When he was in his early 40s, Atul Khatri decided to make a career in stand-up comedy. While the circuit is mostly full of youngsters in their 20s, and some in their 30s as well, Khatri was obviously given the designation of the ‘dad’ in this industry. Even within his group, East India Comedy, he is the butt of all ‘papa’ jokes.
Just before his performance in the city earlier this week, we chatted him up about being a father in real life and to his peers. But where does he get all this fatherly wisdom to share?
From his father of course. “In every father-son relationship, there are certain phases. When you’re 13-14, your dad is your hero, everything he says is right. But after that, when you’re well into your teens, the uniform goes away and you put on cool college clothes, you also get a rebellious attitude for no substantial reason. Again 20-25 year olds are anti-father. But when you get married and have your own kids, you realise that your father was right all along,” says Khatri.
He shares how his father did not understand the comedy industry, but has eventually come to terms with it. “When you are a performer, there’s a certain element of glamour. My father was worried and told my wife that since I have to stay out all night, travel for shows and things like that, she should keep an eye on me so that I don’t have affairs. It took him time to understand the profession. But when his friends and relatives used to tell him that I’m cracking jokes about Sindhis and Gujaratis on stage and I might get into trouble for it, he shook it off. He’s a progressive person. When my wife would fast for Teej, he would get upset and tell her to just keep a healthy relationship with her husband rather than a one-day tokenism of fasting,” says Khatri, who used to find a way to outwit his dad when he was younger.
“My dad would take up my homework when he came home from work. After a couple of times, I realised that I should give him boring subjects first, so instead of Math or Science, I used to hand him the History book. After the first four questions, he would feel sleepy and tell me to do the rest on my own,” says Khatri.
Talking about how he fathers the boys at EIC, he says, “They keep calling me ‘papa’ because I tell them a lot of papa stuff. Sahil (Shah) is about the same age as my daughter,” says Khatri, adding, “When I see young comics doing well, I ask them, ‘Boss what are you doing with your money/ I hope it’s not sitting in the bank. Talk to your father and invest it in mutual funds or something.’ Some young kids in the industry are making a lot of money, and consequently, they are spending a lot too. I try to tell them not to splurge, so they call me kanjoos.”
Since he lives in Juhu, Mumbai, he knows about his neighbours, most of whom are Bollywood celebrities. Out of their experiences, he has learnt that today one might be a star but tomorrow someone else might take their place. Speaking like a true Sindhi father, he says, “You have to have your reserve in place. See Jitendra — his sole income was through acting, but because he invested his money at the right time in the right places, today he is still a very rich man in spite of not having worked in movies for quite sometime now.”
Follow the writer on Twitter @purplesaga