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Few Brave Men: AIB's journey so far on Hotstar

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MUMBAI: Peter Ustinov once said, ‘Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious’. Ustinov’s take on comedy has not been entertained much in India until now.  That is, until All India Bakchod (AIB), and how well they are known for doing the things which are not supposed to be done. And one of things that are not to be done is the new show ‘On Air with AIB’, with tagline of 'Tragedy mein Comedy’, a satire on social and political issues with information and humor.

On Air with AIB consists of 20 episodes, 10 each in English and Hindi. So far, 4 episodes have been streamed on Hotstar and telecast on Star Plus and Star World for Hindi and English viewers respectively.  

On Air with AIB haaddressed issues such as the Bihar elections, Police brutality, outdated government laws, Fire safety, Corruption, and Mysterious deaths of whistleblowers. The episodes are approximately 23 minutes long. The fourth English episode of On Air with AIB addressed the social media silliness that followed the Paris terror attacks and about the public spaces which are being acquired by rich.

But then news comedy has been attempted before when Shekhar Suman did it way back in 1997 with the evocatively named Movers and Shakers. It did work that at time and with On Air with AIB, the expectations are high, people expect them to be humorous, sarcastic and gibe to a new level, because of their earlier shows and videos on the digital platform.

For the starters On Air with AIB was promoted via a hilarious series of hoardings designed to resemble political posters.

On Air with AIB’s format has been compared to American shows like Last Week Tonight with John OliverLate Night with Seth Meyers which focus on political, social issues. AIB's founding member Tanmay Bhat explains, “The format has been there from long time. We had shows’ in India, but they have been very light, On Air with AIB is a factual news show. There have been many comment based shows, but they’re nothing like what we are doing. There have been other comedy shows which addressed social and political issues like Satyamev Jayate which had serious approach toward the issues discussed. “

He further adds, “We want to raise the issues , issues which are not being covered but are relevant for people across demographic and geographical differences,  that cater to both urban and rural audiences." 

Bhat says that On Air with AIB has been a good experience, its format was new for his team, but it has been very challenging and great fun. Though AIB were the pioneers of humor and roast comedy in India, factual comedy has not been easy for them.

Tanmay adds, “It has been completely different from what we used to do. We are not used to news comedy. This is the first time we are doing a show which is a heavily researched content based show. It has been a difficult process to perform, but at the same time it has been an enriching experience. We have a 15 member research team, we have to go through PDFs, research documents and government sites.”

“Our teams have face challenges like how do we deliver the issue to the audience? How can it be simplified? How do we present it to 20 year olds and make them smarter and informed?”

On Air with AIB is produced in two languages - English and Hindi. For the English feed, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya take the charge whereas the Hindi feed is executed by Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba. It is the first time the team has been divided into two parts. Tanmay explains, “The division is because of the format and language feed of the show. I and Khamba are more comfortable speaking in Hindi. But we could swap if we felt the need."

 AIB has 11.7 lakh followers on Twitter. Its Facebook page has close to 17 lakh likes. On YouTube, the group has more than 14 lakh subscribers. The response has been overwhelming states Tanmay, “People comment, applaud and are outraged. On Air with AIB is creating awareness amongst people, every time we talk about any issue on the show, people respond to us as they did not know about the issues we speak on earlier."

 “OTT has provided a platform for us, not only as creators and artist and at the same time the broadcast players get original content. OTT gives content creators a better distribution channel."  Tanmay explains.

The show is produced by Only Much Louder (OML), who also manages AIB and the deal between Hotstar and OML is for three years.

 Speaking on the deal with AIB, Only Much Louder Limited director Ajay Nair said, “The show format needs a fair amount of resources. AIB has been on YouTube for long time but this time we wanted to do a long format. We have been working and researching for quite a time with a large team. We were talking to other platforms besides Hotstar, and it worked well with them. Apart from OTT they wanted to take to television which was good deal. As you can see, it is doing really well. ”

Whether it is YouTube or Hotstar or DittoTV or Zenga TV or Hooq or Voot or Are or nexGTv, all players have taken their first few steps to understand what consumers want, how they want to consume their content, and how much are they are willing to transact to view that content.

Nair revealed, “It is as expensive as any other television show. We manage other artists also besides AIB, we do lot of thing on digital and then we look at other platforms. We focus on all the platforms; 25 per cent to 30 per cent focus on other platforms and up-to 70 per cent on YouTube. The Hotstar app is free, it is not subscription based."

Despite the factual news format; it's always good to see serious facts wrapped in humor. The last question remains is whether All India Bakchod will be able to keep the pace of critical social conversations that John Oliver and John Stewart kept in their shows. Will AIB keep up their voices? Will they sustain the expectations put up on them? Well, only time will tell.

A quote by Nathaniel Branden penned comes to mind, “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” AIB is creating the awareness part and the audience has to accept it.

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