Mumbai Diary: Where is our right to laughter?

Feb 03, 2015, 06:42 IST | Shiva Devnath, Vidya Heble

The city — sliced, diced and served with a dash of sauce

Thou shalt not laugh... thou shalt file an FIR instead, solemnly

It is serious business, being a humourist. The comedy group All India Bakchod found that out the hard (and slightly confusing) way, following the sensation that its YouTube video created.

Video: When Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh got royally 'roasted'

A screen grab of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh at the Roast
A screen grab of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh at the Roast

The AIB, as the laugh-a-minuters are known, are a collective of stand-up comedians who primarily upload podcasts and online videos, and have recently begun their AIB Knockout Roasts, live performances in which they “roast” another word for making relentless fun of people in the news.

The performance in question was a roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, performed at the NSCI in Worli a couple of months ago. Some 4,000 people are reported to have attended, and no riots were noticed at the scene. Why has it suddenly become an issue, you ask? Well, it’s all because of that wondrous invention, the internet. AIB released the video of the roast on YouTube and it quickly became a viral hit.

Not, however, with everyone. One Akhilesh Tiwari, president of an organisation called the Brahman Ekta Seva Sanstha, complained at the Sakinaka police station seeking criminal proceedings against the show’s organisers and performers for “not only ruining the clean image of the Indian culture and women, but also misleading today’s youth”. The police have accepted the written complaint but as of last reports no FIR had been filed.

State Cultural Affairs Minister Vinod Tawde has joined the fray, stating that if AIB had not obtained the proper permissions and clearances for their show, then proceedings could be initiated against them. We took a look at the video in question, and AIB has been upfront about the content. It begins with a warning that the content is only for those 18 and above. Then it declares: “The following video is filthy, rude and offensive.

You know, like… a roast.” So if the offended parties were not offended two months ago but now, on watching the online video, it means they went past all these disclaimers and warnings, watched… and got offended. Apparently because of obscene language and content, which was the point of it anyway.

Among other things the complaint apparently says that Karan Johar (who was the “Roastmaster”), along with Kapoor and Singh, as well as other performers, allegedly passed abusive and offensive remarks against one another and even at the audience. Anyone (we are looking at the Cultural Affairs Ministry here) familiar with the concept of laughter?

You don’t shoot the comedian at most you can heckle him or jeer at the quality of his jokes. The landed gentry of Britain didn’t rise up in protest against PG Wodehouse. Suicide bombers did not lynch Jeff Dunham for his character Achmed the Dead Terrorist (well, suicide bombers would admittedly have a bit of difficulty there).

True, there is a line that should not be crossed, but like Alice in Wonderland, there seem to be no lines any more just the Queen of Hearts everywhere shouting “Off with their heads!” This includes the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum led by Agnelo Fernandes which, at last count, was raring to go file an FIR against the AIB.

Since everyone is “filing”, left, right and centre, looks like the only option left to us general public is to file a, well, public interest litigation complaining about infringement on our right to be entertained.
Where’s the Department of Serious Business, we ask.

Small pleasures en route
In a fast train to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, three little boys jumped into a ladies first-class compartment at Thane station. Urchins to the core, they began leaping around gleefully, as the compartment was relatively empty.

They did not heed the women commuters’ admonitions to take care, but when some men from the adjoining general compartment shouted at them, they quietened down and clustered near the doorway. Then the train picked up speed and overtook a slow going in the same direction.

This made the urchins stand up and begin waving to the passengers in the other train as, carriage by carriage, it got left behind by the fast. People standing in the slow train waved back and the boys were delighted.

Their excitement at the speed and the thrill of overtaking the other train was so palpable that commuters in both compartments had to smile, their earlier annoyance washed away by the boys’ sunny smiles that shone through the grime.

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