India's Strongest Man (1982) is a mixed bag. In part, that's intentional: comedian Gurpal Gill starts in character as the eponymous weakling strongman, before transitioning over the course of the show to straight standup, playing a loser from Reading. But my feeling is that he doesn't wholly succeed in either part.
The framing device is an interesting concept – and I give credit to Gill for committing to it, right down to growing a Freddie Mercury-style moustache. (Two older Punjabi gentlemen in the audience confirmed that Gill's facial fuzz would be "killing it" with the ladies in India.) The character of India's Strongest Man has his moments, but Gill's instinct that he should be taken off stage before long is probably correct; at times it comes over a little too broad, and there isn't enough of a story to contextualise the character or allow the audience to invest in him.
In fact, the strongman's main purpose seems to be to draw audience members into uncomfortable moments on the stage. That starts well, and the opening gag of having someone in the crowd introduce him is a nice one. But again, there's just a bit too much of it, too often directed at the same person. In fact, I thought Gill was too quick to turn to audience interaction throughout his set – it came to resemble a nervous tic, and became increasingly stilted as the front row grew tired of being picked on. I'd much rather he took the time to develop his own voice, which is worth hearing when we get it.
There are actually two transition points to get from India's Strongest Man to Gurpal Gill, twenty-something former accountant. The first takes place in a videologue which covers a costume change; this feels abrupt and isn't properly paid off, although we do watch, on screen, some of Gill's sweet dance moves as his character considers a career change. The Madonna-backing-dancer persona then picks up where the strongman left off, but is interrupted by phone calls, which trigger Gill to break character and answer as himself. The whole process doesn't make a lick of sense, but it's cute.
In contrast with the super-confident, highly successful character he embodied moments before, Gill presents himself as a downtrodden failure who left a career he hated to take up the life of a comedian. It's a nice juxtaposition, and when he gets into his material, it's generally pretty good; he has some nice reflections on identity and race relations, for instance. The delivery was sometimes garbled, so slowing down to ensure the audience keeps up might help.
On the day I attended, there was too much that didn't quite work for me to recommend this show. But there's so much that was almost there, that it's quite possible it will all click into place over the course of the next two weeks. A bit of purpose to the character, and a bit of confidence and conviction in the standup, are what would lift India's Strongest Man (1982).