“Jagshemash. My name-a Borat. I like you. I like sex. It’s nice,” announced British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s now-iconic character, Borat.
Borat or Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan evoked extreme reactions from every corner of the political spectrum, with some dismissing it as offensive trash. Most critics adored it though, and called it different versions of “an important film that is also hysterically funny.”
Borat was a mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen. It featured his fictional titular character Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakh journalist who is sent to the United States to make a documentary about the country by the Kazakh Ministry of Information so that Kazakhstan can learn from the greatest country in the world.
Disguised as Borat, Cohen interacted with real-life Americans to, in his own words, ‘expose their inner prejudices.’ The unwitting participants, unaware that they were being ‘scammed,’ believed Borat was a naïve foreigner with no knowledge of American norms. The film, directed by Larry Charles and co-written by Cohen, made moviegoers laugh at topics they would not usually laugh at. In one scene, Borat is seen discussing equality with a bunch of feminists, who really did want to make this guy understand why people should be treated equally regardless of their gender. Some lines were just absurd and insane beyond measure (and too offensive to be quoted here), and a few sequences can shock anyone. Yes, even today. The movie’s USP is that Borat says and does things in the film that make the viewers guilty for laughing.
The mockumentary had real-life consequences, as usually happens with Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat offended many as the actor-comedian probably wanted and maybe even hoped. And the offended parties included not just those who were unknowingly part of the film. The Kazakhstan government criticised the movie for its depiction of their country. Cohen, in-character as Borat, dismissed the Kazakh government’s concerns as a conspiracy by “evil nitwits” of Uzbekistan. If you have not seen the movie, Borat calls Uzbekistan as the second biggest problem his country is facing followed by Jews. Ouch.
The Cohen-starrer also had to fend off defamation lawsuits from countless “actors” in the movie.
But it was bemusing to see Americans getting fooled by Borat. For Cohen’s character was clearly a caricature of what many Americans probably presume people from third-world countries look and sound like — exaggerated English accent, politically incorrect views and unsophisticated.
This was the greatest achievement of the 2006 mockumentary Borat. It laid bare that twisted, ignorant worldview and bigotry of many Americans. And only a character like Borat, who shared many of those biases, could unmask that. To this day, Borat remains one of the most original comedy films ever made, which both entertains and also makes us think hard about ourselves.
Borat 2 begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on October 23.
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