'What I am enjoying most is people's respect': Mumbai-based domestic help-turned-comedian Deepika Mhatre

What I am enjoying most is peoples respect: Mumbai-based domestic help-turned-comedian Deepika Mhatre
Deepika Mhatre

Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Fri 17 Aug 2018, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 17 Aug 2018, 2:00 AM

It's not easy to find humour in the rough and tumble of daily life, but Deepika Mhatre knows better. One day, as her employer organised a small talent show for domestic helps in Mumbai's Malad area, the 44-year-old house help finally got a platform to showcase her skills in comedy. She got on the stage and took clever digs at some of the 'madams'. Soon, she was introduced to stand-up comic Aditi Mittal, who groomed her for an episode on her web show Bad Girls. Her fresh perspectives on class divides and the rigours of daily life are as entertaining as they are thought-provoking. In a conversation with Khaleej Times, Deepika tells us why humour is not a refuge from life's problems, but a way of life in itself.
How has your unprecedented popularity impacted your family life?
It has changed many things. My daughter is in second year of college while my husband has not been able to work for many years due to asthma. For many years, I have been the breadwinner of the family. I wake up at 4 am every day and leave home by 4.30 to take a local train where I sell imitation jewellery; I have made jokes about that as well. My immediate family has been very supportive, but can't say the same about my relatives. They're from well-off families, but have often judged me because of the work that I do. Now that I have become popular, no one has even congratulated me. I still remember the times when I'd asked them for an advance of INR5,000-10,000, and they'd politely decline. Ironically, they would distribute the same amount of money at temples.
What I think I am enjoying most today is how people have begun to respect me.
Do people recognise you when they spot you selling imitation jewellery in Mumbai's local trains?
Yes, of course. And when they do, they ask, "Why are you selling imitation jewellery now that you have become famous?" Little do they know how much money I have (laughs). When I tell them so, they don't believe me. My household runs on my money, and I have very little of it (laughs).
How do you spot humour in a life that's essentially tough?
Life is tough for everyone. Not every grief is meant to be cried over again and again, is it? There are people who always cry about their circumstances. Life is what it is, and it is up to an individual to come to terms with it. When my friends complain about how their husbands abuse them, I tell them if he is not a good man and, on top of that, beats you, leave him. Khud kamaao, khud khaao (earn and feed yourself). You can say, I instigate them (laughs).
Comedies are considered male-centric. Today, that is changing. Do you think women are more humorous?
More women need to step out of their homes to watch comedies. I remember when one of our madams had organised the first talent show for us, there were only five or six women who had come. As for who's more humorous, I don't think men are funnier than women. Women work all day, they raise children, they actually have more material for humour (laughs).
In one of your jokes, you make fun of families keeping separate utensils to serve their domestic help. What was the real-life inspiration for that joke?
It hasn't happened to me, but my friends in the building often complained how their employers would keep a separate set of utensils for them; sometimes, they would even keep the glasses aside. I would often encourage them to speak to their madams about how hurt they felt, but they were too scared to speak up.
Are those madams upset by your satire?
They haven't said anything directly, but they have apparently told others, "Why's she saying this?" My madams keep reassuring them that it's just a joke.

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