As Senior Creative Director at JWT India’s largest advertising Agency- Neeti Palta had everything going for her. Till she gave it all up to become the voice of the muppets for the immensely popular children’s TV show, Gali Gali Sim Sim. She then took an even bolder step; to her family’s immense consternation, she decided to venture into the nascent and highly male-dominated field of stand-up comedy. The only thing that kept her going in the face of immense resistance was her passionate belief in her craft. Today, she is highly regarded as one of the very few female Stand-up Comedians in India, and has her calendar filled with events and gigs all over the country and the world. This is her story.
No one can put it better than her when she says beyond a point “your bullshit quotient” goes up and you need to find something that doesn’t just give you money but also makes you happy.
This time, Neeti faced the fear of taking an untrodden road; there was the fear of not having a stable pay cheque and, certainly in today’s EMI economy, the fear of not being able to pay EMIs! Not one to wish these concerns away, she acknowledges that there was “blind fear” as she was taking an unknown road. She recounts the fact that around the same time, her banker husband, who had been with a large bank for over 19 years also quit his job to set up his own venture as a financial services distributor.
They had just shifted into a new house and were paying two EMIs. By any stretch of the imagination, this was a rocky road and a “huge risk”. But as she goes on to qualify, “we both knew that with our reputations we could find a new job, but the idea was to do something that we enjoyed.” No one can put it better than her when she says beyond a point “your bullshit quotient” goes up and you need to find something that doesn’t just give you money but also makes you happy. You know you are not talking to someone who glorifies entrepreneurship for the sake of it when she goes on to tell me how, after her decision to turn full-time comedian, there was no work for months.
While her husband’s venture worked well, for a fiercely independent woman like Neeti, not earning herself came as a rude shock. For someone who was not used to looking at price tags, even paying Rs. 200 at a coffee shop felt like a “huge depletion” of her savings account, she confesses. Not to mention the fact that there were a whole lot of people who found her decision untenable in the first place and were waiting to be proven correct. She is honest enough to point out that there were times when she second-guessed her own abilities and wondered if she had taken the leap in a fit of overconfidence. One is reminded of a line in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, where she makes a reference to the fact that “despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities.”
With no success in her newly chosen field, Neeti felt just that, an imposter who had been found out!
Then came her first paid gig from a corporate through a friend; for which she was to be paid a princely sum of Rs 5000. The butterflies in the stomach were suitably assuaged when, at the end of the 15- minute show, people told her that she had a natural flair for comedy and must pursue it further. Corporate shows came aplenty after this debut and today Neeti has her hands full with corporate gigs, award shows and many other events. She recently performed at the Femina Women of Worth Awards, 2015, a fitting platform for a woman like herself.
Admittedly, there are still people who don’t understand the nature of stand-up comedy. But she is willing to let their comments go. She realizes how comedy has become synonymous with the new wave that has taken TV channels by storm. She is quick to remind you that she isn’t trashing that genre, but that’s definitely not what she does for a living.
Having come so far, she still had to demonstrate to her parents that what she did for a living was something that they could be proud of. A year down the line, there came a golden opportunity when she was performing at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, a distinguished enough setting to invite her parents over for a dekko. By this time she had gained enough experience to draw material from her own life for her comedy and also to pick on her parents during the course of the show. Needless to say, that the show was very well received. If she thought that the applause at the end of the show was fitting retribution, there was more to come. While she was waiting outside to head home, a family walked up to her to tell her how much they had enjoyed the show and that their “papaji” had especially loved her performance. “Papaji turned out to be this 120 thousand year old gorgeous man who literally had roots growing under him,” Neeti says with a twinkle in her eye. The high point came when Papaji himself walked up to Neeti to pat her back and tell her how he will sleep “‘ruj ke” (contented) after having laughed so much at her performance. Neeti, (whose parents were privy to the entire conversation,) could see her Dad’s chest fill up with pride. That settled the matter.
Dare to Be, a series by Rinku Paul and Puja Singhal brings us fearless women who gave wings to their dreams.