By Vini Bhatti
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” – Salman Rushdie.
Karan Johan, along with leading figures of the Indian cinema, learnt it the hard way as they became objects of severe criticism and hatred of conservatives overnight, on grounds of their participation in the AIB Roast show.
All India Bakchod (AIB) Roast show is a new form of comic genre called “insult comedy” wherein the celebrities consented on laughing at themselves. It was lifted from the West where it was started as early as 1949 and continues to be one of the most prominent sources of laughter and entertainment. This interesting concept was initiated in India by the comic group consisting of upcoming stand up comedians, film critic Rajeev Masand and immensely popular Raghu Ram, former MTV Roadies head. It was staged as a charity event in Mumbai in December 2014 but its videos which were uploaded on YouTube created a furore amidst the self-appointed guardian of cultural integrity and sanctity.
The makers were faced with intense censure from various sects of the society along with legislative action that included an FIR for participation of obscene behaviour and transmitting of material bearing sexually explicit content in electronic form. The most degrading reaction came from Ashok Pandit who launched a demeaning remark on Karan Johan on twitter.
This incident has brought the focus back on what we, as a society, are struggling with from time memorial – the status of right to expression in our “evolved” society.
The right to expression is not a right anymore. It has become a privilege that is enjoyed by some, rather a dangerous weapon that is used by the power holders of the society to silence anybody who deviate from the dominant ideology under the garb of social filtering and moral policing. Its extension to specific zones has become a mean to silence all those voices which aspires to break the shackles of stagnation, and thus enabling as harbingers of change. Be it Aamir Khan for PK or Salman Rushdie. Our levels of tolerance is diminishing with every passing day and we are thus becoming a bunch of people who are so scared to take things in a jocular vein, giving rise to “republic of hurt sentiments”
Change is inevitable but progress is optional.
The very act of condemning the wave of change which was introduced in the form of “insult comedy” showcases the rigid nature of the society and its strong resistance towards progressing and moving with the flow of time. It is time that we provide a level playing field to every player who tries to bring in new energy and colour in our efflorescent culture.
So if we laugh heartily at Kapil Sharma’s 10 pm misogynist comedy, we have no right to disregard and insult anybody else who attempts to push the boundaries of comedy ahead in their unique style. They should not be subscribed to severe judgement and moral parameters.
In the end, I would like to end my piece of expression with Ram Gopal Verma‘s thoughtful remark,
“The sheer popularity of the AIB also should be a call to the censor board to wake up smell the coffee and look out the window at a new India.”
Vini Bhati is a 2nd year English literature student at Hans Raj College, Delhi University. A passionate theatre artist and debater, she ardently believes in the power of self composed thoughts on paper as it gives her a sense of distinctiveness amidst the crowd and empowers her to think, believe and grow. Her interests range from public speaking, voracious reading and listening to vibrant music .She can be reached at email@example.com
Edited by Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist