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What’s So ‘Vulgar’ About The AIB Roast?

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By Kanika Katyal:

Disclaimer: Attention! The content of this article may seem obscene or offensive to some readers. If at any point in the article you begin to feel offended, please feel free to exit the post by simply closing your browser tab or window.

“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world was awake India shut her eyes to life and freedom. A moment came, not rare in history, when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, lost utterance.” Pandit Nehru just shuddered in his grave.

AIB roast controversy

I am referring to the infamous FIR against a team of artists – comedians, and also citizens of India. The very fact that #AIBNationalShame and #WeStandByAIBKnockout have been top trends on Twitter in India speaks volumes about how the threat to freedom of speech and expression is one of our most crucial battles.

Before stating my opinion on the debate, let’s get our basics right. First things first, the genre of insult comedy is self-explanatory – it’s humour derived from insulting another person. The genre has been quite popular internationally for decades now, started as early as 1949 by The Friars Club. So, when the All India Bakchod organized the AIB Knockout in January featuring Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh with Karan Johar as the roastmaster, the first question which came to my mind was – “are we there yet?”.

I thought we were. We were finally “saying in public what we say in parties”, as Rohan Joshi said on the show. They were not talking about something ‘alien’ or out-of-the-box. But the breakthrough can be seen in their attempt to initiate a dialogue in public on issues that we have conveniently confined to our private comfort zones. Their sword was humour, the kind we indulge in with our friends. Stand up comedy is a form of resistance. Even when some of the jokes were directed towards homosexuals, in a way they were a step towards addressing the issue of homophobia. That was their way of entering into conversation. So I see it as bringing a self-actualization principle, and of us as rising to a new conscience.

The argument is not about acquiring a feigned sense of modernity by aping something from the “western culture”. It was “different” from the usual run-off-the-mill comedy, and refreshing. Judging it within the framework of a traditional comedy is completely missing the point.

I think the medium and the demographic placement of the artists also needs to be looked at, the AIB is a YouTube channel, entitled to their opinion. There is a certain kind of creative freedom and freedom of expression that the internet not only entails but also necessitates. One cannot ignore the operative mechanism which grants one form of entertainment a primetime slot on television, while ‘the other’ resort to more permissive and liberal platforms such as the web. Usually, not essentially, it is true that thoughts which do not cohere with the dominant ideology harbour themselves on the internet. Away from state-censorship and corporate pressure, the internet becomes the platform for the audience to enjoy those pockets of entertainment.

According to a global public opinion poll conducted by the BBC World Service in 2010, majority of the users, including the Indian users, strongly agreed that the Internet had brought them more freedom, they saw it as a fundamental right, and it gave them the space to express their opinion. So, it is not as if people are repressed and that’s why they avail entertainment on the internet. That is not the principle at work here. On the contrary, it is the social filtering and moral policing, which is the most regressive and redundant form of control as manifested through the FIR.

If one looks at the entertainment presented to us in prime time TV, the hypocrisy of the system is exposed. How about our very own home-grown desi Russel Peters, our most celebrated and loved show Comedy Nights With Kapil. Isn’t the humour on the show misogynistic, sexist, racist, homophobic and insensitive to gender ? But we laugh out loud!

The dispute is really the fact that the state cannot be selective about such actions. Threat to freedom of expression is the most disgraceful thing to be happening in the world’s largest democracy. The threat to creative freedom is perhaps the worst fear of an artist.

The humour on the AIB Knockout was sharp. Could it have been done in a “less offensive” manner? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not advocating “their brand of humour”, but intent and context are two crucial aspects to be kept in mind when one discourses upon what is it that constitutes the funny. Say they were bad, scorn them. But by maintaining silence on the charges against them, you are siding with the oppressor and making them powerful.

Remember that the operative principle here is : “I do not find your joke funny, but I will defend to death your right to crack it.”

You must be to comment.
  1. Divyansh

    Didn’t wanna hurt the AIBians… But it could’ve been something more creative… Something that could be bang on… They fucking sounded like early teen boys cracking sexual jokes inside their group :/

    1. Divyansh

      Yea but loved that part where Arjun and Ranveer ne “maari thi” Raghu ki 😀

  2. Anand Ujjwal

    Ms Kanika, I totally disagree.
    1. We don’t use that language, the words used in that show. When we do, we apolozise, because that’s bad. I would never want my brother, parents , friends to say those words
    2. When i saw the show, even I was offended to the point that i stopped watching after a few minutes. Yes, it was too vulgar for me to watch
    3. This behavior is irresponsible. All famous and influential people should be careful of what message they are imparting. Can u imazine how such shows would affect the kids of India. They would think saying those words is ok.
    U may say these words at parties and in ur friemd circle, but i bet u don’t want ur kids to say the same.

    In short, I believe what happenned was wrong, and all of them must publicly apolozise or they must be sent to jail

    1. Sneha

      To put it simply, there was a warning sign. Just like how you would not use cuss words in front of certain people, they also didn’t want to use the kind of language in front of certain people. People knew what it was. It is a roast where as Kanika mentioned, the whole point is to have fun at each others expense where everybody is a consenting adult.

      And you are right. Famous people should be careful about what they say. I should file an FIR against Dinanth Batra, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Self proclaimed godmen, RSS leaders, VHP leaders and so many other people who have been saying stuff by which I AM OFFENDED

    2. kanika

      Well about the warning part.. Consider a pre teen or a teenager who has just hit puberty and he sees the warning. Do you really think a warning would make him close the tab? Wouldn’t he/she out of sheer curiosity be much more likely to see the video to judge for himself/herself what the fuss is all about? And listening to the kind of language which was spoken, he/she might wrongly assume that such language is appropriate and seeing the celebrities endorsing it he/she will certainly be under an impression that such language is entirely normal.

  3. Harsh Doshi

    See how guys at TVF come out in full support of the AIB Knockout video
    https://finebakedbread.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/is-freedom-of-speech-too-pricey-in-india/

  4. Saravana Kumar

    No doubt, as an adult, we enjoyed the show. But I don’t want to give such freedom of expression to my 5 year child so early.

  5. Sneha

    Kanika, I completely agree with you. And to reply to Mr. Anand, well, I am sure you wouldn’t say certain words in front of certain audience and the same goes for the AIB knockout. That is why the Warning sign was put. It wasn’t for anybody who wasn’t an adult and clearly you don’t seem like one. What about all the other things that certain people in this country have been saying for some months now? Shouldn’t you be offended by that? Shouldn’t you be offended by godmen talking about hoe many kids to produce or some people downplaying rape? Anyway, Kanika, amazingly written.

  6. Deva

    Insult comedy is supposed to be taken lightly. This, however, till an artist stays within genre of insult comedy. Blurring of the lines is not allowed. You cannot defame someone and then claim it was a part of insult comedy.

    Wherever they had consent of the person, it was fine. However, they had not taken consent of Farida Jalal, and this amounts to her degradation through vulgarity. Laws exist to protect dignity of people. You will be prosecuted if you mock in public a woman saying you will jerk off to her.

    Note that you are still free to say it, but you are also liable for prosecution if the woman takes an offence. This does not mean your freedom of speech is curtailed.

  7. Nidhin Mohammad

    First of all, to the people or the person who complain about AIB Knockout, I should yell “FUCK YOU!” Complain and stop Child Marriages, Poverty and Curroption first. When you stopped them all our problems, start complaing about this.
    Most probably the person who did this just wanted some publicity and to imply that he is a ‘Saint’.
    If you think you have the right to complain, they had the right to produce that show and we have the right to respond to it – either positively or negatively.
    By the way this is a good article and Kanika keep writing.

  8. Amrat Singh

    Awesome article

  9. Khogen

    Freedom of speech do not mean the freedom to speak vulgar and freedom to insult the national identity.

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