Should he or shouldn't he?

Updated: Feb 02, 2020, 09:12 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

When Kunal Kamra confronted Arnab Goswami on a flight, was it heckling or was it giving someone their 'comeuppance'? Liberal views from two sides weigh in

Varun Grover and Hansal Mehta
Varun Grover and Hansal Mehta

'Why did other airlines ban him, and tag the aviation minister? What are they trying to prove?'
Hansal Mehta, Writer-Director

So, when I first saw the video, I didn't see it as being Arnab and Kunal—I saw a passenger who was being heckled [and forced into a conversation] against his own will. At that point, I saw it as not being in good taste. And I tweeted the same. But, seeing the turn of events—how the airlines have behaved—I now have changed my stand. Why did other airlines besides Indigo [which Kamra and Goswami were flying] ban him, and then tag the aviation minister? What are they trying to prove?

I stopped following Arnab [on television] a long time ago. I find his debates obnoxious. He is used to heckling people on his show. I just thought that on a plane, one is entitled to their own private space. But, Arnab has brought it on himself.

As a journalist, he has crossed all lines. He has a responsibility to the people of India, and he isn't showing it. When you see the video, you realise that there is anger in Kunal's voice. And, now, I understand that anger. I watched Goswami's channel's coverage of Shaheen Bagh [protest site in Delhi] recently, and Arnab's stand was that the shooter [at Jamia Milia University on January 30] was a protester [against the Citizenship Amendment Act]. He was trying to propagate that narrative. Now, I am angry.

'I still wish he had found another way, more artistic, more in line with his sharp sense of humour'
Varun Grover, Writer, Stand-Up Comic

I understood where Kunal was coming from—his anger and his urgent need to tell Arnab how he's sullied the profession of journalism with his goon-like behaviour and biased-agenda, which he pushes through his news show. I still wish he had found another way—more artistic (and by artistic, I mean more humane), and more in line with his very sharp sense of humour. But then, that's unfair too—to put the burden of my expectations on a fellow artiste's behaviour.

The response of the airlines and the aviation minister throwing his diktats through Twitter (when a formal investigation hadn't even begun and when the pilot actually supported Kunal) had a kind of surreal beauty to it. I was very tense before that, but I had a good laugh when other airlines also banned him. It was great to see that no matter how big you are—people running airline businesses are pretty big and rich and influential, I guess—are scared of the establishment. That means my ordinariness and your bigness have no real difference. And, it made me feel equal to them. We all are equally scared. We all understand each other better now.

One of the ways a liberal mindset is different from a conservative one is that self-critical voices are respected (at least in theory). The debate about civility might seem redundant at such a time when young victims of news TV vitriol are roaming around with guns on the streets, but I think that's what art is for. To find the conscience and humour in the darkest, most immoral of times. And to communicate that conscience and humour—not to the choir, but across the lines. They have guns, we only have our peaceful, logical, artistic arguments. Like they have to keep polishing and refilling their guns, we have to keep checking our arguments and communication methods.

India has two brand icons across the world—Gandhi and yoga. Both these things have been our PM's calling card too, whenever he goes abroad. Both these things symbolise peace, calmness, and a humanistic, holistic approach to the worst of times. The way the government and the airlines have reacted to Kunal's satyagraha is sharply in contrast to how he has reacted after the multiple bans. He is still smiling, thanking the airlines on Twitter, explaining the emotional reasons for his act, etc. It's very clear for any reader of this whole episode that Kunal is holding up the brand image of India (zen, fearless) while the establishment comes across as bullies.

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