Vir Das: Loved | Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson
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Vir Das: Loved

Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson

Vir Das can afford some cynicism about the Fringe's preference for theatrical storytelling rooted in real-life drama. On a short run, the Indian comic is obviously working up his next International Stand-Up special and meets the festival's narrative demands while aspiring to broader universality, a feat he accomplishes with practised ease.

Picking love as his subject matter doesn't hurt. Analysing the reality of the romantic airport dash of Hollywood cliché for different generations and citizens of the East and West, he's adept at playing to the various nationalities in the room, with his explanations for culturally specific Indian in-jokes part of his broader mockery of Britain and the legacy of Empire. 

There's considerable contrivance in the way he evokes Harry Potter to highlight the rapacious theft of the sub-continent's most valuable resources. Yet there's poetic justice in telling it like it is in J.K. Rowling's home city – and it absolutely brings the house down.

From the moment he reveals that his wife cancelled their holiday - a trip that as an uptight control freak he fastidiously planned to the tiniest detail - sharing in his exaggerated, affronted bluster that it was so they could attend therapy, Das segues effortlessly between punchy, throwaway anecdotes and thoughtful, considered musings on his relationships. Spanning his adoration of his dopey English bulldog to his burning civic pride in Mumbai after the 2008 terrorist attacks, he segues from the ridiculous to the sublime with smooth transition.

His wife's assertion that he only understands the idea of love, not the day-to-day reality, is the hypothesis he sets out to test over the hour. With his emphatic delivery, this initially inspires some none-too-evolved observational quips about how women squeeze men's dreams out of them. Yet as he observes later, in a wryly convincing section, being woke and taking offence are a privilege, a pastime for America's chattering classes. Resistance fighters in Egypt and upwardly mobile Indians are still finding their feet with this fashionable indulgence.

Gender roles were certainly firmly prescribed in Das's early childhood, when his innocent bathtime play and the strict parental policing of boys and girls, plus separation of religion, meant he lost his best friend. The pattern is echoed in the tale of his first real love, when his internalised propriety and faint heart cost him dearly. 

There's an entertaining coda to this bit that rather strangely implies that he may have missed out on his true soulmate. While serving a punchline, it's bizarre that in a show about love, in which he endeavours to do the right thing, Das affords his vaguely sketched wife less reality than his teenage infatuation. Or, for that matter, his dog.

This feeling is reinforced with Das's two most memorable stories focusing on his reaction to those Mumbai attacks and his fierce protectiveness of his parents.

In the former, grief and self-pity are swallowed for a pragmatic spirit of keeping calm and carrying on with Hindus and Muslims uniting. With few laughs initially, for obvious reasons, it yet inspires some affectionate, backhanded compliments for Mumbai's populace, rubbing up against each other cheek by jowl in the toughest circumstances.

And in the latter, the racism he and his family experienced at a Prague cafe while he was filming, and his polite yet vengeful redress sought on his parents' behalf, hilariously snowballs into a media scandal and diplomatic incident. Das is at pains to emphasise his D-List celebrity credentials. But with a social media following exceeding that of the Czech Republic's entire population, you cross him at your peril.

As he wittily notes, such is India's exponential population growth that his fanbase has already reached unstoppable momentum. Now, if he could just convince his wife...

Review date: 10 Aug 2019
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon at the Museum

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