“I risked my life to come here,” said comedian Munawar Faruqui during his show in Hyderabad, receiving thunderous applause on Saturday, August 20. The venue where the ‘Dongri to Nowhere’ show took place, Shilpa Kala Vedika in the city’s Madhapur, had turned into a police fortress as heavy police deployment was seen both inside and outside the hall where Munawar was performing. This was his second show in Hyderabad after one he announced in January this year was cancelled after threats from the BJP in Telangana, citing COVID-19 restrictions.
Days ahead of his Saturday show, the BJP made threats to the show again, with MLA Raja Singh threatening to burn down the venue if it took place and beat Munawar up. In light of this, heavy police presence was seen both inside and outside the venue. Each row of seats had two police officers stationed at either side, and barricades had been placed in front of the stage where Munawar was performing. Further, strict instructions were given to the audience to switch off their cell phones — if a person was found holding their phone up, police instructed that it would be confiscated.
Despite the shadow of police — some even in riot gear — Munawar’s show was a roaring success. Crowds that TNM met with after the show told us that it was worth the trouble, and that they had an enjoyable experience. However, most of the audience members TNM spoke to said that they were worried that the show had been cancelled as they did not receive the venue details until Saturday. “The show was brilliant and worth the hype. But we were concerned about the show being cancelled as we only got the venue details at about 11 am on Saturday,” said Seham Syed and Mohd Sahim, who came to watch the show from Malakpet.
Munawar had announced his show on August 10, and the following day, controversial BJP MLA Raja Singh put out a video in which he made disparaging remarks about the comedian and threatened him. “See what will happen if they invite him (Munawar). Wherever the program is, we will go and beat him up. Whoever offers him a venue, we will burn it down. If something goes wrong, KTR and the government and police are responsible,” Raja Singh said. “We will definitely beat him up and send him back if he comes to Telangana, this is a challenge,” he added.
On Friday, August 19, Raja Singh was put under house arrest over his threats. On the day of the show, TNM learnt that a few Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) members who were protesting outside Shilpa Kala Vedika were detained by police.
Munawar had earlier announced a show in January this year, following an open invitation from minister KTR after his show in Bengaluru was cancelled due to pressure from Hindu groups. TRS working president KTR had made a jibe at the BJP government in Karnataka, saying Hyderabad was a truly cosmopolitan city where standup comedians didn’t have their shows cancelled due to political differences. However, the BJP in Telangana too made threats at the time, saying they wouldn’t allow Munawar’s show. BJP leaders had alleged that Munawar had made jokes on Hindu gods and hurt Hindu sentiments. Later, the show was cancelled citing COVID-19 regulations.