Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

Mirth of a Nation: Political satire finds a new home on the internet

(Left) The Viral Fever team in Mumbai The Viral Fever team in Mumbai
Written by Amulya Gopalakrishnan | Posted: March 2, 2014 12:33 am | Updated: March 3, 2014 11:18 am

If you’re minimally connected with email, Facebook or Twitter, you couldn’t have missed the whole new laughter track to this election. A fresh generation of English-speaking storytellers and satirists is putting the internet to good use. They go where mainstream media is too timid to venture, they hold a funhouse mirror to the powerful, and when they’re good, they’re very very good.

Apart from the big two, Faking News and The Unreal Times, comic outlets of many kinds have sprouted online in the last year or so. Notable new entities are All India Bakchod (AIB), a comic collective that has moved from standup to video and Twitter, and The Viral Fever, a Mumbai-based video factory whose latest effort, Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party: Arnab’s Qtiyapa, was watched over 2 million times. There is Jai Hind!, a biweekly show that combines the professional standards of TV with an edgy, risque sensibility that can find a spiritual home only on YouTube. There is Newslaundry, run by old-media renegades, that promises “sab ki dhulaai”. And, best of all, there is a whole world of anonymous amateurs with Tumblrs and Twitter handles, political activists and freelance jokesters.

Rahul Roushan, a former journalist and IIM-Ahmedabad alum who created Faking News in 2008, marvels at the change wrought in the last five years. When he began trying out his stories on a free Blogspot account, inspired by that American institution, The Onion, he had no idea if people would get it, or care. Faking News only whetted the great appetite for political satire, as proved by the speed and relish with which new entrants have been welcomed. Roushan speculates that this comic explosion had something to do with the context — the economic slowdown, the building unhappiness with the UPA — as well as the fact that social media began to pull in millions of people, mostly young and vocal.

Now Faking News, acquired by Network 18’s Firstpost, employs its own team of writers and hosts a separate space for enthusiastic contributors. Hot on its heels is The Unreal Times, founded by fellow IIM-A grads CS Krishna and Karthik Laxman, which does all that and more, like news pictures with speech bubbles, fake Facebook news feeds and skits of cabinet meetings, and memes like “Arvind Kejriwal Doing Things”. Krishna and Laxman started this project after they were burnt out with regular work, including drafting a shadow budget for BJP MP Yashwant Sinha. Ever since it broke into public awareness with a video called Manmohan Singham in 2011, Unreal Times has become one of the biggest founts of satire, with over 2.15 lakh Facebook likes and 56.1K Twitter followers. It also has a Tamil site with local content, and a book deal with Penguin on the upcoming election.

In India, much of the comic content you encounter tends to be professional or semi-professional, rather than spontaneously generated continued…

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