From Modi impersonator to AAP leader – why stand-up comedian Shyam Rangeela took a political plunge

New Delhi: From emulating popular politicians to diving into politics himself, 27-year-old Shyam Rangeela has come a long way in his short career.

May 5, Rangeela, former student of the comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and a comedian known for impersonating Prime Minister Narendra Modi, joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Rajasthan – one of the states where the party hopes to expand its footprints following its victory in Punjab in March.

However, speaking to ThePrint, Rangeela insisted he would keep his politics and comedy separate.

“I won’t refrain from impersonating politicians, even (AAP leader) Arvind Kejriwal, if there’s a skit that calls for it,” Rangeela said.

“I can support the party, but the party will have no direct role in my comedy,” he added. “My comedy will always remain independent. It will always reflect the reality around us. At the same time, my profession will not prevent me from soliciting votes for the AAP.

Rangeela said he actively campaigned for the BJP just before the 2014 general election.

“Hardly anyone knew me then. I was not popular. I became an artist later,” he said. “The political atmosphere in the country has changed a lot since 2014. Intolerance towards satire and mimicry by politicians increased.”

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Career in comedy

Born Shyam Sundar at Mokhamwala village of Sriganganagar, Rangeela’s claim to fame (Rangeela means colorful in Hindi) was a stand-up act in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in 2017.

The show, which also gave a platform to other popular comics like Kapil Sharma and Bhagwant Mann, now AAP leader and Punjab chief minister, helped showcase Rangeela’s talent for mimicry – often of Modi.

The first controversy Rangeela ever courted was reportedly on the show: He claims that while filming in 2017, he was asked to stop impersonating Modi and opposition leader Rahul Gandhi. The row over his mimicry also reportedly led the show and Star Plus, the channel the show aired on, to Edit His performance.

It is this very performance, however, that Rangeela attributes to her career.

“It was this leaked video of my performance that went viral on social media that helped my career tremendously,” he said.

Rangeela then became popular on YouTube – where he currently has 877,000 subscribers.

Modi remains a favorite subject for mimicry: one of his most popular sketches is a parody from Modi’s interview with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar ahead of Lok Sabha polls in 2019.

In 2021a video of him impersonating the Prime Minister to poke fun at rising fuel prices became popular after petrol prices rose above Rs 100 in Sriganganagar. This video, which began with a gas pump refusing him permission to fire, snowballed into a row to which Rangeela responded in her characteristic way — with more videos.

“Show canceled”, decision to play politics

For Rangeela, politics felt like a natural transition.

“Many people have reached out to me on social media over the past few years asking me to be their collective voice and raise issues such as inflation and rising gas prices through my posts” , he told ThePrint. “So, like that, I was already in politics. Now, the novelty is that I have chosen a party to support.

A look at his social media shows Rangeela is never one to shy away from political tweets – his timeline often sees him questioning those in power about rising prices, unemployment and poor governance.

Rangeela’s decision to join the AAP came days after another of her shows was reportedly canceled an upcoming comedy for a popular TV channel which Rangeela refrained from naming but who “specifically” asked her not to impersonate Modi.

He took to Twitter on April 16 to post an article to write about. “Dear Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji, I am a little comedian,” Rangeela said in the Tweeter. “I imitate you and other politicians. It’s sad that I can’t act in TV shows because they are afraid of you. You claim to like comedy so why are these people so afraid of your mimicry? Is your mimicry a crime?

“After the Laughter Challenge in 2017, I spoke with several TV stations for performances, but most of them often came back saying that I was denied permission. It happened again today. today. So I’m compelled to write about this five years later. Why are people so afraid of mimicry? If there were no social networks, this Shyam Rangeela would be over a long time ago.

Rangeela joined the AAP less than a fortnight after this tweet.

Why the AAP? The comic claimed he saw the party as a party with a place for ‘politics of change’ and an opportunity to work. He told ThePrint that currently he “lacks experience” and does not see himself in any prominent position within the AAP.

“But I will do anything to support the party… If I have the chance, I will work for better schools and hospitals, [and on addressing] lack of connectivity in rural areas and water scarcity,” he said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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Daniel K. Denny