In this series, Women In Power, we feature women who have done groundbreaking work in the field of gender, sexuality, women’s rights and the likes to get an insight into their lives and their work. More and more people are joining the feminist movement and working on gender and we wish to bring them in the limelight, one life at a time.
Even if you have Radhika Vaz’s website just opened up in one of your tabs in your browser, you’d be able to know her, since it says “Why is everybody trying to irritate me?” Almost allergic to any kind of sexism and misogyny, Radhika Vaz is a stand-up comedian, fearlessly taking down all that restricts a woman’s life (mostly, urban) one hilarious act a time.
She regularly performs, nationally and internationally. Additionally, she is a prolific writer; her bi-weekly columns in the national daily Times of India and her book ‘Unladylike, A Memoir’ are personal recommendations.
It is almost impossible to not have at least one thing to reflect on by the end of watching one of her videos or reading one of her op-eds.
PSA: The kickass ways in which she strings her words together will leave you gasping for breath, btw!
Below is an example of one such video. You can thank me later.
I tried to get this already candid woman to get even more candid in my interview with her below.
Q1. What would be some of the off-stage reservations for the fiercely honest and confident Radhika Vaz on-stage?
I fear confrontation – as in real honest live confrontation. I prefer to say or do the polite thing, it is very hard for me to have tough conversations with anyone. It takes a lot of soul searching, and writing and questioning before I can be as direct as I am on stage. I fear loss – loss of relationships mainly. And the fear drives me to ignore so many things. It’s a work in progress! I am a work in progress – I keep trying to move past this, inch by inch.
Q2. Have you had to grapple with the stringent gender norms to live the life that you are living right now?
Yes, of course – the biggest one being, having a baby. I didn’t want one but I was constantly being told I would regret my decision, that once the baby came I would be thrilled, that it was the most important thing I could do as a woman. I explore this in way more detail in my show ‘Older. Angrier. Hairier.’ And also in my book ‘Unladylike, A Memoir’ and the conclusion I drew was that if I had not questioned all the conventional wisdom that was being flung at me, I would not be answering this interview because I would never have become a comedian. Some women can’t do two things at once and I am one of them and that’s fine. I have no regrets. None.
Q3. Would you say that most of the inspiration behind your work is from this unequal and rather bizarre treatment meted out to you so far?
Yes absolutely, I can’t help it – it is what I see because it is right there! I recently saw a major corporation had sponsored a string of free comedy shows across the country – not one female invited to participate. It’s in our blood as humans to consider a man for any job first – heck even women do that, we don’t always think of women first. Men consistently get paid more than women regardless of what industry we are talking about. We have focused on the mens cricket team, the men’s football team, men’s hockey – thank god for individual sports like tennis or the world would think women were incapable of any sport at all. So you see it is everywhere – how does one even ignore it?
Q4. How do you look at the relationship between your art and your politics?
I don’t think I have the luxury any more of separating the two – we live in a time when young women are finally being exposed to what feminism even is. It’s all over the place and there is so much misunderstanding about what it is and what the goals are or should be. For me to not accept responsibility for this in my art would be rather weak I think – I wouldn’t want to be that person.
Q5. Do you think a major part of your audience gets filtered out just because you proudly and unapologetically identify as a feminist?
Haha, of course it does! Why do you think so many smart women in the public glare say things like ‘feminism is male bashing’ – it is because they fear they will alienate men! I don’t fear that for only one reason – I know many men who are proud feminists and I am more than happy to be amongst them. I don’t want to be with weak men who fear gender equality – it turns me off like a body odor or old socks – no really it is that unsexy!
Q6. Considering most people’s hatred and ignorance towards feminism, you get a lot of backlash and hate for anything you say. What do you feel about that and what would you want to say to those people?
That they are on the wrong side of history. They are like those people who used to think the earth was flat, then they came correct – these jokers will too!
Q7. Recently, you satirically tweeted about women being ignorant about feminism and got a lot of backlash even from people like Anurag Kashyap. Do you, then, think comedy is a risky business?
Only when stupid people are reading your tweets.
Q8. According to my observation, in most of your writings, you seem to be particularly critical of the women and girls who are complacent in furthering and internalising patriarchy. Would you agree with this? If yes, what fix do you think is needed for this?
No, I am critical of educated people who have a voice, a platform, and who use it to talk ignorantly about feminism. I think all of us have to read, we have to educate ourselves about what is really going on in the world around us. I am not the most informed human but at least I make an effort and I also try not to talk too much about something I have no real depth of knowledge about. TRY being the operative word!
Q9. You have been extremely vocal on your various social media handles about the constant censoring going on around us. Would you want to elaborate on your stance about this recent trend?
It is killing our creativity as a country. We are simply not democratic enough to allow people to eat beef or watch James Bond kiss for more than 6 seconds, or admit we have drug use in Punjab. Of course it all comes down to the law and order situation. You have nut jobs all over the world who are against free speech – we seem to be veering towards the extreme end of that spectrum. But in a way I wonder if this is a good sign – when people try and stop free speech that means the speakers are on to something.
Q10. In today’s day, how do you think the Indian feminist comedy scene is like and what are we looking at for the future?
Is there a feminist comedy scene? I am not so sure. I am aware that Vasu Primlani talks a lot about her personal life and I think may be raising some interesting gender based questions in her act – I have not seen it so am going out on a bit of a limb here. I have seen most of the other women comedians perform and some definitely talk about issues related to sex, our period, motherhood and a few other aspects of feminism. But then to balance all that out we have Kapil Sharma’s show which is a bunch of guys playing women. Mood Indigo – one of the biggest college culture shows, recently had only male comedians perform, I can go on and on. We are a long way from women in comedy getting their due let alone taking up the feminist fight – but we will get there.
Featured Image Credit: Nithin Sagi Photography