For months now, Danish Sait's living room has substituted the comedy clubs where he usually performs, and his thousands of followers online have taken the place of the crowds that populate the audience.
He captured the absurdity of the lockdown in his nearly-daily churn of videos bringing to life characters like Jaya, the domestic help and Ramamurthy avare, the quintessential Bengaluru uncle.
But this week, followers of his comedy can watch him in his latest role — as 'Asgar' in French Biriyani, his second film outing releasing on Amazon Prime Video on Friday.
Ask Danish what we can expect from the film and he simply says "laughter."
"It is not a film that changes anyone's life. It is not going to make anyone come back from the United States like Swades. It's a fun film and the only change we can bring about in anyone's life right now is by adding a bit of laughter," Danish says.
Just like his first film Humble Politician Nograj, the character of 'Asgar' that Danish plays in French Biriyani is inspired by his wildly popular radio days.
"Panna (director Pannaga Bharana) said he has an idea about an auto driver and a foreign tourist (Sal Yusuf) who comes to the city (Bengaluru) and that it's a comedy of errors. I had two characters during my prank call days - Asgar who had a shrill voice and Saleem who had a nasal voice. We are bringing Asgar to life for the film but we decided against keeping the shrill voice since it is more suited to a short sketch than a full-length film," Danish says.
In fact many of Danish's characters take roots from his long-running radio show on Fever 104 FM. But Danish is quick to point that his input in the creative process of the film was minimal. The film director Pannaga Bharana, son of famous director TS Nagabharana, wrote the film along with Avinash Balekkala. "They have different characters in the film and have made me a part of that world. We then took the script to Puneet (Rajkumar) and he liked it. He (Puneet) said these are stories he would probably never do himself but he wanted younger talent to do it because we have a different thought process," Danish says.
The film is set in Bengaluru's Shivajinagar, a place Danish says has an "insane amount of character". "You'll find the rich buying fruits and vegetables and you have a tiny chai shop like Savera where people are sitting and having conversations about nothing in particular.”
“It gave me the impetus to be an auto driver in the film standing amid a crowd of onlookers, having a foreigner with me and people genuinely looking at him curiously!," Danish says.
The release of the film amidst a surge in popularity for Danish thanks to his lockdown videos, and Danish does not rule out the possibility of seeing 'Ramamurthy' or 'Jaya' in a film.
Danish credits actor Sasha Baron Cohen and Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane as two of his heroes as both have created an ensemble of diverse characters through their comic work. Similarly, Danish is on course to build his own universe of characters. "My characters are my Avengers ensemble. I should come up with something where Ramamurthy, Nagraj, Chacko, Jaya and others are in a film!" he laughs.
Danish says that there is a process involved in publishing each of his videos, and names comedian Vamsidhar Bhogaraju and his sister Kubra Sait among the people who 'filter' out his content. "There was a process from day one. We had an order to the chaos and I run it by people who are close to me who give me honest advice," says Danish.
But it has not been all smiles for stand-up comedians in India during the lockdown. Over the past week, Danish's counterparts in the Indian stand-up comic industry including Rohan Joshi, Vir Das and Kaneez Surka have alleged that their personal contact information and addresses were leaked, subjecting them to threats and abusive messages over making jokes on religion.
Religion and politics is something Danish is conscious of and he says that he tries to keep them out of his jokes, and advocates for debate and discourse. "Are people sensitive about certain topics? They certainly are. Do they have a right to be sensitive about it? They do, right? As much as you have a right to say something, they (audience) have a right to be sensitive as well. However, I do believe that there are some topics I wouldn't touch and religion is something I wouldn't make fun of," he says.
There are occasions when Danish broaches politics, like the time he posted a video 30 minutes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'aatmanirbharta' speech complaining that he did not understand his intricate Hindi. But it is mostly to induce comic relief rather than turn it into hard-hitting socio-political commentary
"Comedians need to be open to understanding people's sentiments about some subjects. If someone is offended by a joke, debate and discourse is important. It is also important to learn and grow. We are performing for a mass and the mass will teach us and extract from us," he adds.
Danish says he will continue to tell stories in the future. After the release of French Biriyani, he will turn his attention to the sequel of Humble Politician Nograj which will be released as a web series and 777 Charlie, which is Rakshit Shetty's next film in which Danish plays a part.
"Whether it is films, web series, improv, prank call or whether I am with or without makeup, I will continue to tell stories. I know that I have to keep hustling," he adds.