By Ankita Nawalakha:
A few days back, my friend who is studying is the US called me and told me about this one incident when one of her roommate (who is a US native) saw the Kejriwal- Arnab Goswami spoof and went on laughing about how funny Indian politicians are. She was so intrigued that my friend had to explain all about Kejriwal, Arnab, the political situation in India, everything! I went on laughing about it, only to realize later the intensity of what happened- a foreigner was inspired to know more about the political and social situation in India by seeing something which was so funny and entertaining! That somehow struck a chord with me and I realized how brilliantly and cleverly channels like AIB (All India Bakchod) and TVF (The Viral Fever) are able to reach out to so many people, especially youngsters.
Comedy and social media
If you’re minimally connected with email, Facebook or Twitter, you couldn’t have missed the whole new laughter track in the recent years, especially during election season. A fresh, new generation of storytellers and satirists are putting the internet to good use. They go where mainstream media is too timid to venture, they hold a funhouse mirror to the powerful, and they poke fun at everything that affects the common man’s life in India.
Apart from the big two, Faking News and The Unreal Times, comic outlets of many kinds have sprouted online in the last year or so. Notable new entities are All India Bakchod (AIB), a comic collective that has moved from stand-up to video and Twitter, and The Viral Fever, a Mumbai-based video factory whose latest effort, Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party: Arnab’s Qtiyapa, was watched over 2 million times. There is Jai Hind!, a biweekly show that combines the professional standards of TV with an edgy, risquÃ© sensibility that can find a spiritual home only on YouTube. There is Newslaundry, run by old-media renegades, that promises “sab ki dhulaai”. And, best of all, there is a whole world of anonymous amateurs with Tumblrs and Twitter handles, political activists and freelance jokesters.
Why and how does online humour work- Assessing the impact of Indian Satirists
Taking advantage of the situation- Once dominated by political cartoonists, local mimicry artistes or the class clown, spoofs and parodies have become the main channel for humour, spurred on by the huge number of Indians making their way to social networks. I personally speculate that this comic explosion had something to do with the context – the economic slowdown, the building unhappiness with the UPA – as well as the fact that social media began to pull in millions of people, mostly young and vocal.
Online and footloose- This comic flowering would never have occurred without the internet. Nearly everyone in the business attributes their success to the ease of creating something good and spreading it for free; the amazing liberties the space lets them take. Images, trolls, videos, memes go viral on the internet. Social media has even helped vindicate and nurture our sense of humour and find others who find the same things funny. If it wasn’t for the internet, I think we would still be making ‘Dude, you’re a gayzz’ or ‘Girls can’t code’ jokes. And, even if this means it is still only being seen by a minuscule percentage of Indians because of the medium, its impact might still be far-reaching.
Connecting with youth-Â Making serious, deep issues seem humorous; these political memes and videos do not necessarily make an explicit political argument, nor do they necessarily provide political information in the traditional sense. They provide a state of play where the audience can engage with public officials, political issues or events and not feel judged or inadequate in their ability to understand what’s going on. In other words, the humour is opening up the democratic process to those who might not otherwise engage in it-a sign of health for India’s democracy. Ten years ago, a poll conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project found that young Americans increasingly got their information from late-night comedy shows, rather than the news media. While satire is an appealing introduction to politics, and gives young people a rough civic literacy, someone educated solely through satire could also tend to cynicism and knowingness, without the ability to process political information on their own terms
Biting Satire- Satire always employs the same bag of tricks – verbal or situational irony, exaggeration, the “list” that gets additively funnier, sight gags and parody. Manish Tiwari’s overblown language, Arvind Kejriwal’s self-importance, or Rahul Gandhi’s windy abstractions are classic comedy fodder. Azam Khan’s lost buffaloes, or some of Narendra Modi’s boasts are begging to be put to good use by satire-writers. To some extent, their success comes from the fact that internet comedy is a world away from the insipid, careful jokes on television. It is widely acknowledged that political comedy with real bite would never make it on TV. There has been a tyranny of “good taste”: We’re just so status-obsessed and hierarchical and attached to our images, we can’t stand any attack on it. Humour is an acknowledgement of equality, and that the powerless are more likely to value a subversive joke. These online portals challenge the ‘tyranny of good taste’ by their raw, hilarious content and that is precisely why they are an instant hit with our generation.
The road ahead
In India, much of the comic content we encounter tends to be professional or semi-professional, rather than spontaneously generated memes or mashups. It is ruled by young men in their 20s and those on the other side of 30, and are painfully aware of the need to keep up. It may get more diverse over time – which would make for better humour too – but right now the comedy scene still is a small bunch of people who know each other. India’s comedy scene is not as pervasive yet, but it’s getting there. While mainstream media still thinks of these video channels as kids doing quirky things online, they now have more subscribers in India than MTV. Much of this success story can attributed to the rise of social media in India but a greater aspect lies in the youth. There has definitely been a change in attitude of people in our India regarding political humour. Our country is getting younger and people are learning to laugh at themselves. India is a very funny country without a sense of humour, and that is precisely what these comedy spoofs, articles and memes tackle- they engage more and more people- people like you and me in the process of comedy making. While parodies in the early days were created by professionals, today anyone with a computer, a sense of humour and a point of view can create their own professional looking advertising spoof.