An Indian comic’s path from prison to fame on reality TV

In an episode of the popular reality TV show Bigg Boss, Indian stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui states, “People usually apologise after cracking jokes.” “But in my case, it’s best if I do it in advance.” The millions of Indians who watched the show, which was a domestic version of Big Brother in the UK, appreciated his sense of humor. The show follows 21 contestants who are sequestered in a specially constructed home, monitored around-the-clock, and eliminated by weekly audience voting.

 

Among the diverse group of competitors, Faruqui was noticeable. He is a Muslim who was arrested in 2021 on suspicion of offending Hindu religious emotions with a joke he found offensive. After three years, the 32-year-old emerged victorious from the well-known reality show, pocketing an incredible 5 million rupees ($60,160; £47,455). A sea of people flocked to Faruqui’s neighborhood, Dongri, a Muslim ghetto just outside of Mumbai city, on Monday to greet him; these kinds of events are often only attended by movie stars. His name has been trending this week, and his catchy one-liners from the performance are all over social media.

 

However, not everyone is content. It was “worrying, distressing and disappointing,” according to an anchor of a well-known Hindi TV channel, that the nation—which includes millions of Hindus—was honoring a comedian who “started his career by insulting Hindu gods and religion.” Many believe that Faruqui should be recognized for the unique tactics he has used to remake himself from one of India’s “most hated” young artists to a “darling of the masses”. It gave his life a sense of struggle, according to political scientist Asim Ali. “He came out of jail, was subject to a vicious media onslaught but then returned to achieve a significant pan India level of celebrity.” But what was his method? The life of Faruqui itself has the solution.

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