“I have seen stand up comedians often sharing stories about their maids, but now, I will speak.”
Life is fair to none. However, it becomes a tad bit happily bearable for those who can take its every jibe with a joke. When you see the audience crack up during Deepika Mhatre’s stand up act, seldom would you guess about her daily struggles, and little of it all, her actual profession, that is of a domestic help! No, it is not a domestic-help-turned-star-comedian story. It’s rather a domestic-help-who-is-also-a-comedian story, and every bit of it will inspire you to take one bold step towards your passion.
Waking up at 4 am every day, Deepika Mhatre juggles between many jobs to fend for her family of five. Even before people can see the sun, they might see Deepika Mhatre selling imitation jewellery in a local train from NalaSopara. By 7 am, she wraps up that work and gets down at Malad to head towards one of the five homes she works as a domestic help in. As domestic help, Deepika has seen all shades of discrimination and dropped masks of the so-called high society raees people in their homes. Not allowing her to sit on any furniture, drink water from the same glass, use the same elevator, or even exit from same gates, Deepika, and probably thousands of her likes are daily made to feel inhumanly different. People can lick fingers while eating the food made by these helpers, but cannot share the same plates with them.
In the face of such hypocrisy, there are people like Sangeeta Vyas, one of the employers of Deepika Mhatre, who was a catalyst in bringing forth her talent to the world. Sangeeta noticed that during all festivities and gatherings, everyone but these house helps have a gala time. They do not have any time where they too can let loose. Hence, she organized a fun gathering called “Bai Log” where she invited many domestic help workers to come forth and display their talents. This is when Deepika got a stage to share a few of her jokes. Her small act had the audience in splits, and Rachel Lopez, a Hindustan Times reporter, sitting in the audience instantly recognised Deepika’s raw talent of comedy. She dialled to Aditi Mittal, one of the prominent names of the Stand-Up world, and persuaded her to meet Deepika.
At Sangeeta’s home, Aditi met Deepika, and she too felt that hers is an untapped talent. She encouraged her to pursue comedy professionally and even mentored her by taking her to several of her shows. She also featured Deepika Mhatre in one of the episodes of her popular Youtube series, “Bad Girls”. After this stint, Deepika got many offers to perform on stage and was approached by several channels and reality shows, including India’s Got Talent for participation. Her content is baked from her bitter-sweet life experiences, and the whimsical attitude of many of her employers. What makes Deepika’s acts so connecting and funny is that many audience members, often comprising of these high-end raees people are guilty of exercising that discrimination. Many have had the wake-up call during her acts and apologized to her for their behaviour. In a way, comedy has become Deepika’s weapon to not just look for hope in her struggles, but also a voice against the discrimination faced by people like her.
Although her comic talent brought her limelight, it couldn’t pay her bills. She continues her daily chores of selling imitation jewellery, and until last year, continued to be a domestic help in several houses. She had to quit doing this work because of health issues, leaving the sale of jewellery in local trains as her only viable steady source of income. Even today she wakes up at 4 am and goes about hopping locals, making sales. What might have changed is that now her mind might be occupied in articulating jokes for her gigs in the nights, that often run late. Even then, Deepika is not complaining. Many reporters who have featured her claim that her one of her prime reasons to give interviews is to ask for more work. One such interview with Mid Day helped her eldest daughter land a job bringing some relief to her tight financials.
Thought-provoking it is how millions of faces that we see mundanely assuming life in locals, streets, galis, and nukkads, might have an untapped talent, an unrealized dream, and an ungiven opportunity.
It’s ironic and heart-warming to see Deepika Mhatre, a sales-woman in local trains, passionately performing for people; and in those few moments blurring the lines of the societal status of ameer and gareeb, allowing only talent to take the centre-stage.