Comedy ain’t no funny business- Catching up with Anuvab Pal

-By Abhishek Aloke Ghosh,
Senior Coordinator,
Student Media Cell,
PGP 2016-18

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

Media Cell IIMB is the student run outreach and communication committee of IIM Bangalore dedicated to form the bridge within the student community and the outside world.

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