Legendary singer Mohammed Rafi’s family is enraged by a dialogue in Karan Johar’s dud Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. In a scene, it has Anushka Sharma telling Ranbir Kapoor, “Mohammed Rafi gaate nahi rote the”. Speaking to http://www.indianexpress.com his son Shahid said it was an unforgivable insult: “I didn’t expect this from Karan Johar.” Anyone who’s heard Rafi’s Kya Hua..Tera vada sung in a voice of tremulous longing tinged with despair, knows, Rafi’s uniqueness lay in conveying an aching sadness convincingly. Artists like him or Adele who’s rendition of Someone Like You elicits tears every time have a gift to be able to sound heartbreakingly melancholic.
It’s not a joke, it’s a talent. One can only wonder why Rafi’s kids would bother about one random line in a panned film considering their father’s legion of followers, who seek out that very weepiness in his tone. However, it’s not news that Indians are extremely touchy, quick to take umbrage at the slightest criticism when none was meant. It’s why words like izzat and sammaan are thrown about so liberally in all Hindi movie dialogues and generations had to endure perpetually outraged heroes act out story lines of vengeance and family dishonour. In a nation, a sense of humour develops with success.
An ability to laugh at oneself is more likely among citizens who are flourishing or those who’s stature makes them immune to public opinion. Donald Trump couldn’t care less about being lampooned and parodied. Not always, though. Some years ago, actor Manoj Kumar sought legal action against Shah Rukh Khan over a scene in Om Shanti Om. In the movie, a look-alike duplicate of Kumar was shown being thrashed by policemen who had the temerity to not recognise him. The self important don’t find anything about themselves funny. Humour is always tricky but when it’s done right, flinging insults and poking fun make for the best jokes and is the hottest form of comedy right now. A subtle, straight faced yet provocative one liner on everything from religion, sex and politics is a method sharpened to perfection in sitcoms such as Seinfeld and Two and a Half Men. Meanwhile, in India it may soon be illegal to crack “Sardar jokes” in colleges.
In all seriousness, former Supreme Court Judge HS Bedi, who headed the committee that suggested those cracking “sardar jokes” be rusticated for ragging, doesn’t find this recommendation hysterically funny. It’s entirely lost on him that there is something fundamentally hilarious about enforcing punishments on people doubling up over Santa Banta jokes. While acknowledging that the incidents of ragging because of puerile humour “are not very alarming” Bedi insists they shouldn’t be encouraged. (Though one could argue that they should be banned for being so spectacularly banal.) The way to develop a sense for the absurd in such a dour lot of people is to raise the bar for funny humiliation so much, that Indians have no choice but to shed their righteousness and laugh. Like handling success or brickbats — so much is understood in the way you take a witty punch.