No laughing matter

May 06, 2012, 12:24 IST | Ayesha Nair

The rise in dishonourary awards like the Ghantas, the Golden Kela and the Sadmas is a reflection of our discontent with the current social scenario. Ayesha Nair finds out why humour is the new form of criticism

If religion is the opium of the masses, then humour ought to be its outlet. That’s what seems to be the general feeling among those who make a joke and more importantly, those who can take one. This could explain the rise in numbers and sudden surge of dishonourary awards like The Ghantas and the Sadma awards.

Actor Sumeet Raghavan was the host of the latest Sadma Awards, an off shoot of the online comedy show JayHind! that is also anchored by him

International inspiration
In its 32nd year, The Golden Raspberry or the Razzies has been a formidable force in recognising cinematic trash. It is equally loved and feared but mostly appreciated for getting it spot on. It has become such an iconic institution that, two years ago, on its 30th anniversary, Prashant Rajkhowa who works with an online portal, wrote to the panel requesting that Bollywood too find a mention. When he didn’t get a response, he co-founded The Ghanta Awards (also known as The Ghantas). Now in its second year, The Ghantas honour the worst in Bollywood.

Cyrus Sahukar, Cyrus Broacha, Aditi Mittal and Jose were the hosts of the Fool’s Gold Awards that was aired on Comedy Central last month

When The Golden Kela Awards, another awards show that gives dishonourary awards to Bollywood, nominated Sylvester Stallone and Denise Richards for the Bawra Ho Gaya Hai Ke Award for Kambakkht Ishq, Razzies director John Wilson tendered an apology in jest on their behalf saying Bollywood should not have been subjected to them.

Voice of the people 
Inspiration aside, the fodder for these awards comes very much from within the country. JayHind!, a late night comedy show, recently gave away the Sadma Awards, a not-so-subtle take on the Padma Shri Awards. Says Abhigyan Jha, creator and director of JayHind!, “Did Dr (Mukesh) Batra win a Padma for spamming us? Why was Anna Hazare’s doctor given a Padma? In our country, the President is accused of scamming land. So we thought it was a good time to start an exhaustive show to dishonour all that is dishonourable in India.” The team posted 66 categories online for the public to choose winners. These included Ass of the Year (Chetan Bhagat), Porn Addict of the Year (C C Patil) and Sadma Shri award (Rahul Gandhi). Jha says, “I think it’s a reaction to all the rubbish that’s happening around us. In a democracy the best way to criticise is through humour. After all, you don’t want to end up having a fight.”

Producer Kanti Shah with his muse Seema. He won the Golden Kela awards for his contribution to adult Hindi cinema

Likewise, when Comedy Central aired the Fool’s Gold Awards on April 1, it was an apt attempt at poking fun at the culture we have come to tolerate. It gave awards for categories like Most Foolish Book Titles in India (some of the nominees included How to Shit in the Woods and Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Mind Power) and Most Foolish Cricketing Moments (Pakistani cricketer Saeed Ajmal fumbling through an interview and Sachin Tendulkar getting his 100th ton against Bangladesh and then India losing the game). Says co-host Cyrus Sahukar, “The show was not randomly picking on people, it was speaking the truth. We had actual videos and newspaper clippings. It was not just limited to Bollywood but covered a whole gamut of issues. This show celebrates our strangeness and unique point of view.”

Of course, if there’s anything Indians are nuts about, it’s Bollywood. Though Bollywood has produced some quality work, there are enough films that make it into the categories of The Golden Kelas and The Ghantas including the latter’s Worst Holier-Than-Thou Movie and That’s Anything But Sexy.
Jatin Varma, organiser or the Mai-Baap of The Golden Kelas, started small in a basement, “with five people who were served free alcohol.” Four years later they have grown to seven lakh people voting online for their least favourite film and actor. Varma says, “There is a lot of irony and sarcasm in India. Everyone loves to be awarded something. Then why not give out awards to the worst of the lot? Even a Shah Rukh Khan fan will agree that Ra. One was bad.”

Filmmaker, critic, co-founder and jury member of The Ghantas, Karan Anshuman says that he, along with jury members Rajeev Masand, Sahil Rizwan (famous for his stick figures ridiculing films) and a few others nominate big-budget movies with stars that make their money only because of good marketing. By that logic, he says, anything with Salman Khan automatically qualifies. He says, “These awards have become an outlet for people to express their ire. After all, they are the customers. If a film like Bodyguard is one of the highest grossers, we have a problem.” Ferzad Palia, SVP and general management English entertainment, Viacom18, who own Comedy Central, says these awards are a manifestation of all the not-so-happy things around us. But instead of fretting and fuming over it, satire is the best way to deal with it.

Who’s laughing?
Surprisingly Bollywood is finding its funny bone and learning to laugh at itself too. A few years ago Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra tweeted about their respective wins at The Golden Kelas and The Ghantas. This year Anurag Kashyap whose film That Girl in Yellow Boots was nominated for Worst Holier-Than-Thou Movie encouraged his Twitter followers to vote for him. But the biggest sport was Sonam Kapoor, who showed up at The Ghantas to collect the WTF Was That Award for Mausam in March.

However, most insist that a large part of Bollywood is not open to such awards. Actor and stand-up comedian Varun Thakur, who was one of the hosts at The Ghantas, says, “Everyone wants to get into the other’s good books. People will take a joke only if a Shah Rukh Khan or a Saif Ali Khan cracks it.” If Varma is to be believed, SRK himself does not like being the butt of jokes. He points out an instance when King Khan was invited to speak at Yale and chose to belittle his winning the Kela for My Name is Khan. Anshuman insists that The Ghantas are not to be taken seriously. “It’s a stand-up comic act. Celebrities need to loosen up.”

Walking the fine line
When it comes to satire or making fun of someone’s deeds, that thin, invisible line can easily be crossed, thereby offending those who are the butt of those jokes. Sumeet Raghavan, who hosts JayHind!, says, “If I find something offensive while reading the script, I ask for it to be changed.” For Rajkhowa’s comedians nothing is off-limits. However Thakur says that they make the choice not to ridicule a person out of context. Most, however, believe that if that line is adhered to, then freedom of expression is compromised. After all, what’s a satire without some freedom of expression?

The joke is on…
The youth, Jha says, might be willing to laugh at themselves but the same can’t be said about people from other age groups. Thakur says in terms of comedy, we are at least 30 years behind England and America. Most believe that we will take a few years to get there. Jha, however, believes it will happen in the next two years. Varma sums it up, “We, Indians, are ironic, sarcastic and good writers but that tends to go away when someone makes fun of us.”

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