India’s Inability To Take a Joke

Dedicated readers of my writing (my mum and Richa, that is) will remember me making fun of the one and only Superstar Thalaivar Rajnikanth in my article two issues ago, where I criticised him on his preference for dancing only with the fairest heroine in industry (like my opinions actually mattered).
What I just did was make a joke (albeit a poor one) about my article. I voluntarily admitted my weakness, tried to frame my sentence so that it will trigger the part of your brain that finds things funny in an effort to get you to smile. This process is called “Making a joke at one’s expense”. I made a tiny, harmless observation about my favourite icon to get a few laughs.
Dear reader, I dedicate this primarily to those of you who feel I insulted my Thalaivar with that remark, but I request the rest of you to continue reading, for I need a bigger fan base (See what I did there?).
As a writer, it is important for me to present all the facts, all the details, and both sides to every story. So what exactly am I talking about here?
We all know what a joke is; it’s a way to evoke amusement and laughter from a person with a story and a funny punch line. And we are well acquainted to the concept of a joke. We may have cringed in public, especially in front of our friends when our fathers tell their “amazing” jokes. We read many a comic strip and laughed at innovative Amul cartoons, some of which were beyond our years, but we still laughed. Like seriously, how many of us even now always understand Calvin and Hobbes? We all LOLed, clapped and repeated this process every time we saw our favourite comedian in movies or on TV. We even remember their characteristic mannerisms, their punch lines and often use it in our daily lives to strike a similarity between those situations.
Everyone also has a different sense of humour. The official categories include Slapstick, Self-Deprecating, Black, Deadpan, Jokes at someone else’s expense, Sophisticated and Bathroom styles of humour (I expect the last one stinks). But the problem arises when we start taking offence to someone’s use of a particular style of humour to produce some laughter (just like the definition) and then start taking action against it.
But before I proceed, I will solemnly state that, whatever said and done, if the efforts of humour go to the level of causing a person deep physical/emotional trauma, then it is no longer humour, but most definitely a crime.
Getting back to topic, let’s consider 2 instances that I think most of us will remember. Both of these instances involve the popular YouTube comedy group AIB. The first was over their “Roast” of two popular Bollywood actors, which also made fun of numerous other Bollywood stars. To those of you who do not know what a Roast is, it is a form of comedy where you call a person, insult them for comic gain after taking consent, and thank them for being a good sport. The answer to why anyone would want to be roasted lies in big, fat chequebooks.
AIB, in their Roast made fun of a very many things. And people. They followed the third step very articulately, and the whole show was done in front of a consenting, adult audience and the proceeds went towards charity.
The second instance I cite is much more recent. A Mr.Bhat, a member of AIB, made a Snapchat video wherein he face swapped with Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar and initiated a fictional war of words between the two legends. I really want to make a joke asking people of a certain ‘demographic’ to not even try comprehending some aspects here, but I shall not for the sake of passing my exams.
So what happened because of these events is what inspired me to write this article. Both of these instances were met with huge uproars of dissent; FIRs were filed, they were publicly insulted, humiliated, attacked. Attacked is honestly an understatement. Religious outfits, private organisations, street gangs threatened to murder them. People all over the country cyber-bullied them to the extent where they were forced to disable comments. There was so much hate bubbling over an effort at humour that was indeed, harmless.
Was all of this really necessary?
1. The way the country reacted when he teased two members of prodigious talent was completely beyond their emotional range. People were so infuriated, they threatened to kill him, they cursed him with all those words they found offensive when he used them.
2. Religious outfits, moral policing their way to Sanskari India in an effort to dictate comedy. They do this by threatening to harm his life and security, creating an atmosphere of danger, because nothing says Sanskari like a whole lot of Jaanwari behaviour.
Okay, I understand your right to take offence to his speech/blah blah bluh bluh. But let me remind you that this is the very same population that was quite happy to sit on YouTube to watch Justin Beiber and Charlie Sheen ripped to shreds on Comedy Central. This is the very population that is incredibly comfortable with watching incredibly sexist comedic bits that are prominent features in especially Bollywood movies and also in Tamil movies. Remember that Goundamani comedy scene where he hires women for a job – ‘You are selected, you are Unselected’ based on their appearance and age?’ (Hilarious one no?) Remember all those Santhanam one liners where he indiscriminately made fun of old people, fat people, people with disabilities, women? And I could go on and on about what happens in Hindi cinema, but you get the gist. So why did you all get so upset over this?
I actually have a theory. It’s because we Indians are adept at something. Something called jumping the bandwagon. If Person A takes offence, Person B also has to. Then B too has to post a comment with words that will make B’s mother’s ears bleed. Then B will post a huge long boring write-up on why people like Mr. Bhat need to be kicked out of the country to Pakistan. But silently, secretly, B liked the Roast and the video, and texted his/her friends “Machi, AIB roast semma mass la”.
I would also like to know whether the centre for humour and the centre for taking offence in the human brain are closely situated.
See, everything that was done was not for the purpose of hurting people or those celebrities. They voluntarily participated in the Roast. Lata Mangeshkar didn’t care the slightest over that Snapchat video. The celebrities themselves were least bothered, because they were mostly artists who appreciated other forms of art. Those who took offence were the kind who desperately wanted to be back on TV as they were fading away into the Big Boss house.
Come on India, you can do better.

By Adithya Padmanabhan

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