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Girl From Sindhustan

Apart from being tall, 'wheatish' & South Asian, Sindhu Vee also happens to be hilarious…

Posted: 01.04.15

Making people laugh is not a bad thing. Or is it? When Sindhu Vee was growing up in India, she sometimes had to suppress her funny gene, as it was more desirable to be reserved and ‘ladylike’. Not to mention the flack she got for supposedly being too ‘wheatish’ in colour and too tall. But luckily, she didn’t let any of that get her down, and certainly did not stop expressing herself through comedy. In one of the most entertaining conversations I have had, stand-up comedian Sindhu Vee, in her funkily shiny silver shoes, shares some hilarious tales from her childhood, how her overbearing mother became her biggest comedic inspiration, her husband and kids, and her plans for the future. Whatever the topic of conversation, Sindhu sure did make me laugh out loud. Read on and be prepared for a belly ache...

Were you always the funny one?
Yes, I have but it hasn’t always been on display. As a young child, I was funny as a way of making friends, since I moved countries and schools alot. But I was always getting into trouble for talking and distracting others. Being funny and telling jokes is not a quality most Indian girls are encouraged to have. You can be funny but you can’t have it on display – I was always told to be quiet! You had to be more shy and demure, and demure was not something I did well at all. My mother was always strict about it. My family and friends knew I was funny. When I was 19 and started university in India and then moved to UK for higher education, then it really started to emerge. Then there was the issue that in Indian university, if you were that girl who talked a lot and made everyone laugh – none of the guys liked you. And I was tall on top of that, so that whole thing was a fiasco. Between my joking and my height, I was never getting any love notes from anyone! I was an investment banker for years, when I was very serious and smart. So I have always been funny, but not very free about it. 

Do you feel that because of cultural expectations of how a South Asian female should be represented, supressed your funny gene? Did you feel like you could only express yourself freely once you moved away?
Without a doubt. I don’t think it’s like that anymore though. India is much more open and liberal, and you can choose your career. When I was growing up, first you had to be married, then you had to be a doctor or banker or engineer. My funny freedom was supressed. If I had the guts then, that I do now, I would have come straight out of Oxford and gone on to try stand-up. But back then, I was too focussed on needing a career. Which Asian girl is going to say to her parents, I’ve just finished my degree at Oxford and I’m going to be a stand-up comedian?! Your mother would shoot you! Or she would threaten that she would die - someone was always dying! Anyone coming from the same background can relate I’m sure - I don’t know how we’re not all in therapy! The amount of emotional blackmail! I think I did a lot of things growing up because I thought if I don’t, my mother will die – I better do it…

I’m sure you don’t have any regrets about having a back-up career?
I have no regrets. In that respect I am relatively conservative, as I’m glad I have had my career, and have struck this now. Every person in their 20’s has a struggle of some kind, if my struggle had been stand-up, I probably would have survived. Although my mum definitely wouldn’t have. But after being married, having kids, having a career – now I can do what I want to do. I do wonder if I will encounter constraints for starting later in life, in a field where everyone is 20 years old. A lot of the comics I gig with call me ‘granny’. A lot of people are like, ‘Eddie Izzard did this for 20 years’. I was like, in 20 years I will be on an oxygen machine, so I better start now!

Female comedians are rare to come by, but even more so, South Asian female comedians. What advice would you give to funny South Asian females?
Don’t give up your day job, as there are lots of clubs you can go to where you can just try out your material. No one has to know, just go out do it. But building a career in stand-up is very hard, I see it all around me. So, I wouldn’t stop everything else. Once you really want to do something and start making that happen, then it makes it easier to convince your family. I don’t think in this day and age, parents would be as freaked out as they would have been when I was growing up. Don’t not do it, you have to give it a go. The comedy space is very friendly.

Does it give you the opportunity to not only express yourself, but also talk about issues?
It’s a great platform. I poke a lot of fun at traditional Indian ideas. I haven’t lived in India for 20 years, so I can’t talk about the issues in India today, as I haven’t lived them. I talk more about how Indians are, and how their attitude towards non-Indians is not that liberal at all. I find that hilarious and we have this idea we’re so tolerant and easy-going, when you’re really not! I talk a lot about Indian families. I think it would be a mistake to feel that you have to have something to say. Humour is humour – it doesn’t have to do anything else but make you laugh. I’m not running an NGO to save the world. I’m just a stand-up, so if I make you laugh, my work is done. 

You poke a lot of fun at your mum, as she seems to be your inspiration. But does she ever get offended?
No not at all, she comes to my shows and laughs and says ‘haan maine yehi bola tha!’ (this is exactly what I said!). My mum is a very funny person, both inside and out. Definitely watching her, I saw the great joy that laughter brings. It’s interesting to me that my mum is the focal point of my comedy, I think it’s probably because in my head, my mother’s voice is so loud, because mummy never left me alone. I was always being told what to do, how to do it, what to be, where to be, what to wear – it was always constant and I think that voice is still in my head. It speaks volumes about the kind of mother-daughter relationship we have. I was quite scared of mummy growing up, she was strict and you didn’t want to get her angry – she would give a tight slap! You would be in mid-sentence and then - whack! Since my mum is such a strong character, it was an easy character for me to work with – an easy comedy device. There’s many things that I say that mummy said, which she actually didn’t, but that voice is so strong and I know it so well, so it is easy for me to re-enact. Some people watch my stuff and say, but we don’t know who you are, and that’s true – you know who mummy is. Hopefully at some point, that voice will come out too. Maybe my kids will grow up and become stand-ups and tell - this is who our mother is! 

In one of your clips, you talk about how you were known as ‘wheatish’ and your mum thought you would never get married because of your ‘wheatish’ complexion. A lot of girls encounter such terminology at that time in their lives. When it comes to not meeting societal expectations regarding appearances, what kind of advice would you give to girls experiencing the same?
To the mothers, I would say – your daughters can help it, they were born like that! So constantly telling them it’s not ok, is really not helping, because you can’t change it! And all these fair and lovely creams etc, dude I can tell you – they don’t work. Also, I’m not that kind of mother, but I’ve been subjected to that kind of mothering, so I don’t even know what’s going on with those mothers – let’s just say they were a product of those times. Do you really think that just because your daughter is fair, she will have a happy marriage?! Shall I show you how many divorced beaten up fair women there are on the planet? To the daughters what I would say is – it’s really hard when you’re growing up in an Asian environment when you’re not fair, too tall, when your physical appearance as a woman is at such a premium. And then the idea is that if you oppose that, then you’re some kind of militant lesbian. It’s not just our parents, I mean look at Bollywood. But it’s not going to matter eventually, it won’t always be relevant. What will be relevant is how you feel about yourself. If all else fails – marry a foreigner. They don’t care about colour. They think, oh what a lovely tan, so exotic! Or at least date one, but don’t tell your parents I said this! Then you’ll hear how amazing you’re looking and you’ll kind of hold onto it. I know this is not good advice, but I’m not going to give advice like, oh it matters what’s on the inside. We all know that, but it doesn’t help if your cousin who is fair, petite and demure is like a goddess, and you’re like some kind of incredible hulk that no one wants to bother with. It doesn’t matter what the guy looks like – as long as he’s got the money. The girl on the other hand has to look amazing, have a good degree, be a good housewife. But India has also changed - Deepika padukone is no fair and lovely.

How do you adapt your content according to where you go? Humour can get lost in translation, do you find it easier to be funny in Hindi? What about cultural references, do people get it here?
There are things that I can talk about here that I couldn’t talk about in India. Indians are always alluding to sexual things, but in a kind of nudge nudge, wink wink kind of way. Here, you can be extremely graphic, you can get on the stage, take off your clothes, show them what’s happening - they don’t care! My show, The Girl From Sindhustan, I want to bring here in several cities where the diaspora is strongest, not because I don’t want to be a comic for English audiences, but as it is my first show, it is by definition very cross cultural. Everyone has a mother and nearly everyone feels their mother is overbearing. My persona on stage in India differs. I’m much more confident on stage because of the language, I have grown up there and have lived it. But English audiences are very generous to Indian topics, as they have grown up with it so they get it. 

Your husband is Danish, does he get all the cultural stuff?
Jacob finds the warmth of the people lovely. He gets a little alarmed because all the massis try to feed him and he calls them the food assassins. I think all husbands think their wives are too dramatic, and we also fall into that. My kids are both Danish and Indian, but they’re quite the nudists. They think nothing of walking through the house wearing nothing at all and my South Indian dad is like ‘Ayo ayo, what is this shameless! Wear a penties!’ He calls every kind of underwear ‘penties’. He tells my son, ‘Andreas wear a penties!’ He tells his granddad, ‘I don’t wear penties bruv’. 

What’s next for you?
I want to take on tour, Girl From Sindhustan, which is an amalgamation of a number of things - about me, the kids, my name and I might do Camden fringe this year. I’m working on comedy content for digital TV, namely - Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It TV production company, which focuses on bringing comedy to the digital platform, abit like Superwoman. The content is my own, but I have also done some spoofs about the female characters from Desi Rascals.

Watch clips of Girl From Sindhustan on YouTube 
W
atch Sindhu Vee's WTF? on Bend It TV here
W
atch Sindhu Vee's spoof clips of Desi Rascals here 
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