Rajiv Rajaram: I don't think any language in India has a pop culture zeitgeist as we do
Ahead of the release of Meme Boys, its creator Rajiv Rajaram discusses the SonyLIV series, the new generation's tryst with memes and what it stands for beneath the humour
Rajiv Rajaram dons a number of hats. He’s an actor, director, playwright, YouTuber, producer, stand-up comedian, and now, a show creator as well—with his web series, Meme Boys, all set to get released on SonyLIV. While his Put Chutney videos were famous for finding humour by bridging history and contemporary trends, Rajiv feels Meme Boys has way more than meets the eye. "It's a cat and mouse game between a college dean, played by Guru Somasundaram anna, and four students. What happens when the students decide to take down their oppressive college system in the most Tamil way?" says Rajiv, who’s of course making a rhetorical reference to the meme culture. "I don't think any language in India has a pop culture zeitgeist as we do, and in the last few years, even political events have become meme material. Memes have gone to families and reached people of all age groups. When a friend’s son got admitted in an international school, my instinct was to respond with a meme—that of Annamalai’s Vinu Chakravarthi saying, 'Petha ippadi oru pullaiya pekkanum' (laughs). Meme Boys draws from this culture and is a dramedy, but there's also a thriller angle to it."
Tamil cinema isn't new to college stories, but Rajiv feels our industry has never captured the influence of social media on students. "When we were in college, we didn't have access to social media, but look at how things have changed. In Don, Sivakarthikeyan asks, 'Naan meme creator aagidavaa?' So, it has started coming into the lexicon, but we capture more in Meme Boys, and it will be different from the other college content we have seen," says Rajiv, who is convinced that the underlying theme is universal in nature. "Memes are modern-day cartoons and a good example of freedom of expression which I believe should be protected at all costs. Nalan Kumarasamy once told me about a nice quote by director Billy Wilder that says that anything serious must be said in a funny way. There's a certain amount of self-awareness to our culture, and we want to capture that.” He also adds that the series will only ‘punch up’. “We don't go for the low-hanging fruits or engage in body-shaming or sexism. We have a lot to say, and this series does it in an entertaining way."
While thrillers have been the go-to genre for web series makers in Tamil, Rajiv believes comedy is far harder to shoot in the episodic format. "I enjoyed a recent series where there's a single shot sequence for three minutes without any dialogue. We cannot afford to do those things in a comedy series. The pressure of comedy is more in this format; so, you need eight openings, eight midpoints, and eight endings for a series with eight episodes. Hannah Gadsby said that comedy is tension, and for us, this tension resulted in good rewards," concludes a smiling Rajiv.
Also starring Aadithya Baaskar, Namritha and Badava Gopi, Meme Boys will stream on SonyLIV from July 22.