mid-day editorial: Protecting artistic freedom is no joke

As the news came in of entertainer Kiku Sharda being sent to 14 days of judicial custody for mimicking Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, several questions came up.

Reports stated that the issue came to light after the December 27 episode of the much watched television show, ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’, where Sharda mimicked the religious leader, which incensed his followers.
They filed a police case against the actor, who was booked under Section 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code.

While one can understand feelings being hurt or a section being angry at the mimicry, we think the punishment outweighs the supposed wrong done. It is important to see the act in context — it came through the medium of a comedy show. Was there any malice behind it? Was the intention just to be funny? Was there the intention to offend, and, if so, why? A mature audience must take into account the entire context of a performance or work of art before pronouncing its judgement.

In any case, the actor had also apologised on Twitter for any offence he caused, but his apology was not accepted. If artistes are jailed for such offences, paranoia and fear will increase. This puts paid to any debate, discussion, dissension of ‘prickly’ topics. Will this not mean that performers will fail to do what art demands of them - to provoke thought and opinion by offering a different — and sometimes offensive — spin on subjects?

A great Indian ad man, under fire for making advertisements that provoked heated debate amongst communities, had once stated that great advertising copy needs to offend in some way. So it is with all art, whatever medium it comes through.

Let us develop a funny bone. To take extreme action over a comic act in a TV show is entirely unwarranted. Tolerance, a willingness to understand and, in some cases, forgive, shows that we are a grown up audience that can take it on the chin.

  • Stephen Billings14-Jan-2016

    Good thoughts but the problem is the law itself. Every religion hurts the feelings of the other religion. You cannot have a law that concerns feelings and emotions being hurt. The law must be repealed to protect the freedom of speech. The Truth hurts feelings sometimes and in order to speak the truth it must be legal!

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