Why you should care
If you want to understand India, start with the way it pokes fun at its own.
Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath, two 25-year-old IT engineers turned stand-up comics, started reviewing bad Bollywood movies “on a whim.” Now they are YouTube stars, and they’re fast becoming notorious for the sarcasm and acerbic wit that makes their channel, Pretentious Movie Reviews, an equal delight for Bollywood lovers and haters.
In the video above, the two take potshots at Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, ostensibly one of the most popular Indian movies ever: Even fans who love the film to bits will find the review hilarious. Charming and smirky onscreen, in person Gill and Rath are a lot like irritating younger brothers universally are: always waiting to catch you in an embarrassing moment and then taunt you about it mercilessly. At least that’s what they did to this writer.
We were joking about the ‘gems’ Bollywood unfailingly churned out.
Biswa Kalyan Rath
Gill and Rath met at an open mic night at a club in their hometown of Bangalore in January 2013. They had both been doing sketches and street interviews, and quickly became friends and collaborators. Bollywood often served as a conversational lubricant. “I’d seen this awful movie called Teesri Aankh and Kalyan had seen Ship of Theseus, a critically acclaimed film that he found extremely pretentious,” says Gill. “We were joking about the ‘gems’ Bollywood unfailingly churned out when Kanan said, ‘Let’s start a YouTube channel,’” says Rath. And just like that, Pretentious Movie Reviews was born.
But it wasn’t an instant hit — mostly because the pair are, self-admittedly, “profoundly lazy.” Their first video, a review of a movie called Gunda that they uploaded in March 2014, got only 10,000 views. “We thought this was pretty much all it was going to amount to, and we were actually happy!” says Rath. The second review got similar numbers. But their third, a review of Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon, kind of exploded. In three days, it clocked 50,000 hits. They have no idea how. Gill uploaded the video on a Friday and went away on a weekend trip. He came back to a Twitter following that had jumped from 200 to 700. Today, their channel has almost 200,000 subscribers and each video nets close to 1 million views. Not bad for less than a year’s work.
They operate in pretty much the same way they always have: as a two-person operation. They ask viewers for movie suggestions, and then record their reviews with a stationary camera, improvising all the while. Gill edits the video, adds a few effects, and they’re good to go. The flip side to their sudden and newfound celebrity is some self-consciousness. “You do worry about disappointing the fans,” admits Rath. “We’ve started doing some reshoots. Which can be a bit annoying.” An understandable apprehension, considering there are live discussions on Quora about how they select movies, the timelines they follow, whether they are single and what other stand-up comics think about Pretentious Movie Reviews.
In addition to making videos, Gill and Rath perform across India independently and together. But even as their popularity continues to grow — Gill reluctantly admits that there have been instances when female fans have been so overwhelmed after seeing him that they’ve burst into tears — to us they’ll always be irritating, adorable younger brothers.
Photography by Shutterstock