Almost exactly a month ago, two armed terrorists walked into the office of a French satirical magazine in the heart of Paris. They opened indiscriminate fire, killing 11 people on the spot- the two were ‘avenging’ the insult levelled by the newspaper on their Prophet. An outpouring of outrage, anger, raucous Twitter campaigns where everyone shouted ‘Je suis Charlie’ and 30 days later, here we stand- our hypocrisies exposed. Our heads should hang in shame.
As of this morning, an FIR has been lodged against All India Backchod and all those Bollywood celebrities who attended December’s roast. I’m ashamed to say, this FIR was lodged in my home city of Pune and cites ‘obscenity’ as the reason for being sufficiently outraged. As of this morning, the Maharashtra govt is ‘investigating’ if any ‘rules were broken’ during that event.
The fact of the matter is, rules were broken, many of them, in fact. Rewind to a few months ago. Stand-up comedy in India was something that only happened in a handful of clubs/pubs in the metros. Stand-up comedians were people who held regular jobs during the week and did their gigs on the side, on weekends perhaps, only for the love of the game. And then, almost a year ago, a group of rag tag boys with a laugh-a-minute attitude took on Yash Raj Films, made one of the most hilarious videos I have seen till date and put it up on Youtube. All India Backchod had arrived, and how.
Cut to Dec 2014. After two years of bringing to you some of the most intelligent humour you’d seen (my favourites remain Indian Mario and the satire on the Indian media), they introduced the average Indian to another new (for us anyway) concept- that of a roast. And they chose to do it with some of the biggest, youngest and bravest names from the industry- who willingly came together for one night of no-holds-barred insult comedy. They, wait for it, got Bollywood stars to laugh at themselves, to not take themselves so seriously while also managing to make comedy more mainstream in India (something they should be lauded for). But today, they are instead being vilified, dragged through mud and harangued.
I’m not going to lie. I have been and still am a big AIB fan. Was the roast their best work so far? Certainly not. Was I in splits through most of that video? Yes, I was. Am I comfortable with the language used? Nope, but then again I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I don’t do insults, not like that anyway. The bottom line is, watching that video is and was a choice. I loved most parts of it, others not so much. But that probably has a lot to do with my sensibilities and threshold for taking insults and very little to with the writers and performers.
And here in lies the crux of the matter. I think it’s infinitely easy to jump onto the bandwagon, to associate oneself with something that has suddenly become so popular/infamous that you must find something about it that fundamentally offends you so much that you find a reason to bring it down. I need not highlight the obvious here, but I feel like I must. If obscenity is the main issue here, I must remind all those holier-than-thou souls that Indians use so many profanities everyday of the minute they could put a sailor to shame. I cannot recount the number of times I have heard the c-word being lobbied around almost as if it were an endearing word of welcome.
The immutable fact remains that Indians are hypocrites. And this controversy is nothing but a reminder of that unchangeable reality. We also don’t know how to laugh at ourselves and let things be. We also love to pontificate and sit at home and claim outrage over intolerance as long as that bigotry is being played out in some other country and pokes fun at anyone but ourselves, our religion and our own lifestyles choices.
When the Charlie Hebdo attack happened, I still remember how I was sitting in office and thinking, that could have been any of us. That is precisely what drove the massive surge of nearly 24*7 coverage of that case by most media outlets- the relatability factor.
And today, as we stand at the doorstep of another needless controversy, let us not become mute spectators in this juggernaut of moral policing. Today someone has a problem with an ‘obscene’ video, tomorrow someone will have a problem if you hold your friends hand in public, or write ‘I love you’ on someone’s Facebook wall or choose to give someone roses on a particular day in the month of February, or if you want to wear a dress and go out clubbing and smoke or if you want to do a ‘man’s job’. The list is unending. Your outrage should be too. It could be you next.
I’m going to end this diatribe with this moving summation-
‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me’