By Nisha Susan
If you have watched the televised interview of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by movie star Akshay Kumar you likely already have your favourite moments. If you asked me to pick one it would be the moment in which Modi decided to demonstrate that national artefact – Man Tells Wife Joke. In the matter of form Modi has displayed great exactness in performing this traditional art. Let us examine it closely.
— ANI (@ANI) April 24, 2019
The segment begins with Modi informing Kumar that he checks out both his and wife Twinkle Khanna’s Twitter timeline, a detail I am not going to waste your time or mine exclaiming over. Modi says, “aapka bhi Twitter dekhta hoon aur Twinkle Khanna ji ka bhi Twitter dekhta hoon.” This opening sentence is like the plié in ballet or aramandi in bharatanatyam. At this point, Akshay Kumar laughs without making eye contact with Modi having a strong awareness of shitz coming.
And indeed Modi makes the grand jete. He says, “aur kabhi kabhi mujhe lagta hai ki woh jo mere par gussa nikalti hai Twitter pe, toh uske kaaran aapke parivarik jeevan pe bahut shaanti rehti hogi.” If the PM said to you, “sometimes it seems to me that her venting her rage on me on Twitter must be bringing a lot of peace to your domestic life,” I am not sure what you would say. It’s not clear to me here whether Modi means Khanna is angry because of her husband’s association with Modi. Or whether he means Khanna being a woman has rage that she needs to vent and this rage is luckily for her husband being expended harmlessly on Twitter via the supposedly harmless activity of critiquing the PM. (Unless of course your post catches the eye of the officer-in-charge at Imphal police station ainvayi surfing the net. In which case you might spend four and a half months in jail like Kishorechandra Wangkhem). The form that Modi is performing here is the Wife Joke so I am inclined to go with the latter interpretation – that pata nahi Twinkle ji ko gussa kyo aata hai but I am here for you bro. A standard requirement of this form is the invoking of the massive and permanent anger of the wife aka Rudra Bhairavi. A second requirement is the invocation of the bechara husband who tries but fails at even comprehending the wife’s anger. He is like a child with a bathroom mug standing on the beach just staring at an approaching tsunami wave.
Where Modi makes a landmark reinterpretation of the form is also at this moment. The preferred variation on the Wife Joke is to make a joke about wives in general or a joke about the wife of some man you both know, hehe. Modi’s wife is distant from him geographically if not emotionally or legally. On this occasion Modi makes the daring artistic choice of going from Man Bonding with Other Man Via Wife Joke to Man Bonding with Other Man Via Joke About Other Man’s Wife.
Akshay Kumar makes the intellectual decision in this adagio to respond with wheezy laughter. At this point we see the two artistes only from a great distance and from behind a bush. My guess is that the millennial cameraperson felt wholly embarrassed on behalf of uncles, and vowed to himself that when he is old that is 32 years old, he will never tell such sad and bad ones. However I would advise the young cameraperson to nevertheless take note. And the prime minister at this point returns to form that only rank amateurs will fail to recognise.
One. The elaborate repetition of the joke in the hope that it will land better this time since the other person is not convulsed with laughter the first time. Modi says, “unka poora gussa mere par nikal jaata hoga. Isliye aapko bada aaram rehta, bada sukoon milta hoga.” All her rage must be expended on me, he says. Confirming our theory that Modi is referring to Khanna as a vessel of feminine and totes random anger. He goes on to tell Kumar, making as little eye contact as his interviewer, that hence he must be quite relaxed and at peace because his wife uses Modi as a virtual stressball/punching bag. Then like Dipa Karmakar going for the Produnova Modi repeats it a third time. “Toh mein aapke liye is prakaar se kaam aaya hoon. Khaas karke Twinkle ji ke liye.” I have been helpful to you this way, he says. And particularly helpful to Twinkleji.
Two. At counterpoint Modi performs another classical sequence, laughing hard at his own joke. This is essential and cannot be set aside in some perverse pursuit of modernity. Uncles must laugh at their jokes and indicate that they are barely able to breathe because of the hilarity both of the moment and what will soon be a favourite memory of ‘that time I cracked a joke’.
Next, Modi pays tribute to Milan Kundera’s quote, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” and pivots at inhuman speed into an uncategorizeable anecdote about Twinkle Khanna’s nana and something about buttermilk. “Aur shaayad Twinkle ji ko pata nahin hoga but unke nana unse mein mila tha,” he says. With this my favourite sequence more or less ends.
You might linger on to watch Kumar rub his eyes and cradle his jaw and other such familiar motions of the NRI visiting his wealthy uncle who is about to show him a fantastic video that he just now only got on Whatsapp. But I was satisfied.