Chennai-based comedian, Abishek Kumar, was spending his time watching OTT shows and Malayalam movies when a news that broke in Tamil Nadu changed the future course of his lockdown days.
“BOARD EXAMS ARE CANCELLED,” shouted his cousin on the phone, after CM Edappadi K Palaniswami announced that all students would be promoted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was on June 9. On the same evening, Abishek unleashed his viral alter ego — ‘Mrs Janaki’ — who has since gone on to win millions of hearts on social media.
“I was so jealous of these students that I had to react to the news in some way. So I quickly wore my mom’s pink salwar kameez and draped a dupatta — mostly to cover my chest hair that was sticking out (chuckles). And then posted a reaction video to the news,” he tells TNM.
The 24-year-old’s character is a stereotypical Chennai school teacher from a very fictional ‘KRSMM matriculation higher secondary school’ in the city. An animoji character, Mrs Janaki wears a permanent frown on her face and vents about her students, their parents and even her husband in the four videos that he's done so far.
“I hadn’t planned anything when I did that first video. From her name, to the school and other details — everything was impromptu. Within 30 minutes of the phone call with my cousin, the video was up. And within three hours, it got 11 K shares. That is when I knew that she had gone viral,” he says.
Mrs Janaki’s dialogues are mostly in English, peppered with a few Tamil phrases and quintessential teacher dialogues such as ‘Is this a fish market?’. However, the Tamil phrases are the ones that have turned crazy viral, Abishek says.
“Annoyed that the board exams are cancelled, the character says that her students are ‘‘Nalla Koothadichying’ (going wild). After the video was posted, people have been using this phrase and tagging me everywhere on Instagram and Twitter,” he says, explaining that this was a pattern that was also seen with ‘Bewarsi Kudka’, a Kannada phrase made popular by Bengaluru comic Danish Sait.
Over the last three weeks, Abishek has released four videos of Mrs Janaki, doubling his Instagram followers to 20K in the process. His sketches, which are anywhere between 30 second to a minute, have each garnered 5 lakh views and 30K likes and several shares.
The engineering graduate from Vellore Institute of Technology says that his topics are inspired by recent news events and trends such as online classes, boycott China, nepotism and more, with the lockdown and the pandemic serving as the base for the videos.
“I try to keep my content not too Tamil Nadu specific, which is why I did videos on nepotism, the eclipse, Chinese products and FaceApp. But since my character is a Tamilan, there are limitations when it comes to language,” he explains.
Not just the content, Abishek also puts some thought into Mrs Janaki’s outfits, after viewers started taking note of the same.
“I got so many messages asking about her clothes. But I mainly change them with every video so that people do not mistake it for an older video and skip,” he says. On his style of comedy, Abishek adds that he is very demonstrative and uses his hands a lot. He also likes to play characters, and is inspired by comedian Naveen Richard, who he says is also very ‘physical’ in his sketches and does a lot of characters.
The 24-year-old plans to introduce two more characters into Mrs Janaki’s world - one more teacher and her husband.
“People want to see more of Mrs Janaki. They love her. So, I plan to introduce the other two characters eventually, to be able to continue telling her story,” he adds.