How we are brought up and where we are brought up really has an impact on what we think and how we project it. I never thought about it before but now that there is so much negativity and hate around us, I look back and try to understand: Why am I such a libtardu? Why am I such an intellectual? Why am I such a peacenik? Why don’t I look at everything from the prism of us vs them?
The thing is, we used to read about Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb in books. I didn’t know it at the time, but I have lived it. I didn’t know it has a name. I come from Lucknow, where I studied in La Martiniere, where we have friends from every class and religion. There were students from every socio-economic strata: rich, middle class and lower middle class including me. Religion never played a role in deciding our friendships. But now, talking about it seems like it is some other era. When the rifts in society started being exploited, it really shook me.
Everyone wanted to do well, succeed, see the country become better. We didn’t want to be a country at loggerheads with itself. So, the liberal and tolerant atmosphere I was brought up in, profoundly impacted me. It was normal to go to my best friend’s house for Eid festivities, to go to my principal’s house for plum cake on Christmas, to celebrate Diwali and Durga Puja with everyone.
When I was in class 8, news television was at its prime. It was amazing to watch Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt on TV. Journalism was an aspirational career. I was good at debating and I knew I can speak well and was also interested in media. But coming from a middle class Bengali family, I had to go for something conventional. I tried law but that didn’t work out. Then I took admission in Hindu College in Delhi University and started hammering the debate scene. Then I went St Stephens, where also I was part of the debating scene. Then, Radio Mirchi launched in 2002 where I was lucky to be selected as a RJ. So I was doing my masters and a radio show late at night. That is when my confidence with regard to speaking fully developed. But I had wanted to do television since I was a child, so that’s what I did.
I worked for Aaj Tak, TV Today. I was in the founding team of Times Now for 2-3 years and worked in Headlines Today for 5 years. I even wrote a book called Tales from Shining and Sinking India. It is about how news channels report big stories.
Around 2012, I understood television was going down so I went back to radio in a managerial role. That is when I realised how television crushes your soul. How you become serious, glub and glim. Radio re-invigorated me. You cannot do news on radio legally, so you do it surreptitiously. You wiggle your way through, you use innuendos. That is when I started getting interested in doing news again but not in the traditional format. So I freelanced with News laundry for a bit.
In 2018, I took the plunge of marrying news with fun and entertainment and pushing satire. Its not unique, the American late night shows have been doing it for years. Its ironic that the largest democracy in thr world does not have a single late night television satire show. Political satire is something people don’t understand in India. They think it is political comedy or funded by political parties.
Over the last few years, the element of self censorship have gone up to a tragic level. See what is happening to OTT. For eg, The Family Man was such a good show and dealt with geopolitical issues but they tried to censor it so a 55 crore project got shelved. The new social media guidelines show that the hammer is coming down. Even if you’re not worried about that, understand what is happening to YouTube channels like Newsclick. They had ED raids for 3 days. Then random FIRs were filed.
More than govt censorship or a heavy hand, it is disappointing when people come to us and say ‘ You are not covering this issue or that issue’. While one is happy to risk their life and limb, who are you doing this for? We at Deshbhakt do this because we enjoy it. We don’t harbour some higher purpose that we are doing this for the people, because the people themselves are sleeping! But thankfully, there is a minority of Indians who believe in what we do. The biggest compliment for us is we are crowdfunded. That means a lot of episodes come from our community and the money comes from memberships. We are not minting money on YouTube.
Then why are we doing this? We believe in it and we know we are good at it. When we upload a video, it is a moment of joy. When it stops being a moment of joy for us, we will stop.
For progressive and logical people on social media, receiving hate is a normal issue. Sometimes you think, what have I done to deserve this kind of abuse? I am just stating facts. There is not a single lie in any video, so the abuse is a compliment. They don’t have factual rebuttals for what we say. Abuse is the biggest indicator that the other person has nothing substantive to attack you with. And the abuse is also engagement and drives our channel further.
What I would like people to know about me is I am not Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, George Soros is not funding us or we wouldn’t be asking for money on Patreon.
People say ab to modi aa gaya hai, aa gaya hai to theek hai. But should it stop us from questioning our elected representatives? Everyone says I’m a Leftist despite the fact that there is no tweet or video where I have supported the Left. Once I asked someone why do you think I am one? They said its because you question the govt. Questioning the govt and having Banerjee surname doesn’t mean you’re a Leftist.
We want people to remember there is a Constitution in our country, which tells us to be active and alert citizens. It is our responsibility to question the govt, not the opposition. And all we are doing in the world of satire is questioning the people in power.
The DB doesn’t intend to influence politics. It aims to influence the political thinking of people and more importantly, influence issues. Just because you have voted for someone doesn’t mean we stop asking about issues. Why should you worry only when you can’t find a job? I had a nice corner office in a corporate office but these issues matter. So many people become politically aware only when it affects them.
The fringe is now so powerful that it has become the mob that controls the narrative. The govt is scared, that is why it is bringing in red tape, paperwork snd regulations to check the truth. But we won’t stop. We will continue to do fact based satire. And we will continue to do this till we are physically able to. In case we are physically incapacitated by brute force, so be it. But the fear of being incapacitated will not keep us quiet. We believe Thomas Paine when he said, “A real patriot saves his nation from his government.”