Another year comes to a close, another Vir Das stand-up special drops on Netflix. Titled Landing, the new special marks the comedian’s fifth on the global streaming platform, making him one of the few comics in the world to have so many. If big hearty laughs alone is what you’re after, Vir probably isn’t the comic for you. Where he shines, he is going for the meaningful. Even if he doesn’t always make you laugh, he sure can make you think and feel. At his best, his specials may not offer the funniest comedy, but they sure are special. Also read: Vir Das asks budding designers to dress him for his next show, fans praise him
Landing was filmed in a large theatre in New York, which says a lot about how far Vir has come as India’s most popular comedy export. It made me think back to his first Netflix special, Abroad Understanding, which intercuts between a small New York comedy club and Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Stadium.
The oddly overexcited opening minutes of Landing offer a barrage of bits to warm up the audience, which suggests that this time the personal and perspective may well take a backseat to trying to make us laugh. You can feel it in the editing too, with constant cutting that refuses to let a moment play out and just be (Fun fact, the special also features Gully Boy’s Jay Oza as one of its cinematographers).
But soon enough, as we’ve come to expect from Vir, things get real. Landing is bookended with the story of his unnerving Air India flight from Newark to Mumbai, where he was convinced that he was going to be arrested as soon as he lands, following the massive uproar over his now-infamous Two Indias video. (Spoiler – thankfully he wasn’t arrested, despite the countless police complaints made against him).
Pleasant and breezy as it is, the majority of the hour-long Landing is an uneven ride, where Vir’s brand of funny and feeling seem out of sync with each other. Instead, for the most part, Landing sails off the back of Vir’s warmth, wit, and charm and feels low on the disarmingly moving storytelling and vulnerability we’ve come to associate with him. And those, like me, who have watched him live recently on his Wanted tour will recognize much of the material.
There are, however, a number of classic Vir Das bits that soar, such as a bit about why the microphone is one of the single most influential inventions of all time, and how it can, and does, change the world for better or worse, every day. Similarly, his takedown of the NRI mentality. “Conservative India lives abroad,” he says to an Indian-American audience member, adding, “Your parents’ version of India doesn’t exist… never lecture us from abroad about what it means to be Indian”. Where Vir’s specials have always shined brightest is in his ongoing examination of what it means to be Indian and the idea of India, from within and overseas. It’s a theme that hits hardest in his finest Netflix comedy special to date – Vir Das For India.
But the final stretch of Landing, where the special truly comes alive and becomes a raw, is a deeply affecting portrait of an artist, who sincerely believed it was all over for him. An artist speaking to the audience he thought he’d never see again and perform for. “I never thought I’d see you again… If I’ve ever created a world, where I don’t get to touch a microphone, I have zero interest in that world,” he says.
Vir Das remains an artist and comedian I will keep coming back to, not because of how he makes me laugh, but because of how he breaks my heart in the most rewarding way. With Landing, and particularly its formidable final stretch, he continues to prove that he’s at his earnest best not when he brings the laughter, but when it stops.