with Tanmay Bhat, co-founder of this collective that revels in unreserved tomfoolery, began with a bit of a back-tracking. ‘I used to follow [Gursimran] Khamba on twitter,’ he tells me. Back in the day, Khamba was an emerging stand-up comic and Tanmay – who at the time was nursing the dream of becoming one himself – attended a live gig by Khamba at one of Bombay’s popular bars, Zenzi. After the show, Tanmay approached Khamba for ‘a long drive’ which resulted in the two of them hitting it off really well and consequently, collaborating. ‘He used to do what I enjoy describing as a terribly boring one-man podcast,’ Tanmay says. ‘What it lacked was another being. So we decided to do one together.’ Two days later, on his way back home in a rickshaw, Tanmay began suggesting potential names for the comedy podcast to Khamba via text messages. ‘[We wanted] something like All India Radio, but something that was way more crass and had a more “guys-next-door-drinking-with-friends” kinda vibe,’ he says. ‘So I replaced Radio with Bakchod’—an offhand slang for bullshit—‘and Khamba replied, “Cool, sounds good!”’ And the AIB was christened thus.
Initially run by Tanmay and Khamba, their debut pilot was an attempt to test the waters, but their first act attracted a good measure of listeners and was understood to be a success. For their third episode, the duo roped in Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya, two stand-ups of equally impressive caliber (both The Comedy Store favourites) and things somewhat snowballed from there. It wasn’t long before they decided to take the show live under the AIB banner. ‘We thought, maybe people would want to listen to us being idiots live!’ Tanmay recalls. ‘So we tried our first live episode and received a great response. Some 300 people showed up at a shitty, unknown bar in Andheri, and that’s when we knew we had something interesting on our hands.’
“We wanted something like All India Radio, but something that was way more crass and had a more 'guys-next-door-drinking-with-friends' kinda vibe. So I replaced Radio with Bakchod and AIB was christened thus.”
Within no time, the AIB podcasts became a chuckle inducing, oh-he-did-not-just-say-that phenomenon. It offered mindless chatter that piggybacked on ludicrous humour and badgered the irrelevant that made news or trended on Twitter. Those who contributed to the mushrooming comic culture in India began frequenting these podcasts and traded their stories. Russell Peters, Andy Zaltzman and even Ranvir Shorey and Anurag Kashyap made appearances. Slightly over a year into the podcasts, AIB announced its steady crawl into the realm of making videos and publishing them on YouTube. The nuts and bolts of AIB’s original design were tinkered with, Rohan and Ashish jumped on the bandwagon and Khamba called it ‘a new way for us to explore our shit.’
The videos, though revered today, didn’t initially sweep people off their feet. The loyalists had developed a soft spot for podcasts and weren’t convinced that the videos could carry on the tradition of determined senselessness. However, it was only a matter of time before the AIB videos went on to mow the comedy landscape in India. The boys were ambitious and ballsy (recall their spoof on Arvind Kejriwal?), and drove many into hysterical splits with their sketch, Genius of the Year, which was in response to Alia Bhatt’s Koffee with Karan debacle. The video crossed 5 million views. I remember watching the video in stupefied reverence, before cracking up into mouthfuls of chuckle.
Ridiculous banter aside, the AIB doesn’t steer away from digging into the country’s socio-political minefield either. They’ve hauled in sensitive issues into their framework and addressed them with generous dollops of sarcasm. In 2013, their creative collaboration with Kalki Koechlin and Juhi Pandey manifested into It’s Your Fault, an understated apoplectic response to the countless bizarre reasons pinned on women for ‘inviting’ rape. It barnstormed across the web, shuttled between Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and what have you, and gathered 1 million views within the first few days. ‘A lot of times journalists ask us how we use humour to address social issues. The answer really goes back to us being comedians first,’ Tanmay says. As comedians, they’ve held ‘politics, religion and other social stuff’ by the neck and brazenly ruffled the feathers. ‘We’ve always been conditioned to keep pushing the boundaries of what we can and cannot talk about. Comics we idolize (Louis CK, Patrice O’Neal, Chris Rock) have always been pioneers at speaking the un-speakable and really, it’s the one thing we consciously want to keep doing…If there is a point to be made, we really don’t mind being the ones to stick our heads out and say it,’ Tanmay explains.
“We’ve always been conditioned to keep pushing the boundaries of what we can and cannot talk about. Comics we idolize (Louis CK, Patrice O’Neal, Chris Rock) have always been pioneers at speaking the un-speakable and really, it’s the one thing we consciously want to keep doing…If there is a point to be made, we really don’t mind being the ones to stick our heads out and say it.”
But if you stick your head out, it’s bound to get chewed off, right? AIB has been the recipient of charitable flak (an occupational hazard), but if anything, it uses it as fodder for its subsequent videos. ‘We’re often told to be jokers and not express our political opinion, which is fair because jokers aren’t citizens and have no right to express themselves,’ Tanmay deadpans. ‘We’re often told we’re crass and we should 'abuse' less—you know, because nobody abuses in real life. We’re often called 'South Bombay spoilt brats' who have sold [their] souls to Bollywood for money. We don’t respond to these comments because we’re usually reading these in our personal yachts in the Caribbean where there’s hardly any network.’
In the last two years, the AIB has spawned a tribe of loyalists (and may this tribe increase) who appreciate a good laugh or two. With more and more people indoctrinated, has life changed for the collective? ‘More young people recognize us and we click more pictures with people, but other than that, really not much,’ says Tanmay. ‘We’re still lazy and we’re still always half-an-hour late for everything. Although more journalists ask us to give interviews now, which we’re always late for because of aforementioned laziness. But seriously, people still don’t take us seriously. We have the word 'bakchod' in our name; nobody is going to take us seriously,’ he says. ‘In fact, the name is an accurate indication of the kinda content you’d expect from us.’
Our conversation with All India Bakchod was first published in our Film Issue of 2014. This article is a part of Throwback Thursday series where we take you back in time with our substantial article archive.
Keep up with All India Bakchod here.
Text Radhika Iyengar