Last week, the AIB Knockout video opened on YouTube to eight million views, much laughter, some gasping over Bollywood secrets and the taking of some offence. Not surprisingly, perhaps, a member of the Central Board of Film Certification, Ashoke Pandit, is in the vanguard of the offended. Pandit went on Twitter to object to the show’s sexually explicit content in equally explicit language, and shortly afterwards, the comedy group took down its video. The CBFC has denied that Pandit’s is the official view but there is only so much distance that it can hope to put between itself and the crass bad humour of one of its officials.
This episode is also a striking instance of members of the board seeming to misunderstand its remit — to classify, not to censor, and to lay off content that falls outside its purview, which is films only. The AIB belongs to a universe of internet humour that has been expanding over the last couple of years and saw a boom before the Lok Sabha elections. Very often, this humour is political — the AIB’s other hits include “Dharna Dance” featuring “Yo Yo Kejru Singh”. Unlike its more sedate counterparts in television and print media, it is not pretty. Crass, visceral, rude and sometimes not even very funny, it invites everything and everyone to take offence. Outside the bounds of mainstream media, the internet has enabled an invisible army of bloggers, activists and satirists, satisfied the need of a nation to laugh at itself and opened up a stream of satire that was sorely missing in public discourse. As the AIB said in an open letter responding to the backlash, “there is a larger cultural conversation going on here”, as a society decides what can be said and what cannot. Worryingly, however, more and more seems to be consigned to the category of what cannot.
Bodies like the CBFC have increasingly come to represent a dated, paternalistic worldview, in which the public needs to be guided through what it can consume. Further, as each successive government hands out CBFC posts as political largesse, the role of the body as the final arbiter of public taste and sensibility is growingly suspect. It needs to urgently go through a process of self-examination. Meanwhile, if its members are unable to see the joke in the AIB “roast”, they are welcome to stop streaming.
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