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From Modi mimic to AAP leader — why standup comic Shyam Rangeela took political plunge

Best known as a contestant of ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ in 2017, Shyam Rangeela has joined AAP in his home state Rajasthan, says his comedy will remain independent.

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New Delhi: From mimicking popular politicians to diving into politics himself, 27-year-old Shyam Rangeela has come a long way in his short career.

On 5 May, Rangeela, an alumnus of the comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and a comic known for his imitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Rajasthan — one of the states where the party is hoping to expand its footprints after its Punjab victory in March.

However, speaking to ThePrint, Rangeela insisted that he would keep his politics and comedy separate.

“I will not refrain from mimicking politicians, even (AAP chief) Arvind Kejriwal, if there is a sketch that demands so,” said Rangeela.

“I can support the party, but the party will have no direct role in my comedy,” he added. “My comedy will always remain independent. It will always reflect the reality around us. At the same time, my profession will not stop me from seeking votes for the AAP.” 

Rangeela said he actively campaigned for the BJP just before the 2014 general election. 

“Hardly anyone knew me then. I was not popular. I became an artiste later,” he said. “The political atmosphere of the country has changed a lot since 2014. Intolerance towards satire and mimicry of politicians has increased.”


Also Read: Indian standup comedy has a bright future, even in these times of intolerance


Career in comedy

Born Shyam Sundar at Sriganganagar’s Mokhamwala village, Rangeela’s (Rangeela means colourful in Hindi) claim to fame was a stand-up act in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in 2017.

The show, which has also given a platform to other popular comics like Kapil Sharma and Bhagwant Mann, now an AAP leader and Punjab’s Chief Minister, helped show off Rangeela’s talent for mimicry — often of Modi.

The earliest controversy that Rangeela ever courted was reportedly on the show: He claimed that during its filming in 2017, he was asked to stop mimicking Modi and Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi. The row over his mimicry also allegedly led the show and Star Plus, the channel on which the programme was aired, to edit out his performance.

It was that very performance, however, that Rangeela credits with making his career.  

“It was that leaked video of my performance which went viral on social media that contributed immensely to my career,” he said.

Rangeela subsequently became popular on YouTube — where he currently has 877,000 subscribers.

Modi remains a favourite subject for mimicry: One of his most popular sketches is a parody of Modi’s interview with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar from just before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In 2021, a video of him imitating the Prime Minister to mock rising fuel prices became popular after petrol prices breached Rs 100 in Sriganganagar. That video, which began with a petrol pump denying him permission to shoot, snowballed into a row to which Rangeela responded in his characteristic fashion — with more videos.

‘Cancelled show’, decision to go political

For Rangeela, politics felt like a natural transition. 

“A lot of people reached out to me over social media over the last few years asking me to be their collective voice and raise issues such as inflation and rise in petrol price through my posts,” he told ThePrint. “So, that way, I was already into politics. Now, the new thing is that I have chosen a party to support.”

A glance through his social media shows that Rangeela is never one to shy from political tweets — his timeline often sees him questioning those in power over price rise, unemployment, and poor governance.

Rangeela’s decision to join the AAP came days after another one of his shows was allegedly cancelled an upcoming comedy show for a popular TV channel that Rangeela refrained from naming but that “specifically” asked him not to mimic Modi.

He took to Twitter on 16 April to post to write about. “Dear PM Narendra Modi ji, I am a small comedian,” Rangeela said in the tweet. “I mimic you and other politicians. It is sad that I cannot perform on TV shows because they are scared of you. You claim that you love comedy then why are those people so scared of your mimicry? Is your mimicry a crime?”

“After the Laughter Challenge in 2017, I spoke with several TV channels for performances but most of them often got back saying that I have been denied permission. It happened today again. So, I am forced to write about this five years later. Why are people so scared of mimicry? If there was no social media, this Shyam Rangeela would have been finished long ago.”

Rangeela joined the AAP less than a fortnight after this tweet.

Why the AAP? The comic claimed he saw the party as one with room for “politics of change” and an opportunity to do work. He told ThePrint that currently he “lacks experience” and does not see himself in any important position in the AAP. 

“But I will do everything to support the party… If I get a chance, I will work towards better schools and hospitals, [and on addressing] lack of connectivity in rural areas and shortage of water,” he said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)


Also Read: Pani puri, comedy & intolerance — Two days with Munawar Faruqui, the comedian denied a stage 


 

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