I did not like the AIB Knockout show. No, I really did not, and I was somewhat vocal about my opinions on social media. If you have seen my tweet or Facebook post that day, you would know what I am talking about.
I had found the jokes clichéd and repetitive. They got so predictable after a point of time that I could almost predict the punch-lines (though I will never be able to erase memories of the kaala-khatta joke on Ashish Shakya for the rest of my life).
Let us make this clear: I have nothing against politically incorrect jokes. In most known circles my incorrect jokes make people wince in annoyance at the horrible quality or the poor taste, but nobody can blame me for being politically correct. In fact, I discriminate based on so many parameters that I sometimes lose track.
But let us get back to the roast. I was surprised when almost every anchor lauded Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh for being sporting enough to be the part of a roast. They missed the point of a roast, which is supposed to be insult comedy; and you do not appreciate a person for not reacting to a roast; they was doing only what they were supposed to do, which was to accept faeces.
But why were they apologising? Did they, too, not get the concept of a roast? Why, then?
The more I thought, the more obvious it became. Though the people present were cool with the concept of a roast, the YouTube viewers may not be. They were probably circumspect of whether the viewers would feel offended. Unfortunately, though they reduced the bar by being politically correct once in a while, they could not escape the inevitable.
I realised (they had probably realised this even before the Dhoom-3 fiasco) that people who mattered thought differently. I will not go into clichés like “this country is open to bribes but not to jokes”, “corruption is fine but humour is not,” and more. Everyone knows these one-liners by heart by now.
The allegations made were obnoxious, almost laughable. I completely agree that the language was crass. I do not swear (yes, really), and do not hold respect people who swear frequently in high esteem.
The poster had a 16+ alert. The YouTube clip started with a disclaimer that you are entering the politically incorrect zone. It was not as if I was not warned of what was to follow: if foul language bothered me, I had the option of clicking on another fornicating (see, I do not use foul language) video. If I did not and decided to watch the one-hour thing, I cannot blame others for having to hear swear-words.
The attacks made at everyone, including Arjun Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, and the man who stole the show, Karan Johar, were apparently direct, crude, and no-holds-barred. The trio hit back with gusto, and everyone was happy.
Not everyone, apparently. Pune Police, for example, lodged an FIR against at least 16 people for "behaving in an obscene behaviour in a public place". When I read this I contemplated for a while whether eve-teasing falls under the same category, then gave up.
Not a single person who attended the show (Hiroo Yash Johar — the lady who “presents” Dharma Productions movies, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, and more) looked offended. If the roasters, the roasted, and the paid audience were all happy, what right did it give others to demand for apologies from AIB?
It had to come to that word. AIB can offend someone with their creation, however ill-made. If that person feels insulted, he can
(a) outdo them at their trick by preparing a better clip, or
(b) take it in his stride and laugh at himself, or
(c) question, in a civilised way, AIB’s right to create the video.
Let me put myself in the shoe of the person. Obviously (a) is beyond my scope, but I usually resort to (b), which is my favourite option. I love making (good-natured) fun of people, but do not mind if others make fun of me, atheism, JK Rowling, India, the Bengali, VVS Laxman; okay, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea.
On the other hand, if someone is completely devoid of people laughing at their expense, (c) is a decent way to hit back. A challenge is cool, which is probably why you cannot translate the word into Bengali. Coolness is not for us Bengalis; we have proved exactly that by getting cartoonists arrested.
Let us get back to the point. The men who matter did none of these. Instead, they alleged AIB of being “seditious pornographers while plotting the downfall of Indian values of civilisation”. That is probably a serious allegation (given that five of the eleven words in it have more than eight letters in them).
I do not understand what seditious pornography is, but what I do understand is that what AIB was trying to create is a form of art, and here is the important part: nobody has a right to ban art, irrespective of its quality.
Art does not have a specific language or form. We create art because we want to express our feelings; that is what gets us to write, paint, dance, or become a Chetan Bhagat. We do not aspire to become Jane Austens on day one; all we want to do is to write and write and write and write till we bleed. Trust me, the thought of insulting someone else does not even cross our minds.
That is what art is about. It is not about being good or bad, but it is about the right to express myself. You cannot stop someone from expressing his feelings just like that. It is a crime to ask them to apologise for being creative.
I agree AIB were making money out of it, but that was because they are good at it. If they had eight million clicks when they took it down (and a 10: 1 like: dislike ratio) they must have been doing something right. Obviously, if I roasted someone nobody in their right sense would pay to watch the show, but that is not the point. Had I been good at it, I would have made money out of it too.
Humour, with its strange healing power, is probably the strongest form of art (the Knockout was not); and whenever a joke is written, it is always at the expense of someone — unless it is an innocent pun.
But a pun is not the only form of humour. Puns rule (I often get the feeling I suffer from witzelsucht), but there is more to humour than them; the satire, however subtle, involves offending someone, even if it is to a limited extent and the person concerned does not feel offended.
AIB has only increased the extent and intensity. They have done what all humorists do, though the quality could have been better. Yes, it was an experiment. Yes, it failed in terms of excellence, but it succeeded when it came to mass appeal.
It is very important that AIB did not actually accuse someone of anything. They joked. I repeat, they joked. When the inimitable RK Laxman took up his pen, he was not being a journalist backed by proof. He wanted to make money of making others laugh, and few careers can be as noble.
Since the advent of YouTube, since the arrival of the young brigade with fresh humour, it seemed for a while India has grown up sufficiently to accept jokes aimed at it. I guess I was being a moron, as always. We may keep on reproducing and bringing grumpy children into a world devoid of laughter, devoid of even the right to laugh or create jokes.
That has always the biggest unaddressed problem in contemporary Indian art: it has managed to offend people who matter, and offend strongly enough for them to react. While you may get a kick out of the fact that you are finally being recognised, you will soon realise that the noose is going to get tighter and tighter with every passing day.