‘Humour is more effective than debates,’ says Nazma Aapi

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on March 06, 2020

Home truths: Saloni Gaur, the brain and face behind Nazma Aapi, is a college student in Delhi   -  IMAGES COURTESY: SALONI GAUR

Social media star Nazma Aapi uses humour and wit as tools of protest — against police action on peaceful demonstrators, government failure to control air pollution and even the coronavirus

As a little girl growing up in Western Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr town, Saloni Gaur’s life centred on the modest television set in her middle-class household. It was the only source of entertainment for the family of five — grandmother, parents and two children. A girl of few words, she was happy to watch whatever her elders chose: Soaps, religious films and cricket matches (thanks to her brother’s obsession with the sport).

When Gaur moved to Delhi three years ago — to pursue a college degree in economics and political science — she got hooked to another screen: That of her smartphone. Apart from filling her days with news headlines, videos on YouTube and WhatsApp messages, the device gave Gaur (20), a platform and fame on social media as Nazma Aapi (in Urdu, aapi means elder sister). And anyone who follows this Old Delhi mother of two, her head draped in black hijab, on Twitter and Instagram, would think that her creator is equally chatty, if not more.

Comedy central: Nazma Aapi’s wit is complemented by Old Delhi’s idiomatic Urdu dialect Karkhandaari


Nazma Aapi’s razor-sharp wit, beautifully complemented by Old Delhi’s idiomatic Urdu dialect Karkhandaari, doesn’t spare anyone or anything when it comes to poking fun: From the police’s use of water cannons on students protesting against the recent amendment to India’s citizenship law to the government’s inadequate response to air pollution. In videos shot in the hostel room she shares with a fellow student, Gaur uses her skills in mimicry to give Nazma Aapi, the wife of a shakarkandi (sweet potato) seller and mother of Afridi and Fatima, the ammo she needs to draw public attention to current issues. And when she wants the housewife to take a break (or walk down to the market to check on shakarkandi sales), she switches to the avatar of Kangana Run-Out to discuss, among other things, non-Kangana Ranaut films, Deepika Padukone’s recent visit to violence-hit Jawaharlal Nehru University and comedian Kunal Kamra’s run-in with news anchor Arnab Goswami on a flight. Her other on-screen identity is that of young Tumor Bhardwaj, a traditional Hindu housewife who is Gaur’s take on the protagonist of a popular TV show, Sasural Simar Ka.

In a conversation with BLink, Gaur points out that her relationship with humour started in childhood. “I was always a quiet child who loved to observe people. I think I should give some credit to my grandmother — who is 80 years old now — for my sense of humour. She used to come up with one-liners that made me laugh,” she says. As someone who wasn’t encouraged to step out of the house after school hours, the businessman’s daughter spent a lot of time with herself. “I discovered I was a good mimic and I started to mimic teachers, relatives and friends,” she adds.

Her power of observation helped her conceptualise the character of Nazma Aapi. The idea struck her during her first visit to Old Delhi two years ago. “I went to the Red Fort with a friend and there, too, I spent a lot of time watching people. I loved the accent, especially,” she says. She launched her first Nazma Aapi video on Eid that year but it took a while before the khatoon from Purani Dilli got noticed.

“In November 2019, when Delhi was making headlines everywhere because of its hazardous air quality, I put up an 89-second video that became very popular,” she recalls. In the video, Nazma Aapi berates Delhi for pinning its hopes for clean air on chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, pointing out that he has a persistent cough. Further, she says, because of the smog she didn’t notice her neighbour Salma while badmouthing her. She also refers to the positive side of the haze: It helps family finances by eliminating the need for cigarettes.

In a matter of weeks, Nazma Aapi moved swiftly to topics such as the countrywide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the use of police force on protesters and internet shutdowns. “The idea for these videos came from a conversation with my mother. I was in Bulandshahr watching TV with her when a news channel showed footage of water and tear gas being used to disperse a group of students protesting peacefully. My mother, who was upset to see them getting wet in peak winter, said “Arre, bachcho ko bhiga diya (They have drenched the kids)’,” Gaur says. She kept this line in mind when she scripted her first video on the CAA protests: Nazma Aapi tells viewers that she is sending her children to the water cannons for their baths and to collect water in vessels for domestic chores. On coronavirus, she sounds surprised: Anything from China is short-lived, she says, but this coronavirus is still around.

Despite her digs at the current regime at the Centre — and its handling of dissent — Gaur claims that she hasn’t been trolled for her videos. “I have received only encouragement, never a negative comment or abuse,” she says. This, in her opinion, is the power of humour as a tool of protest. “Good, intelligent humour is always more effective than debates. People respond to you if you explain something using humour and wit.”

Still a shy girl at heart, Gaur is unsure if she will ever show up at a protest to express solidarity with the women who have taken to the streets. “I am doing what I can through the videos. That’s my way of registering my protest,” she says.

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Published on March 06, 2020
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