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Decode

Meet Shyam Rangeela: From Mimicking Modi To Contesting Elections Against Him

In a conversation with Decode, Shyam Rangeela emphasised that his foray into politics is not merely symbolic but also a serious endeavour.

By - Hera Rizwan | 6 May 2024 10:52 AM GMT

Comedian Shyam Rangeela, known for his impersonation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, declared his candidacy for the Lok Sabha elections, last week, specifically choosing to run against the PM in Varanasi.

After rising to prominence for his mimicry performances on television programme such as ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’, the 29-year-old artist from Rajasthan intends to challenge the PM as an independent candidate.

Born and brought up in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan, Rangeela’s father is a farmer. Rangeela studied animation and editing after completing his school. His love for humour led him to foray into comedy as a full time career in 2015.

As he stands at the cusp, the comedian-turning-politician, told Decode why this decision was important for him.

‘I was a Modi supporter till 2019’

Rangeela participated in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge show in 2017, but got ousted from the show for mimicking Narendra Modi. Fortunately, a video of his performance, which was never aired, got leaked and became popular online.

This brought both criticism and praise to Rangeela, with some people appreciating his act while others abusing him. Talking about the controversy, he said, “If the video had not been leaked, then it would have been a grave injustice to me as an artist and art in general.”

Rangeela added, “It meant a lot to me when Akshay Kumar, the show's judge, stood up and cheered for my performance. I proudly told everyone in my village about it. But when it wasn't shown on TV, it became awkward and hard to convince them that I wasn't making it up.”

A self-admitting ‘Modi Bhakt’, Rangeela had not suspected the incident to be remotely related to censorship. “I thought that it must be some internal issue of the channel. We had grown up seeing artists mimicking Manmohan Singh on national television, I never thought this could even be an issue.”

Rangeela told Decode, “Subsequently, I started realising the curbs on freedom which were underplay. However, I would still say that I was a supporter of the Prime Minister till the 2019 elections.”

The comedian started making his own satirical videos imitating politicians like Modi and Rahul Gandhi. He currently runs a series on YouTube, which goes by the name of ‘Dhang ki baat’, a satirical take on Modi's 'Mann ki baat'. In the series, the comedian impersonates the Prime Minister, discussing current political events.

One of his videos, uploaded on February 16, 2021, garnered significant attention and even resulted in a court case against the comedian. In the video in question, Rangeela had mocked the skyrocketing fuel prices mimicking Modi. He had said that no government in the past could get petrol its ‘real value’.

Soon after, Surendra Agarwal, the owner of the petrol pump where the video was shot, filed a complaint against the comedian. Reportedly, Agarwal was instructed by the private oil company, which he holds a dealership with, to file the complaint.

Subsequently, in the last five years, Rangeela said that he came to realise that such restraints on artists, art and every aspect of life has been more pronounced than ever. He said, “I began to understand how our freedom is being restricted in the country. Right now, we only have YouTube, but we can only enjoy it while it lasts.”

Talking about the “growing intolerance” of the country, Rangeela said, “While we may not always see eye to eye with a particular politician on ideology, if they can take jokes about themselves in stride, we still admire them for it. Unfortunately, that quality seems to be increasingly rare these days.”

A serious attempt, not just symbolic

As Rangeela gears up to contest elections from Varanasi against Narendra Modi and “answer him in his own voice”, he tells Decode why it matters. He said, “The things which are happening under the garb of the slogan ‘400 par’, is rendering the elections completely worthless. We saw what happened in Indore and Surat. Even if the BJP wins 400+ seats, the right to vote should not be snatched from citizens.”

In Surat, Lok Sabha seat was won uncontested by the BJP, after the Congress candidate’s nomination was declared invalid and eight candidates withdrew. Days later, the Congress’s Indore candidate also dropped out on the last day of withdrawal of nominations, leaving the party without a nominee in the seat.

Rangeela mentioned that if he had known such circumstances would arise in another constituency, he would have run for office there. He explained that he chose Varanasi because it is a significant constituency, especially with the Prime Minister himself contesting there, ensuring maximum attention.

He said, “Through this I want to give out a message to all the citizens and candidates of the 543 constituencies that a free and fair election is cardinal to democracy. In a democracy, we cannot afford to have elections unopposed and lopsided.”

Rangeela stressed that his decision originates from a commitment to democratic values, emphasising that his candidacy isn't just symbolic but a sincere and a serious attempt to participate in the political system.

He mentioned that although we are laughing at the brazenness of the Surat situation right now, what if 10 years down the line there are no elections? Rangeela rhetorically asked, “What if what happened in Surat is emulated nationwide?”

He said, he too could have made jokes on it or criticised it, but it won’t contribute to any solution.

“Even though I have no backing, funds or any prior experience. What I do have is experience of speaking into a microphone and engaging with people. I'll put those skills to use," Rangeela added.