New Delhi: For a set last year, stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui talked about Dongri, a neighbourhood in South Mumbai notorious for fostering criminals like Dawood Ibrahim, and where Faruqui also resides.
“Have you heard of Dongri? Every time I mention it, half the people I’m speaking to don’t know what I’m talking about, and the other half turn around and say, ‘Oh, that Dawood wala?’ But what kind of stereotype is this?,” he asked a rapt audience.
“But Dongri isn’t famous just because of Dawood, there is Haji Mastan, Tiger Memon — what gangsters we’ve given,” he added, breaking into a soft chuckle.
The video of this set, available on YouTube, has garnered 4.7 million views since it was published in April. Faruqui’s channel, meanwhile, has over 5,00,000 subscribers — modest compared to celebrity comedian Kunal Kamra’s 1.6 million — but a following he gained “extremely quickly” for a newcomer, according to comics and Faruqui’s associates ThePrint spoke to.
“Normally it takes two to three years to build that kind of following, but Munawar did it in a year-and-a-half. His popularity grew a lot during the lockdown,” said his tour manager Vishesh Arora.
However, since 1 January, 28-year-old Faruqui has been framed as one of the criminals he often joked about.
Faruqui was on a nation-wide tour with Arora to perform his newest set ‘Dongri to Nowhere’, which began in October last year, when a group of men from the Hind Rakshak Sangathan, a Hindu organisation, stormed the venue in Indore on 1 January, claiming Faruqui made “indecent” remarks about Hindu deities and insulted Home Minister Amit Shah.
An FIR led to Faruqui’s arrest, along with four others present or performing at the venue, who have now spent 22 days in a jail in Indore. After the Madhya Pradesh Police admitted there was no proof of Faruqui making indecent remarks, the Uttar Pradesh Police sought custody of him for a complaint lodged in April 2020, allegedly for hurting religious sentiments then.
Since then, Faruqui’s bail has been rejected twice by lower courts and his next bail hearing with the Madhya Pradesh High Court is set for 25 January, which his family, friends and peers are waiting with bated breath for.
“He’s afraid. His mind is full of tension. All he’s thinking about is getting out of there,” Faruqui’s cousin, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
“We hope that all goes well and he is released soon. We’re here to give him strength. He knows that.”
Also read: ‘Wanted to catch serial offender Munawar in action’ — how comedian’s arrest was ‘planned’ in MP
A hustler with a sense of humour
Munawar is described as a hustler, by his peers and associates, who is affable and down to earth despite his new found popularity.
“He is super, super humble. He travels all the way from Dongri to places like Khar and Bandra for just 5 minutes of stage time,” said Samay Raina, fellow comedian and close friend of Faruqui. “He does everything by himself, without a manager, without anyone.”
Faruqui has always navigated life nimbly, his family and friends told ThePrint, moving job to job, city to city, to earn and make ends meet. Before becoming a comedian, Faruqui worked as a utensil seller, a salesman in a shop and a small-time graphic artist in Mumbai, after moving from Gujarat’s Junagadh in 2002.
“Munawar was only 10 years old when he came to Mumbai from Junagadh. We all lived together in Dongri,” 38-year-old Shahnawaz Yakub Sheikh, another cousin, told ThePrint. “He would work during the day and do a computer course in the evening. He had that fire in him since the beginning. He always worked very hard.”
But Faruqui has also lived through considerable hardship — his home was destroyed during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat and his mother died, unexpectedly, soon after he moved to Mumbai with her.
A life in stand up comedy offered both a means to cope with tragedy and a platform to pursue something he was good at — making people laugh.
“When I first saw him, I thought he was so, so good. I’ve been in the industry for longer than he has, but sometimes he would get an audience to laugh more than I would,” said Raina, adding, “He’s very reserved and doesn’t talk about his struggles, except with close friends and when he decides to include it in a set. Stand up is like a coping mechanism, it is for all of us.”
Faruqui’s turn to comedy was the result of a spontaneous realisation he had during one of his odd jobs, Balraj Singh Ghai, a friend, told ThePrint.
“I remember him telling me that he was on a shoot for an ad or something, where they were replicating a stand up scene. The producers didn’t have an extra on set and asked Munawar to sit as an audience member,” said Ghai, who owns a popular stand-up venue The Habitat in Mumbai.
“Then they asked him to go on stage and say two lines. He said when he went on stage and said those two lines, it felt powerful, like it was something he should do for real. He came for some of our open mics and became an instant hit.”
At home, Faruqui’s large family always encouraged the children to pursue the careers they saw fit, but when he began to show an interest in comedy, Shanawaz said the family first dismissed it as “time pass.”
“When his popularity rose and people started coming to the house to get selfies with him, we realised that this was serious.”
Also read: No laughing matter — all the comedians who got into trouble for trying to be funny
In trouble with the law
Like several other comedians today, Faruqui has also not shied away from joking about religion, politics, current affairs, or his own identity as a Muslim.
“They made a dating app for Muslims. They made Minder out of Tinder. You can imagine the fake accounts, everyone is clad in a burkha” he said during a set, adding at another point: “I swiped right on someone, but then I got two options — stranger or relative.”
Every video on his YouTube channel is edited to carry a disclaimer warning that the content is without malice, and intended to make viewers laugh. This didn’t stop several people from filing FIRs against him in April 2020 when he put up a video in which he makes fun of the famous Hindi song, Mera Piya Ghar Aaya Oh Ram Ji, from the movie Yaarana (1981), and the Hindu deity Lord Rama.
The controversy fizzled out, only to be revived by Faruqui’s arrest earlier this month. The Uttar Pradesh Police, which is now seeking custody of Faruqui, is acting on complaints it received back in April.
“What is happening with Munawar is incredibly wrong. This is no longer about stand up comedy,” said Aditi Mittal, one of the most popular comics in India. “The blatant unconstitutionality of the series of events should compel all of us to speak up.”
“There are definitely some comics who, after Munawar’s arrest, feel like they can’t make certain jokes because who wants to be taken in a police jeep in UP?” noted Ghai.
On 28 January, Munawar will turn 29 and he is most likely to celebrate his birthday in prison.
Whether he will go back to stand up is something he hasn’t discussed with his family, his cousin told ThePrint. “He didn’t do anything wrong, did he? We will support him no matter what he chooses. For now, we just want him back.”
Also read: These Muslim women comedians are making us laugh. In India of 2021, it’s no joke
Started victim card… He having rough career, poor financial background does not make him any less stupid…. Whats going on is as per judiciary, be happy for that….. Selective bashing of religion itself displays his agenda..
It is high time to realize that being seculiar does’nt mean giving special previleges or freedom to minorities. Everybody should respect each other religion and religious sentiments. There is no existence of islamophobiea anywhere , it is the narrative by mean politicians and influential people for their own benefits. Common public should become most aware for whether to be carried away to wrong narratives or not.
MF and people like him should not take anybody’s religion and regious sentiments lightly. If done so, then have to face the consequences , do not blaim then.
His house destroyed and now he is being destroyed… Good job india. Its time for another freedom fight.
Let this joker utter a single word against Prophet Mohammed. Then we will what you have to say about ‘ freedom of expression’. This freedom is available only to these Muslims / Communists / Anti Hindu / Anti National people only?
Our defination of secularism mind your own religion and respect others, if you’re etheist like communists, be so which doesn’t give freedom to joke at the cost of other religious beliefs. Today we redefine what is secularism and freedom of speech.
Wow. This article leave an impression that MF is freedom fighter. He is two bit of a standup comic who don’t have gut of making jokes on his religion.
He should be penalised for making derogatory comment and served the maximum punishment.
It will be reminder for those who make money by making cheap comment on other religion.
Why does he not talk of those who have four wives, take 9 year old as wife ( blessed love) when he is old enough to be her fathet?
You are writing as if he is a freedom fighter…how can he make fun of other dieties…
मेरा तो यह कहिना है कि नीइम्म का पता कड़वा है फारूकी साल बढ़वा है।
He should stop joking on deities ..he can insult amit shah if he wants .
The first paragraph of this article is where I stopped reading it. Dongri is in South Mumbai. Not Navi Mumbai. Don’t y’all research at all before writing anything or are y’all just paying free salaries to the writers?
Dont make him victim “theprint”. This is new india. We will fck you and your 10janpath bar dancer and your dear busslims left right center.
He deserved it and going forward we will make sure many will be under the shoes. No point of article , mumnawar will get lesson of his life, no matter entire judiciary come to rescue this b@$tard
Why do these muslim make joke on Hindu deities and not on their own allah. He has been punished in absolute right way. Now he will think twice before making any joke
Nice job “The Print” On publishing the half story and potrayting it as Munawar had nothing to do with this. Munawar video came out on youTube about 7 months ago with same filthy jokes on Hindu Gods and he was just warned by many people. But he refrained from doing so and continued again on a public forum. He got what he deserved. And we all know, what would have happened if it was other way round. Imagine Munawar as Kamlesh Tiwari.
Dongri is in mumbai not navi mumbai
Dear Print, Nice try to show the human side, joking about Muslims is okay however joking about their God is not you know what happened in France that is the difference and you know it
It’s the end of this country.
Jihadist cannot go on killing sprees of non believers and infidels right now in INDIA.
But they fulfil their desire by abusing HINDU religion.
And with support from ultra left wing journalist project themselves as innocent victims .
However HINDUS must realise that this same mentality results in raping HINDU woman and enslaving HINDU men in pakistan.
Badmouthing the “SECULAR FAITH ” would have resulted in consequences no anti HINDU rioter would like.
HENCE only option is to attack HINDUS.
Really , !!! Nobody has any right to make fun of other religions, if you do , you have to face the consequences, very simple
In a country like India where everyone is free to mock Hindu deities and ideas, the Hindus have begun to realise that this is one way traffic.
Let us be honest to ourselves either we allow freedom of speech and everybody is free to mock all religions / religious ideas, political parties and communities. Law and order / police provide protection to those who are under threat so no one has to meet the same fate as Kamlesh Tiwari. Or nobody should do that and also our constitution does not allow to hurt religious sentiments, which this comedian has done.
Tomorrow if someone will mock Prophet Muhammad or Islam I am 100% sure that the same people will call it islamophobia, then why we can not call what this comedian is doing as Hindu hatred.
Let Hindus aside these people should make jokes on Sikhism, then see how Sikhs would react, let him crack some Jokes on Sikhism in Punjab then everybody will see the outcome.
What has comedy do with hindu gods? If you want to tell jokes choose your own god at least why about other religions?
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