The attack on tolerance

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:36 pm IST

Published - February 05, 2015 04:51 pm IST

While social networks trended with support for AIB Knockout (with multiple hashtags #AIBRoast #AIB Knockout #IamwithAIB #NoCountryforFunnyMen #TVFReactstoAIB), there were also groups that felt vindicated after comedy collective All India Bakchod pulled down the videos (after trending #AIB National Shame) after getting over eight million views (with the number of Likes outnumbering Dislikes in a ratio of ten is to one).

As minorities, fringe groups joined the right wing groups in protesting the language, profanity and nature of insults as distasteful and against Indian culture, the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis came under pressure to declare that action would be taken if the roast is found to be vulgar. That’s as ridiculous as stating that action would be taken if pornography is found to contain sex.

Given that there is no precedent for a roast to reach out on an audience so huge and diverse, there seems to be very little awareness on what exact a roast is. You may already be aware that roast is a form of insult comedy where the idea is to make offensive jokes in the spirit of humour, no holds barred, irrespective of political correctness.

What is lesser known is the fact that roast is a subversive form of tolerance.

It reflects not on the person making the joke but tells us more about the people taking the joke and their ability to laugh at themselves. It is the ultimate test of tolerance and self-deprecation.

More importantly, it is the kind of banter and abuse they have consented to be a part of as an extension of frat house humour. This was not a show forced upon people or the audience who had no idea what they were in for. In fact, people who wanted to see this form of insult comedy paid a premium in December when the show went live, after getting all the requisite clearances for performance.

While the police try to investigate the discrepancies in the script submitted, it is important to the understand the nature of a roast – it is highly improvised and reactive.

It is a conversation that goes beyond the script just like a play staged goes beyond the script when the floor opens up to audience interaction with questions and answers. Every public performance is bound to start a conversation which the State has no right to control.

So when Ranveer Singh goes on all fours in front of Karan Johar propositioning him during the show in jest, improvising with the flow, the filmmaker has every right to react to that joke with another joke (The filmmaker said: That’s my position, Ranveer). This wasn’t part of the script. It just happened because it was a live conversation subject to improvisation.

The AIB Roast needs defence especially because the members of the comedy collective have under pressure gone silent for two reasons. Legal advice given the slew of objections and to ensure that they don’t put their celebrity guests into any further trouble in this climate of intolerance (the stars did this to help charity projects and generated Rs.40 lakhs).

The Comedy Central network in the US does a roast quite regularly and celebrities need to plead with them to be roasted because it’s considered an honour. Charlie Sheen celebrated his ouster from Two and a Half Men with a roast. James Franco celebrated his failure as an Oscar host by laughing at himself and called it his “Experimental Tuxedo Sleep Art”. Justin Bieber who has been pleading with Comedy Central for years to roast him finally got the nod after being colourful enough to deserve a roast this year.

Unfortunately in India, the form of comedy that promotes tolerance through irreverence and political incorrectness is being interpreted as a comedy of offence by self-proclaimed moral police.

Irrespective of stray groups taking offence, the State’s desire to monitor, scan and control every conversation happening in a civil society only strengthens the biggest fears the moderates and liberals have of the Narendra Modi led right wing government.

It reiterates the idea that the State endorses intolerance.

It will be democracy’s biggest shame if a bunch of comedians are pulled up for making jokes on a bunch of people who were willing to tolerate, just to entertain another bunch of people who chose to watch it, out of their own free will.

As roastmaster Karan Johar tweeted: “Not your cup of tea? Don’t drink it!!!”

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