6 Times Tanmay Bhat Broke Stereotypes And Forced Us Out Of Our Comfort Zones

Posted on October 28, 2016 in Staff Picks

By Rohini Banerjee:

The comedy scene in India has been going through somewhat of a transitional phase. While on the one hand, you have mainstream television comedy by the likes of Kapil Sharma – who continue to rely on sexist, transphobic and homophobic humour, the stand-up and sketch comedy scene has been evolving and expanding to include subversive voices, and dealing with important social issues through satire and other forms of humour. Comedy collectives like that of All India Bakchod is playing an important role in reinventing the landscape of the genre, by experimenting with various forms of satire and by taking on issues ranging from rape culture to Section 377 to net neutrality.

But it is co-founder Tanmay Bhat who has proven time and again that he’s a comic who doesn’t shy away from asking the hard-hitting questions and raising the important issues. Apart from his work with AIB, Bhat has used his prominent social media presence to constantly address subjects of social and political significance – from gender, violence, to freedom of speech. Though he has faced his fair share of controversy – being slapped a legal notice for a Snapchat video earlier this year, and being constantly trolled on social media for his views on political issues – Bhat continues to be a strong and influential voice of dissent, one that the youth is actually paying attention to. Here are a few instances where he raised his voice, and did so brilliantly:

When He Spoke Up For Net Neutrality

In early 2015, when the debate on net neutrality in India was at its peak and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was about to pass regulations which would essentially benefit big telecom companies and hurt smaller initiatives (giving certain online platforms an edge over the others), Tanmay Bhat (along with AIB) came out guns blazing, in full support of the cause for net neutrality. Through a series of YouTube videos, they spread awareness about what net neutrality actually means, and why the curbing of it would change the face of the Indian internet; and most importantly, they kickstarted a campaign along with savetheinternet.in (now the Internet Freedom Foundation) to send petitions to TRAI which would persuade them against passing these harmful regulations. Over 1 million Indian citizens joined in the campaign, as a result of which TRAI agreed to a public consultation on the issue.

When He Had Some Important Lessons To Impart About Feminism

In an extensive series of videos, Bhat explored a subject that many Indian men misunderstand or shy away from – feminism. He took apart all the stereotypes associated with the term, unpacked the criticism against it, and explained that feminism ultimately means equal rights for all genders, and shouldn’t be something that people are reluctant to identify as. While his breakdown of feminism was simplistic, not entirely intersectional (he still spoke about gender in binary terms), and often veered into the territory of mansplaining, it was still an important step forward because it made a lot of people take notice of these concepts and engage with them (something that is sorely needed in a country like ours).

Feminism 1/3

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Feminism 2/3

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Feminism 3/3

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

When He Used Snapchat To Talk About The Friend Zone And The Male Ego

The platform that Bhat has truly made his own and used to create impact is Snapchat. He takes on various hilarious personas using the filters the app provides, but the one that’s most powerful and significant is something he calls ‘The Humble Bee’. Taking on the voice and mannerisms of a honeybee (and using allegories around the same), Bhat addresses some important feminist issues. In a series of videos, he imparted some important messages about the male ego, how it’s understanding of consent is flawed and reeks of entitlement and how men get offended by the ‘friendzone’, which in itself is a problematic term because it assumes male ownership of female bodies. These videos are equal parts funny and important.

Humble Bee chronicles episode 2, part 1 – follow me on snapchat for more at thetanmay

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Humble Bee episode 2, part 2

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

…And Used It To Talk About Bullying And Harassment

Using various allegories, Bhat used his Snapchat bee persona to talk about bullies and haters (perhaps drawing from personal experiences of being harassed by online trolls). He talks about how these people spread negativity and violence because they themselves are insecure, which is why they deliberately target the ‘weaker ones’. “They hate you because they secretly love you,” he concludes, and then encourages the ‘bee’ facing all the bullying to not be deterred by such hate. It’s an important message not just in the context of online harassment, but real world bullying as well.

#BeeYourself (Follow my snapchat for more – ID: thetanmay)

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

#BeeYourself part 2 (Snapchat ID thetanmay)

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

And Used Snapchat Again To Talk About Workplace Sexism

Bhat’s Snapchat Bee has pretty much become his most important mouthpiece for bringing up issues. In another set of videos, Bhat uses allegories again to drop some important truth bombs about workplace sexism. He talks about the pay gap, about tone policing, about how women often have to denigrate themselves to be taken seriously in positions of authority in the workplace, about insecure male subordinates who cannot handle female success and so on and so forth. The message in the end is an overwhelmingly positive one. He encourages the bee in question (the one facing gender-based discrimination in the workplace) to shatter the glass ceiling and not pay attention to any and all of sexist criticism. The fact that these videos have been shared widely, and have reached a large audience is a huge leap forward because of how prevalent these issues are, and how much awareness we need about them.

Part 2/4 – watch all four parts!

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Part 3/4 – check out the first two parts!

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Part 4/4 – check out the first three!

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

When He Made These Important Observations About The Indo-Pak Conflict

The recent Uri Attacks have left public opinion divided – some wanting retaliation through war, others wanting peace and condemning army violence. As debates about whether or not India and Pakistan should go to war continue, Bhat had some important observations to make about how innocuously we have internalised the vocabulary of anti-Pak violence. On a Twitter thread, he recounts an experience from his school debate, where the topic was that of an India-Pakistan conflict, and how, in it, his opponent (a mere school kid) had spouted arguments which casually suggested the inevitability of war. Considering the current political climate, it goes on to show how these sentiments of war and violence have been conditioned into us deeply, and how that can be extremely dangerous.

Bhat is slowly emerging as a voice that’s truly reinventing comedy in India and turning it into the kind of social and political commentary that is sorely required. While he isn’t entirely unproblematic, he’s still a strong and influential figure who is addressing the issues that need addressing, and actually reaching out to people and trying to change mindsets.

Listen to Tanmay Bhat talk about using comedy for social change at YKA’s flagship event, CONVERGE, on November 12.