'Have we finally gotten over the holy cow syndrome?' asks Saisuresh Sivaswamy after watching Aisi Taisi Democracy in action.
The ongoing election campaign, which has descended into an orgy of name-calling and vitriol, brings to mind the missing art of satire.
At a time when the ruling party is in the battle of its life, with the Opposition mounting a better than expected challenge for the throne of Dilli, perhaps it is too much to expect the protagonists to indulge in civility and use a scalpel where they have been swinging the Stormbreaker.
Luckily, help is at hand in the form of Aisi Taisi Democracy, in the person of 3-man stand-up comic team of Varun Grover, Sanjay Rajoura and Rahul Ram who have been on a tour of India holding a mirror to the masses, making us laugh at the image we see reflected.
It's brutal, it's savage, it's no-holds-barred, and it's all delivered with the deadpan expression and narrative that only stand-up comics can bring to their trade.
The bulk of it, of course, is reserved for the ruling party and its chief vote-catcher, also referred to sometimes in the show as Gobiji and at other times by his normal nomenclature.
Sometimes it is inferred.
Like talking about those losers for whom it is second nature to post horrific, misogynistic messages on social media to take down successful, independent women, they say such men will surely see their follower count go up by 1.
But most times the humour and target are direct.
Why is there so much brouhaha over the lack of employment? Can anyone deny that in the last 5 years one sector has seen a boom in recruits -- of gau-rakshaks?
I first saw the trio a few years ago, when the new, full majority in 30 years government was still in its first glow, at a time when sporadic voices were being raised at the curbing of freedoms, the intolerance, the censoring of free speech, and wondered if those who were protesting had been to the show.
After sitting through two hours of brutal satire, aimed at everybody -- including Raj Thackeray and the Shiv Sena -- in the heart of Mumbai, would they still claim that freedoms were being curbed?
Like back then, Friday's Mumbai show was also a sellout, with the audience giving the comics a standing ovation at the end. Many of the jibes you couldn't hear clearly for the resounding applause that often interrupted them.
That we can laugh at others, and laugh well at that, is well known. Have Indians also finally mastered the art of laughing at themselves, their follies -- and, importantly, at those who we have elected to power?
Have we finally gotten over the holy cow syndrome?
Speaking of which animal (and without giving too much of the show away), Varun Grover narrates an incident when a cow was found to have parked itself on the runway of the Ahmedabad airport, forcing flights to avoid landing on the airstrip and choosing to fly overhead, or go to other airports, rather than go head-to-head with the bovine.
No one wanted to be on the wrong side of the animal, you see, and it took a few hours to get it off the airport and resume normal operations.
Just think about it, Grover said, here is an animal we are all so used to seeing sitting docilely at traffic signals, legs and tail tucked in so as not to cause any disruptions, but which suddenly seems to have developed so much confidence that it can occupy an airport runway today.
What explains this surge in the animal's confidence?
"Arre, even my confidence would get a tremendous boost if you drank my urine, thought it contained medical properties, na? Just imagine, there will be a long line outside my house to get the first flush of the day, with people vying for it. Why, some may even want to drink it right from the source itself, can you imagine!"
There was a whole song by Ram, who belts out versions of popular Hindi classics with the lyrics twisted to reflect the zeitgeist (including the toe-tapping Chunav ka Mahina), on the missing data under the government, how greater reliance is placed on RSS data than on NSS data.
Special mention is reserved for the teeming ranks of bhakts who use WhatsApp forwards to whitewash anything and everything the government does. Including something as mindless as demonetisation which, from its initial tune of wiping out black money and terrorism, was finally touted as 'good intention, but bad implementation'.
"This bhakt showed me a WhatsApp fwd that said Modiji has brought the country to the 4th position, wah Modiji wah. In what, I asked him, but the stupid chap did not know, just that we were in 4th position now. Can you imagine!"
So how does the Narendra Damodardas Modi campaign of 2014 differ from that of 2019?
Through Tinder screenshots, Grover said the Modi of 2014 had a warm, glowing profile. With a touching profile, courtesy Prasoon Joshi, and a soft-focus DP that showed him as a trustworthy person.
Cut to 2019 and the Tinder profile is of -- Vivek Oberoi!
"Can you imagine, here is an actor who won't be offered anything on credit by the neighbourhood kirana store in his lane, but who the prime minister is depending on today to win him an election!"
The beating scientific thinking and temper have received under the government, "with anything and everything attributed to the Vedas and ancient legends before the Englishman took them away" (actually it was the Muslim invaders who preceded them that took everything away) was not spared, either.
"Can you imagine, no less than the prime minister said that ancient India practised the world's first instance of plastic surgery. Just think, we had the ability to transplant a full head, but couldn't find a human one, we had to use an animal head. Was that the best we could do?"
Casteism, the unwanted male gaze romanticised as, well, romancing (right from Dev Anand's time), sexual harassment, pollution and Diwali firecrackers -- all our foibles were thrown back at us in a manner that made you laugh at them.
And through the loud guffaws and ringing applause, somewhere the thought seeps in that all along, for the two-hour duration, you were only laughing at yourself.
Which is a damn better thing to do than crying for yourself.