BANGALORE: Sundeep Rao bills himself as India’s only blind stand up comedian. The former IT professional was diagnosed with juvenile macular syndrome when he was just eight years old, and since then has had only peripheral vision. A veteran of the comedy business for four years, he has been successful enough to ditch his day job and take up comedy as a full time profession since last year. Rao’s recent show Out of Sight was staged in town this week, and drew on his experience of approaching the world as a partially sighted individual.
Through His Eyes
Discussion of his disability has only recently become part of Rao’s set. During the early days of his career, he was afraid of being typecast or dismissed, and decided to keep the focus of his work away from his own personal circumstances.
“I started talking about my vision more for myself than the audience,” he says. “In a way it gave me closure. And when you establish your weakness on stage you become almost invincible, because you’ve exposed it yourself.” In this show, the audience can expect to hear about the world from Rao’s perspective. “This is a special theme-based set in which I talk about my sight,” shares Rao.
“I use my disability as an entry point to discussing other issues. So I talk about dating, relationships, living abroad, as well as relations with family elders.”
Since being interviewed for Sudha Menon’s bestselling book Gifted (about talented individuals with disabilities), Rao has been associated with the disability awareness movement in India.
His main contribution has been to raise awareness through his comedy. “I wouldn’t want to put myself on a pedestal or call myself a role model. If I can reach out to just one person in the audience then I have done my job.”
While he admits that speaking about something so personal is, “petrifying” the rewards have been immense. “After one show, I spoke to a girl with a similar eye condition. What I’d said had inspired her to follow her dreams and push for the chance to study abroad too.”
In terms of inspiration in his own life, he’s quick to credit his mother for helping him through the difficult years after his diagnosis.
“My mother is my real crutch emotionally,” he says. “She is my feeder, scribe, friend.”
Aside from that, he has not modeled himself on others in the industry. “There is no point trying to be someone else,” he says. “Everyone else is trying to be someone else these days. I just want to be myself now.”