The events that have unfolded in the past few days are fantastically preposterous. The (in) famous Tanmay Bhat of comedy group AIB roasted on Snapchat two Bharat Ratnas of the country — Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar. In effect, he staged an expletive-laden conversation between the two where they took a shot at each other.
Snapchat, for those who don’t know, is a social media tool used to tell people about things they care least about, and, alternately, make puppy faces to enforce our cuteness.
One can only chat through images, which are wiped out after a maximum of 10 seconds. You can also put up a story for collective viewing but it will be erased after 24 hours of being posted.
Recently, Snapchat introduced face swapping where the user can swap their face with an existing photograph. Bhat used this to impose on himself photos of both – Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar – and proceeded to post a video on his Snapchat story – which was viewed by thousands within 24 hours.
No one batted an eyelid except maybe the few brickbats he got on Snapchat itself. The trouble, however, started when he posted the same video on Facebook. Accusations poured at him, alleging defamation and disrespect to the two legends of the country. Interestingly, the rant was started by people of the Hindi film industry.
I have not been a fan of the AIB kind of humour. Whether it is about legends or the common people (with reference to AIB’s recent series on ‘honest’ Indian restaurants and bars), I don’t find insult comedy in good taste.
But the outrage, although uncalled for, is not entirely unbelievable. Sentiments get hurt when people’s heroes, the ones who ought not be touched, those on the highest pedestals, are tossed around. And outrage is the first cousin of social media.
Is this about intolerance of comedy?
These people are educated enough to understand that this is AIB. Their full name states exactly what they do.
Besides, publicity garnered for all involved, it is the selective outrage that is more worrying. It doesn’t seem to hurt these people when Kapil Sharma takes potshots at literally everything and everyone. His comedy is equally crass minus the expletives, but loaded with homophobia, sexism, casteism, racism and any other discriminatory -ism you can think about.
Conveniently ignored, he sits at his throne and carries on undeterred. I’m forced to make a comparison here with Joffrey Baratheon Lannister. A mindless fool who continues to reign because of his blind followers. Except that the death of Sharma’s popularity seems hardly a possibility.
Even if I let go of Kapil Sharma in the name of (for Gods’ sake) freedom of expression, it’s still a dangerous move because his ‘comedy’ trickles into the drawing rooms and is applied to real life situations with the same fervour. What I mean is, he is, in a way, giving more impetus to homophobic, sexist, casteist, racist mindsets, results of which we see in WhatsApp forwards and, eventually, drawing room conversations. If you point that out, “arre yeh toh joke tha yaar” rings in your ears for days.
Tanmay Bhat, in this video, has directed his comedy up, not to the ones around him. It will affect only him. He might lose followers, maybe a few hundreds won’t watch his videos, some may unfollow him on Snapchat. Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar don’t have anything to lose. If anything, fans will respect them even more for having been subjected to crass comedy. The video doesn’t warrant any more than the 10 seconds it has.
Interestingly enough, Bhat came out in support of Kiku Sharda when he was arrested. The comedy fraternity, however, has given him nothing but silence.
Why the police should get involved in any case, is really a matter of great worry. An arrest doesn’t address the right to get offended. It only tightens the noose around free speech – which will benefit no one, not comedians, not us.
If there is freedom of expression, it brings with it the right to get offended. However, it is time we directed our outrage to the right side lest we want to watch news anchors go into the intricate details of social media services.