On Thursday, comedy collective All India Bakchod premiered the debut episode of their news comedy show On Air With AIB.
The weekly show, which is up on Hotstar, is out in two versions: English, featuring Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya, and Hindi, featuring Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba. Both episodes are approximately 23 minutes long.
The show, which is being promoted via a hilarious series of hoardings designed to resemble political posters, is very clearly an Indianised take on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Daily Show. The first episode begins with a deep dive that focuses on whistleblowers in India.
After citing examples of a few who were murdered, such as Shanmugam Manjunath (who was investigating an adulterated fuel scam in Uttar Pradesh) and Satyendra Dubey (who opposed corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project), the comedians talk about the peculiar case of Ashish Chaturvedi from Gwalior, a whistleblower in the Vyapam scam.
The episode also does one 'mini dive' later on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent, contrarian Holocaust theory that has come in for massive criticism. It ends with a segment in which comedian and frequent collaborator Abish Mathew interviews independent political candidate Dr K Padmarajan, famous for losing the most number of elections ever.
Both episodes are peppered with a number of gags as well as a hilarious sketch featuring "jaane-maane" on-screen antagonist Prakash Raj (Singham). While some of the jokes are hilarious (samples: "Taking away anonymity from the whistleblowers is like taking away Maachis from Chandrachur Singh"; "Rahul Gandhi, for whom even a participation prize is like a gold medal"), there are a few that don't land too well.
Despite having been filmed in front a live audience, the laughter heard in the background may sound suspiciously like canned laughter; however, Bhat told HuffPost India in a phone conversation that all reactions had been recorded live and it was merely a "sound mix issue." The English version comes closer to Oliver's style, partly because of Joshi's body language, and could have benefitted from some tighter editing; the Hindi version, on the other hand, flows a lot more smoothly and is often funnier, even as it veers slightly towards the very kind of dated, Hindi-language-TV aesthetic that AIB often lampoons.
Of course, what seems clear is that the show intends to be more of an entertaining version of, say, a Satyamev Jayate than some sort of big-budget extension to their existing sketch-comedy work. The AIB guys, no strangers to being advocates for change and critical of the status quo, may, therefore, just be about the only guys in the country who could — potentially — pull something like this off.