Waiting to be cancelled: The Munawar Faruqui story

“50 shows were sold out, lasting two to three hours each, 90% of them ending with standing ovations”, says Munawar Faruqi in an interview with Barkha Dutt. Yet today he says “I quit” being a stand-up comic. 

As an audience, we may take solace in the fact that this is not the first time the boy from Gujrat, has said those words. The last time he said “I quit” was when he was incarcerated for over two months over allegations of using religious commentary in his set, which was later found to be baseless by the Supreme Court. However, he won the legal battle and was out on bail, performing in packed auditoriums and indulging in his witty comic pieces, leaving everyone in splits. 

Nonetheless, this time his words seem to be cast in iron, as he is forced to cancel show after show at the behest of either right-wing vigilante or more recently the administration. He looks dejected while telling an interviewer, “where should I go? This is my city and also my country.”

A comedian, writer and rapper, Munawars YouTube channel has a whopping 1.5 million subscribers, perhaps evidence of popular opinion about the comic. From music spreading awareness about Dowry to child marriage, the comic also indulges in comedy sets that are inspired by his life incidents, whether it is the Gujrat riots or a show on ghost stories. “I spent 37 days in jail for something I did not even perform”, says the boy from Dongri who originally hailed from Gujrat and moved to Bombay in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujrat riots. As he speaks about the time he was arrested citing possible religious connotations in his jokes, by the son of a BJP Member of Legislature Eklavya Gaur, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

This was in January 2021, and he was subsequently released on bail in February after the Supreme Court found no evidence of the allegation made. Today, almost 11 months later, on November 28, after cancelling 12 shows because of threats from right-wing political organisations, the comic was asked to call off another show in Bengaluru. 

The difference this time was that the body constituted to manage law and order in our country, the police asked for the show to be scrapped citing a “possible law and order issue” alleging that they have credible information regarding the same. Read the full order here.

One thing that remains constant in both these situations is the word “possible”. While on one hand, the 29-year-old was made to spend 37 nights in jail because of “possible” religious remarks this time the body meant to maintain law and order sought to cancel the show citing “ possible law and order” issues.

Behind the quintessential “chocolate boy” face, is an intelligent and talented artiste who can churn out dark comedy or engage with audiences in a friendly way or produce rap videos about the angst of a small-town boy and rage against the status quo.

While all of this remains true there is also a process to delivering the final joke that Faruqui cracks on stage and that process is something that is not highlighted enough, there are life experiences he carefully weaves into his stories and so much more, to know more have a look:

Journey of a joke: Abish Matthew with Munawar Faruqui

As a comic gives up his sustenance after months of fighting an agenda he never asked associate with, what one see’s is repetitive attempts to quash and embroil artists in controversy. From Tanmay Bhatt, Kunal Kamra, Vir Das to Munawar Faruqi, because as Ashwani Pande, a Supreme Court advocate in an interview with NDTV said, “application of all fundamental rights is bound by reasonable restrictions” and to interpret them is the work of the apex court. A court made up of wise, well-read, honourable people but nonetheless, people just like you and me with as many biases as any of us would have.

His legal battle brought to the fore the questions about freedom of expression, of limits and boundaries and the right of the comedian to tell the truth and question the tyrants.

Munawar’s words “I quit’ reverberate in all our ears as we take it as an alarm bell for what is to come. But again, as Indians who have grown up hearing stories of the triumph of good over evil, one hopes, and perhaps it is a more utopian ideal, that the same words are said by those in power, and this endless cycle of threats, FIR’s and jail time becomes a distant memory. For now, “nafarat jeet gayi, artist haar gaya” i.e “hate has won and the artist has lost”, perhaps stands as an indication of the country that calls itself a quasi-federal democracy but is also lending into the idea of a quasi-democratic country if things remain the same.