Thursday, February 5, 2015

In Defense of Being Offensive and the AIB Roast



“A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”
Mahatma Gandhi 

I watched the AIB roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh in its entirety and finished literally minutes before it was pulled down from YouTube. I will admit that I laughed out loud, rolled my eyes and even cringed sometimes at the level of crudeness but more importantly I also swelled with pride. Yes, I felt proud to call myself an Indian; even thought I found some parts offensive and in poor taste. Not because AIB broke new ground with this roast (which is a copy of the US format) with crass, sexual, politically incorrect and offensive humour, but because we broke new ground against our own double standards. We lifted the veneer of hypocrisy and the superficial veil of so called Hindu culture that we pretend to defend. I for one have never been prouder of Karan Johar or Bollywood for doing something that was unselfish and helped lift the lid on issues that have long been buried inside every Indian home. Thank you all for your courage.

It is shameful that, due to the personal and physical threats that the participants have received, they have felt compelled to remove the video from YouTube.  Here is the official statement about why they felt the need to pull the video down from the internet. Even though this was an event organised by a group of adults who agreed to insult each other and it was viewed by a group of adults who willingly paid to watch it. Also, if it offends some people’s delicate sensibilities, then they can choose not to watch it. They have that choice, and a right to feel offended and even to be offensive themselves. Much like Ashoke Pandit, a censor board member was offensive with his tweet about Karan Johar; I personally think he is an idiot, but will defend his right to be one – this is democracy and what we need to protect.

I firmly believe that comedy should have no boundaries or restrictions, because it is meant to entertain, lighten our worldly burdens and be nothing more than a laughing matter. The only caveat is that the comedian dishing it out does so equally, and does not target a single race or stereotype. Also, I strongly suspect that there are not too many bitter, malicious, mean-spirited bigots who decide to pursue a career in comedy. Consider the fact that during this roast, all the participants made fun of themselves and each other, occasionally making significant others or family members also part of their jokes. Karan Johar's spending so many years in the closet was made fun off with equal vigor and crassness as Ranveer's being a slut or Tanmay Bhat’s obesity. Tanmay was not offended. Deepika Padukone, who is dating Ranveer Singh, was not offended. Even Karan Johar’s mother, who was sitting in the front row, did not take offence – so why are you? Ever think that maybe you feel offended because these things hit close to home? That we live in a society filled with double standards, one that is clearly sexually repressed and one where most men ascribe to dating the fun, wild women but yet want to marry only a virginal, modest bahu? Who in India has not heard worse language being used on the streets or in parliament?

Let’s spend a minute discussing the other elephant in the room – male, female and cultural stereotypes. Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with me when I say that ALL stereotypes are rooted in some reality and none pure figments of our imagination. So this issue, to my mind, is not so much that someone is making fun at my expense using a stereotype about being gay, male, Sindhi, or north Indian, but whether or not the intent behind it is malicious, or coming from a light-hearted place. Think about it. There is a fundamental difference here, and a hugely important distinction that every person needs to make. It is imperative we all make this distinction in our ever-shrinking global village, if we are to ever make progress and thrive. This is not about all of us hugging and getting along, but about the need to have a thicker skin in a heterogeneous world and being able to judge the context. Sticks and stones, people...

The easiest way to explain the difference in the context is to imagine Dave Chappelle (a very famous American comic) putting on Ku Klux Klan robes and making off-colour black jokes versus an actual Klansman telling the same jokes or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making fun of Jews. There is a fundamental difference; one clearly comes from a place of genuine hatred, bigotry and anger, while the other is in jest, and therefore should be encouraged and protected since it is not intended to malign or incite hatred. If you cannot laugh at yourself, then you are the one who is not comfortable in your own skin. Most times feeling offended has nothing to do with culture or religion, only your own insecurity.

One final thought. If you are among those offended by comedians and movie stars making fun of themselves (while raising money for charity), and also feel you have been anointed guardians of some mystical, pure and holy Indian culture that you claim to defend - then why are you not outraged by the fact that marital rape is legal in India; that in 2015 we are still willing to treat fellow human beings as untouchable, and that Indian men routinely grope and touch women on every street, bus, and airplane in India?

Let’s start by fixing our own hypocrisy, in our homes and in our lives, before becoming judge and jury for our society.



1 comment:

  1. Why is everyone so concerned and offended by comedy, when all that energy should be expended to do something about the real issues as you mentioned in your final thought of this post? Wake up world to the things that matter in front of our eyes!

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