Breaking Down News: The Joke That Broke The Country’s Back

India is still broiling over a tacky joke, which has politicians and filmstars huffing and puffing and blowing the house down

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: June 4, 2016 12:32 am
tanmay bhat, tanmay bhat video, AIB AIB spoof, all india bakchod, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, security to tanmay bhat, lata mangeshkar, sachin tendulkar, indian express news AIB founding member Tanmay Bhat

Islamic State has released a propaganda video on Dailymotion in which it confirms banning satellite TV in Mosul from Ramzan. Like the rest of the world, they fear that the djinns inside the idiot box are bathing their families with an unhealthy glow and brainwashing their children with inappropriate ideas. Unlike us, though, the IS has very specific sources of anxiety, such as women wearing lipstick instead of veils.

Strangely, the video also shows a malevolent satellite beaming down Stuxnet, the internet worm which damaged at least 20 per cent of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, setting back its bomb-making project. To keep worms and women at bay, IS is gathering satellite dishes and sticking them under steamrollers, and making videos of the process.

Never mind that Sachinji and Lataji did not complain about the Snapchat stunt by AIB founding member Tanmay Bhat, the peopleji want to have him steamrollered. The volume of their response — amplified by political parties wishing to lay claim to Everymanji — caused the Mumbai Police to seek legal opinion on what to do about the weird joke. Roasting is not an option. Be serious. This is vegetarian India. We don’t do that stuff here. We just pull you down like a derelict building.

The New York Times prolonged the drama by referring to Lata Mangeshkar as a “so-called playback singer”. “So-called” qualified the phrase “playback singer” (an art unknown in Hollywood), not to the singer herself, the paper’s South Asia bureau chief elaborated, but you can’t reason with readily-injured national pride. Once again, it was not known if Mangeshkar cared at all.

Already saddled with the nanny state, we are now seeing the stompy little baby steps of the restive child that the nanny has put herself in charge of. The MNS Chitrapat Sena thought that beating up the comedian would be jolly good fun. Anupam Kher established his right to critique online humour by listing his honours for comedy. It was totally necessary, for he is treasured as a popular and reliable source of comedy in real life. The man’s a hoot every time he gets on his high horse. The rest are on about respect, that dreadfully earnest word which has become the default hands-up gesture on social media. Usually, it is found in one-word responses to posts by strong-willed people, thus: “Respect!” It’s a conversation stopper.

Narendra Modi’s Respect-O-Rama at India Gate set a lot of tongues wagging, including a lively hatchet job in the Kolkata Telegraph. It began in the classical manner, with a quote from GB Shaw: “If I don’t beat my drum, who will?” The manner in which this government projects the prime minister has invited comparison with Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. But in hindsight, the propaganda of her period was more sophisticated. While the news scripted Mrs Gandhi as the fount of all progress, she may have quailed (or laughed hollowly) at today’s sycophantic hyperbole on Doordarshan: “The Prime Minister’s vision has turned sunset into sunrise. As night falls, we see a new dawn.” This is poetry of execrable lousiness, in comparison to which Seventies propaganda looks fairly anodyne. But even this paled before the expansiveness of the prime minister himself: “My government has so many achievements that to enumerate them all, Doordarshan would have to telecast me live for a whole week.”

The Seventies are long past. Congratulatory and self-congratulatory blather is no longer restricted to state-controlled television. We now have a battery of satellite news channels happy to echo blah in unison, without deviating from the script to raise uncomfortable questions. They’re all suckers for free programming, and a government focused on spectacle generation is their natural partner. Before the reverberations of the Ujjain Kumbh had quite receded from television screens, here they had the PM himself.

Over in the US, public service radio marketplace PRX launched the new for-profit company RadioPublic this week to create an app-based internet radio which promises a mashup of existing channels. The internet has given radio fresh energy but the market is extremely vertical. The BBC puts volumes of its non-text content on the internet, but only through its own app, which is georestricted to the UK (the All India Radio app is open access, fortunately). Across the Big Pond, Pandora is a superb music service, georestricted to the US. Radio aggregators focus on user-generated playlists, as do podcast apps.

RadioPublic appears to be focused on shaking up the market by blurring the lines between vertical categories. The more experimentation there is in this sector, the more interesting it will get. Radio is just right to provide the background noise for our multitasking – and physically uncommunicative – ethic. It only has to present itself clothed in a contemporary aesthetic, and it’ll be unswitchoffable.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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