-By Abhishek Aloke Ghosh,
Student Media Cell,
On the occasion of the Economic Times Young Leaders Program 2017 (B-school edition), Anuvab Pal, noted comedian and columnist with The Economic Times, talked about his unique journey from B-school to comedy.
Anuvab Pal is a comedian of international repute, with his stand-up comedy special- The Nation Wants to Know, clocking up over 500 shows in Mumbai and several runs from Sydney to San Francisco. He has also been a screenwriter to satirical Bollywood hits such as Loins of Punjab and The President is Coming. He is also a prolific writer for The Economic Times and The Times of India. We had the good fortune to catch up with Anuvab and bond over a cup of espresso and his great sense of humour.
Abhishek: How did you start your career in the stand-up comedy space?
Anuvab: Well, I began at Columbia Business School, and then moved on to work at a host of places- from Prudential to Goldman Sachs. My next job was at Reuters, which was to be my place of work for the next 18 years. Parallelly, though, I was writing scripts and one day, I just got picked up by one of the theatre companies. The director of the film was of Indian origin and it ended up being a blockbuster success! Imagine- someone who started out as a banker making it big in films! This was when I had to make a critical career choice- move to Singapore and head the Reuters business or quit and become a screenwriter.
Abhishek: Was there a supportive Bengali family in the background?
Anuvab: [Laughs] I’ve come a long way from there- I now have my own movie company, we’re making stuff for Amazon Prime, there are stand-up specials and Bollywood scripts. I couldn’t ever imagine I would end up here when I started out! It’s one thing to be writing scripts individually and completely another thing to be running a company making movies.
Abhishek: Was it an unconventional choice?
Anuvab: In fact, when I think about it, there are others too who have had the MBA-creative arts route. I can recall Rohan Sippy, who attended Stanford and Nagesh Kukunoor– who studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology. While I like the creative world, I also like the work ethic I imbibed after working for 20 years. But honestly, the fact that you can tangibly measure the outcome of your work in the creative arts [especially in an era dominated by social media platforms] is very rewarding. I never started writing solely because I wanted to make money. I essentially believe that entrepreneurs never got into their line of work for money, it’s about continuously working hard and seeing very real results. I mean, I’d rather make 10% increments doing something I love doing rather than manage the expectations of 30 other people while making 10 x the money.
Abhishek: Your works talk a lot about NRI’s and their quirky ways of adjusting to a new life (inheriting a foreign accent being one of them). What themes interest you most today?
Anuvab: I’m really intrigued by the young, and their interaction with technology. I mean, just the other day, mashi (Bengali for aunt) was going to Tokyo and her young daughter had the brilliant wit to send her a video of how to walk along the myriad routes at the airport! Honestly, I feel I am not equipped to understand how this generation consumes information. Indeed, what is bewildering is often what is funny. I’m also in the process of writing a movie that deals with a social media company- where the protagonists are willing to go as far as paying a fee to be popular on social media! You’d also get to see some big names- such as Konkona Sen Sharma and Rajat Gupta, associated with this venture. I think technology has a huge role to play in the future- for instance, with demonetisation and the evolution of the digital economy, who knows if cash would even be relevant in the future.
Abhishek: What’s your funniest take on MBA students’ woes and wishes?
Anuvab: I always get asked this question: How much money do you need to save before becoming an entrepreneur? When can you take the leap? I think MBA grads are often over-cautious. In my view, nothing great gets achieved through safety. Ambition is not being the ‘Assistant Executive Vice President’ after slogging it out for years. What I love most about my work is the thrill of seeing a live audience react to what you’ve written. I feel proud of the fact that something that I had created by simply putting pen to paper in the confines of my room has the potential to reach a 100,000+ hits on Youtube and become a box office hit. This, in my view, is a very pure way of living. I’m not a comedian only because people find me funny. The role of a comedian is to capture some interesting social observation that everyone is feeling. Through comedy, I am able to keep up with the vibrant, ever changing pulse of society. Because, after all, nothing can be sadder than becoming irrelevant