Kathakali has been a journalist for a decade and a half, working previously with The Telegraph and Times of India. An MA in political science and a Chevening Fellow, she writes on various themes--the business of sports, pop culture, startups, innovation--and co-produces the video series, From the Field. She is also part of the desk, editing, rewriting and putting the print edition to bed. Kathakali is a sports nut and collects autographs as a hobby. She enjoys travelling and music, and you'll often find her humming completely out of tune.
Tanmay Bhat, co-founder, All India Bakchod Image: Joshua Navalkar
By his own admission, both Tanmay Bhat, 29, and All India Bakchod (AIB), the comedy collective Gursimran Khamba, 31, and he co-founded, were neither too entrepreneurial nor ambitious. The two started with a podcast in March 2012, and from episode 3 were joined by friends Rohan Joshi, 34, and Ashish Shakya, 32. Initially, all they wanted was to get 200 people in a room for a show. Then, as the numbers began to grow, from 200 to 500 and more, they decided to start a YouTube channel in 2013 that, they thought, would have a 100 thousand subscribers in a year. At the end of that time span, AIB reached a million subscribers. That’s when they realised they were on to something big. “Every time we’ve decided to do X, we’ve been super-modest in our heads and the idea has just ballooned while execution. That’s why we have managers and friends who constantly ask us to get out of the middle-class mentality and dream bigger,” says Bhat.
But one idea that changed the way the country and the group itself looked at AIB was the roast, a variant of insult comedy that starred filmmaker Karan Johar and actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, and left many conservatives bristling with its bold overtones. Despite the FIRs against AIB, the group’s mojo transcended mere numbers. “It made us posterboys of free speech, we became an Amul hoarding and, from that point onwards, we were fairly sure that we could walk into any room and people would recognise us,” says Bhat. What began as an attempt to change the way Indian celebrities were perceived—stiff and uptight—became the headline act on their CV.
AIB was never scared of the outcome of the roast. If anything, Bhat and his colleagues were excited to have pulled off something big, a format that hasn’t been attempted in the country before. What worked for them was a fearless, unabashed voice that reached places where the earlier ones didn’t go. “We use the word pushing the boundary very often, but at AIB, that’s really our DNA. Our brand has always stood for disruption and all those marketing jargons that most people say, but don’t actually put into action. Our ambition is reflected in our thoughts, our content,” he adds.
“ Our brand has always stood for disruption and all those marketing jargons that most people say, but don’t actually put into action.
AIB’s focus now is to understand young India—the demographic that is non-conformist, that drives change—and play to their aspirations. If TV’s original funny man Cyrus Broacha is to be believed, they’ve already made impressive beginnings. “These days, when we travel, we meet a lot of young people who want to be comedians. For them, AIB is a reference point; they all want to be like them,” says Broacha.
The group is now entering the fiction space and will soon turn long-form producers. Says Bhat, “The challenge for us is longevity, to have a 25-year-long career. A lot of artistes come and go in five years. We’ve already covered that. How do we turn that into two decades and more is the next big question we are looking to address.”