In Conversation With Biswa Kalyan Rath: Of Pretentiousness and Gamechanging

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We wanted to interview the man who shot to fame with his Pretentious Movie Reviews on YouTube under our ‘game changers’ series but he wanted a different heading.

“Not a game changer, hates hyperbole.” Yes, meet Biswa Kalyan Rath with all his philosophy, humility and humour in conversation with Rhea Yadav as they talk about his profession, life at IIT, some pretentiousness and why he thinks he is far from being a game changer.

A lot has been written about you already but to begin with, we’d like you to tell us how you would ideally describe yourself?

(Pause) Useless.

Would you like to add something?

No.

What are you currently doing?

I was working in a tech company and have recently quit it and am serving my notice period right now. I plan to take up stand-up comedy full time and I have in fact been doing a lot of stand-up shows and acts alongside and yes, our YouTube videos are there as well.

What do you love the most about your profession?

It feeds my narcissism when so many people listen to us as if we have something very important to say. Apart from the fact that this is something I really enjoy doing, of course.

And is there also something that you dislike about this?

I do not have any negative opinions about this profession as such. But if I have to, then I guess it is the fear of hitting a creative block. It’s essentially like a writer’s block. Every creative person enjoys the work that they do and what they really like is the end product. I read somewhere that every creative person also has a bigger critic on the inside which is never satisfied with the final outcome. The critic is generally overpowering since we perceive a lot and create less. I am afraid of getting stuck in this struggle and hitting a creative block.

I also hate the unnecessary hype. Why so much hype? It sucks! I have random people wanting to get selfies clicked with me, which is a completely pointless exercise because it has no value to anyone whatsoever. I get absurd requests from people to sing happy birthday videos for their friends. I do not want to send insincere birthday wishes to anyone. Honestly, I don’t even care about the children in Africa, why do you think I would care about your friend? You just want to make him or her happy with a lie. Gift them a notebook instead, that’s more useful. If these people actually listened to what I say, they’d listen, end it at that and then move on. So yes, the hype is unnecessary and very annoying.

But then is this fame new found or were you popular in school or college as well?

Well, this kind of fame is definitely new but you can say that I was pretty known in both school and college. I went to very average schools and if I came first in class, the guy with the second rank would be at least 50 marks behind me, so that’s how I was pretty known in school. In college too I used to play the guitar and was pretty social so people did know that yes, this guy exists and he sucks.

You’re from IIT and that is far from being a regular college. Tell us something about IIT, is it all that it is made out to be and how did it help you in your profession?

IITs are one of the finest colleges in India and their infrastructure is comparable to international standards. The facilities that under graduate students get in IITs are amazing. If one is really into academics, then IITs are a great place to be in.

Now, given that getting into IIT is extremely difficult, means that everyone who gets through has some unique quality. It’s a great mix of quirky and passionate people. I think that’s every college, but I only know about IITs since I went there. My experience was great and to be honest, my friends were damn funny. Most of them are way funnier than I am, so all those interactions and discussions really helped me in my current profession.

Not to brag but once you get into IITs, even your parents are like we have nothing to advise you because you are better than us. This gives you a certain kind of confidence, and in stand-up, confidence matters a lot. Since you already believe you are better than most people, you can stand in front of them and be arrogant, and a bit of arrogance helps in comedy because people can then buy your bluff. So yeah, getting into IIT does help in being a stand-up comedian.

You really do love stand-up comedy but you shot to fame with Pretentious Movie Reviews on YouTube. What kind of a relationship do you share with your fellow Kanan Gill?

Kanan and I share a very professional relationship. I have been doing stand-up for two years and Kanan for a little longer than that and we met a few months back and decided to do a video together with no expectation of it working out well or it becoming popular at all. He’s a friend and three days a week I practically live at his place working on something or the other but yes, we share a very professional rapport.

What’s next in store for you? Are you going to take up stand-up completely or do you have some other big plans?

Well, I have been doing stand-up shows for some time now and I plan to take that up full time. Pretentious Movie Reviews will also continue and I think people generally feel that now that they’ve made it big on social media once, they’re going to keep riding high on that wave and stop at that. Via stand-up shows, there is only so many people you can connect to. It is a completely different ball game via social media. In fact, here’s hoping that the better we get at Pretentious Movie Reviews, our stand-up shows become more appreciated. And apart from movie reviews, we do a lot of other stuff too, so we’re exploring sketch comedy and trying our hand at different things.

But believe me, this is very ordinary and something a lot of people do. I have some serious issues with sales and marketing people. These guys can sell anything and hype everything and glorify something so much that it stops making sense! I’m doing stand-up because I love it. I think that’s all that should matter.

Alright, I’ll move a little off track here. If I don’t ask this question, my editor will kill me. Biswa, why were you barefoot in the Pretentious Nights poster?

Because I don’t wear shoes. I don’t own shoes. I wore shoes in Pretentious Nights, but I borrowed them from somebody.

Finally, I have to bring up the fact that you did refuse to be interviewed under the heading ‘game changer’. Tell me more about it. What perspective do you hold of it and who do you think is a game changer then?

This requires me to go into a little detail. These days, unconventional professions are over-hyped. Anyone who takes up a less common profession is touted as a game changer. To me, a game changer is someone who completely changes the playing field. Steve Jobs was a game changer because he revolutionized people’s lives. Albert Einstein was a game changer because he changed physics fundamentally.

I am not a game changer because I have not achieved anything in life. Raju Srivastav was a game changer, because without him people wouldn’t even know what stand-up comedy is. His first cassette came out in the eighties and he worked all his life till he shot to fame in 2005-06. In India, stand-up comedy, if at all it existed, was only mimicry earlier. But Johnny Lever came and changed that before there was TV or YouTube. Russell Peters took five years to write the hour that shot him to fame after 15 years in stand-up. All these people have struggled for years and years, worked their asses off and changed the way we see the world of stand-up comedy today. Those are the real game changers. If at all, I would call Tanmay Bhat a game changer too since he has been in the industry for 7 years and has a lot of insight into how the industry functions.

In India, doing anything that’s not engineering or medical is considered unconventional. The point is, elsewhere in the world stand-up is pretty conventional. Most people in India hyped as doing something unconventional are actually not doing something unconventional in a conventional setting, but something conventional in an unconventional setting. It’s very unnatural for everyone to want to be an engineer, and it’s only natural that some of them will take up other careers.

This hype creates a peer pressure where people start doing something unconventional just for the sake of it. There is a huge difference between doing something because you love doing it and doing something because you want to be seen as different and that has to be made very clear.

True, so we’ve talked not about you but in fact, about your ideas which is what your whole belief also lies on. But Biswa, what’s your take on people in general given that you have garnered a lot of fans by now and you seem to also have strong opinions about pseudo game changers?

I like beautiful things. I know it sounds pretentious, but I like things which are theoretically beautiful. I like music because it has theory. I enjoy things that are beautiful in theory. I sound very pretentious.

What I hate is human interactions, because people try hard to pretend to be somebody they aren’t and that pisses me off. People are different in their bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, home, work-place and in public. They keep adding layers and layers on who they are trying to hide their real selves. Although some level of this is required, people do take it to what I think are unrequired extents and I hate that.

So which layer is the real layer?

How people are in their bathrooms. Unless there are CCTV cameras. But of course, they can’t roam around naked in public.

Would you like to say something in the end to our readers who are mostly college students?

People read into things and only pick up whatever suits them. If I say five things here, people would only pick up whatever pleases them. So there is no point in saying anything, as people would naturally become who they want to by picking up whatever they want to.

 

Quick Five

TV Show: Jimmy Kimmel Live

Kind of Music: Solo Acoustic Guitar

Food: Anything bland

Clothing: T-shirt and jeans. I own three black t-shirts, plan on buying two more soon.

Relationship status: I’m single. Mostly.

 

(Image credits: telegraphindia.com)

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