mid-day's 39th anniversary: Using a laugh to cope

By Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

One of Indian Internet's funniest women talks about looking at the grey side of things and striking it big

Last year, comedienne Sumukhi Suresh became the first Indian female show creator on Amazon Prime

Sumukhi Suresh, 30
Stand up and creator of web series Pushpavalli

"I WAS just telling someone the other day that my life is now divided into the pre-Pushpavalli and post-Pushpavalli phase," says comedienne Sumukhi Suresh, who last year became the first Indian woman show creator on Amazon Prime, with the web series. No one thought this could ever happen, she says, especially because everyone thought she was "destined to become the friend of the lead. Instead, I wrote and played the character. It made me legit!"

The show, which she created and acted in is about a Tamilian food science graduate who moves from Bhopal to Bangalore to stalk the love of her life, while she works as a librarian. "I know, I know, stalking is wrong, but I believe in the grey. That excites me. It's all open-ended — [you decide] how you want to see her."

Suresh, who has struck gold with her YouTube characters — the sassy maid ParvatiBai, the socio-political teenager Kiara and Behti Naak, a 10-year old girl who says all she has to without a filter — credits her creativity to her upbringing. The Tamil Brahmin girl, who grew up in Nagpur, comes from an "intellectual" family. Her mother is a chartered accountant, and her father, a marketing and sales professional with a degree in literature. To make matters worse, her elder brother is a scientist and researcher.

But things were always not so rosy. Suresh remembers every second from the "time we were poor". "We, as a family, have seen some bad stuff, and I realised everyone used humour to deal with things." If she is a bomb on stage today, it has taken time to cultivate that talent since much of her school life was spent being bullied. "I don't think I was shy but I was definitely very low on confidence. I was the fat kid in school who got bullied."

It would seem then that Suresh's personal life is fodder for her sketches, and she doesn't deny it. "As I keep saying, I have a truly, intensely dramatic personal life. Sometimes, people say, 'hey, you are faking it'. I am not! It's a fictionalised version of everything I have gone through." Her character in Pushpavalli is modelled after her own career arc — after working as a librarian in Bangalore at Hippocampus, and chef at ITC Royal Gardenia, she moved to tech firm TUV Rheinland. And it was eventually a heartbreak that pushed Suresh towards comedy. "I didn't drink or smoke, but had to get the frustration out, and so started improv." She quit her full-time job in November 2016 to do comedy, and the rest is just history.

Today, Suresh is sitting comfortable, working on a stand-up show for Amazon, and shooting for a few web series. But it's the respect that came with Pushpavalli that she values most. "I can now work with better people. To others, I would say, just be consistent. New people are coming in every day, and you have to be constantly seen."

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