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Sunday, February 8, 2015

On AIB, puns, satire, and kaala-khatta

Source: IFOWS
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.

There is good news, though. It is not easy to strangle humour, just like that. 


PS: The images below are taken from AIB's Twitter handle. I could not help share this, especially for the last line.


  1. Sorry, do not agree. AIB is crass personality bashing which tells people "Its ok Brother to verbally violate your personality, but you see this was just a joke." It's just an outlet of suppressed frustration of some tortured soul. I don't agree with the political fiasco thereafter the final show, but then the so called intelligentsia was mum and were trying to be politically correct.From one of the finest humorist I admire, this susubmission is unexpected. Kapil does a better job at personality bashing but then he doesn't speak 'Englis'.

    1. That is not the point. The point is, good or bad, art is art, and should not be suppressed. I did not enjoy the roast a lot myself.

    2. Mohua, ‘roast’ comedy is not for everyone to enjoy. The crassness that comes out during roasts is a part of human nature, but the venting - in form of insults - is elevated to an art form. It is hardly new, or even unique to the western world. It has existed, for example, in Bengal for a long time in the Kabiyal tradition.

      The thing is, the roaster, the roasted, and the audience, are all part of the total roast process; they knowingly consent to the process before getting involved in it. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable if you or I withhold that consent and refrain from enjoying the roast if we don't like it, but by the same token, if consenting adults choose to engage in it, it is their prerogative, and you or I or anyone else have no say in the matter. And trying to shut it down by threats and intimidation is an affront to the freedom of expression.

      (For the record, I don't like the concept of roast comedy and I don't enjoy them.)

    3. I completely agree. Also, it was not as if they did not issue a warning. As I mentioned, the YouTube video started with a proper disclaimer. If anyone watched after that, it cannot be AIB's fault.

  2. It has been quite some time since i have been out of job and my father spares no puns to rib me on my unemployed status.
    I felt amused initially,but now i feel rather insulted and sad. Maybe i am too sensitive to it because i have grown restless. Should i shout back at him that his times were different? Am i at fault or being too uptight about it? Is his punning on me also a misdiagonised artform?

    1. I am sorry to hear about this. Trust me, I know what I am talking about, since I had been unemployed myself at one time.

      However, putting myself in your shoes (of course, I have a very considerate father) I think I would ave (a) tried verbal comebacks, or (b) have a firm talk, or (c) ignore. Why shout?

    2. Yeah. I should tell him,no job means no marriage and no job implies,he won't be a grandfather anytime soon :D

    3. That would spell doomsday. An unmarried childless kid is an Indian parent's nightmare.

  3. My condition is the same as anon above me. I am more like the lady version of Aashish Shakya,a shade lighter,who is having trouble getting hitched. And I am far,far more touchy about this. Some things are just below the belt and I am dished out charred humour on this. Difficult to swallow,this.

    1. Was there a pun involved in "charred"? :D :D

      I guess you know there are genres called white jokes, brown jokes, and more. Hit back brutally. If you need jokes, keep asking me. I have a nice assortment of politically incorrect jokes.

      PS: Google "Yami Gautam jokes". You will be surprised.

    2. Don't worry about not getting hitched. Anyone who picks you for the colour of your skin simply isn't worthy of you. Chin up, look them straight in the eye and smile. That is the best retort for people like these.

    3. I think Mlvk has a splendid idea. Looking straight in the eye and smiling works. Laughing works even better.

    4. Smirking works the best. They will keep wondering what you are smirking about.

    5. Even better: once they ask why you are smirking, just say "oh, it's nothing".

    6. All very good theoretically. It is a blow to one's self esteem.

    7. Mate, it is not theoretical. Try it once. Wait for someone to comment on your complexion. Once they do that just laugh on his/her face, the more hysterical the better. Tell me if it does not work.

      If you still have doubts, email me. I usually provide very good troll ideas and comeback lines.

    8. Girl, I know it's a lot harder in real life. But you know your worth. You shouldn't give a levitating lay about those gastrointestinal elimination orifices (i am abiding by the rules, Ovshake- no foul language). They don't deserve your time or even a shred of your emotions.

    9. It is still doable, Mlvk, even in real-life. But how did you determine the gender of Anonymous?

    10. I read her what she wrote-'lady version of Aashish Shakya'. Didn't you?

    11. Ah, I missed that. But, well, I can spot a quality troller in Ms Anonymous: she knows she is "a shade lighter than Ashish Shakya", so she has it in her. I think she can be outstanding with her comebacks if we groom her properly.

  4. Does anyone have the link to You-know-what? I was among the unfortunate few who procrastinated and now has no idea of exactly what was offensive/crass/funny/ or not. :/

  5. I saw just a little bit and was disappointed at both the quality of jokes and the stream of bad words. I am trying hard to adopt an attitude of “live and let live”, however the bit about Farida Jalal should’ve been avoided. I doubt she or her family members found anything funny in it.

    1. Once again, it is not about the quality. It is about the right. I did not like the quality either.

  6. "That is probably a serious allegation (given that five of the eleven words in it have more than eight letters in them)." :-D :-D Well-written. I personally did not like most of the jokes in AIB. But an allegation on a "cultural basis" is definitely funny.

    1. Thank you. I hoped someone would notice that line. :D