The ‘dark’ side of Indian humour

Comedian Abish Mathew’s Twitter timeline reads: “If I made my jokes any cleaner, I’d have to sell them as hand sanitizer!”

Jokes aren’t funny anymore, especially if in India. You never know who or what might take offence to a droll reference. The Right to Freedom of expression is the most used, abused and misused right in India today (well, maybe, second only to the sedition law). Most popular comedians across the country have been embroiled in controversies involving their audiences or guests not finding the jokes ‘funny’. Funny is a funny term, what one may find funny the other may find offensive. So much so, that one can be sued for making a comment that did not amuse the other.

Recently the TV show ‘Comedy Nights Bachao Taaza’ had the team of ‘Parched’ as guests on their show. Director Leena Yadav, along with actors Tannishtha Chatterjee and Radhika Apte, appeared on the comedy show to be ‘roasted’. The purpose of the show is to roast, humour and offend the guests. However, in this case, the jokes went too far and resulted in an upset Tannishtha Chatterjee walking out. The anchors joked about her dark complexion. This obviously did not go down too well with Chatterjee. In her open letter to the channel, she revealed that she felt bullied and that the jokes were offensive.

Discrimination based on skin colour is disgusting. The fact that fairness cream businesses are doing so well in India shows people’s obsession with becoming fair. The issue is not a laughing matter, and if anyone ever experiences this, it should be treated in all seriousness.

But. Yes, there is a ‘but’. The actor had gone on a comedy show; she was informed about the nature of the show. It was a roast. The question is where to draw the line. India is a land of diverse cultures and languages, and this becomes the canvas for most comedians.

During a Bollywood films award show, the anchor had mocked Deepika Padukone’s height. The actor was on stage to collect her award, when the anchor made the comment. Everyone laughed and Deepika Padukone took it in her stride. On ‘Comedy Nights Bachao Taaza’, one of the hosts – Bharti – is overweight and her weight is the butt of many gags. She herself cracks jokes on being fat.

While one cannot expect everyone to develop a thick skin, it should be understood that if you are voluntarily coming on a show to be “roasted” then don’t expect to be treated kindly, be a sport and laugh it off.
Television shows have to abide by clear laws. The content they showcase is the final product after a lot of filtering. Joking on delicate issues like religion, politics or sex is prohibited. So channels ensure that their shows do not cross certain boundaries. While the jokes they made on skin colour were not amusing, there is a certain audience that probably does enjoy the show and that is the reason the show is still on.

It all comes down to personal choice. The decision is in your hands. The show has been on for months. The content was on TV for all to see. It is a known fact that celebs like Lisa Haydon, Hrithik Roshan, Jacqueline Fernandez have boycotted the show. The presenters took a dig at the stars’ personal lives, which offended the celebs. So, yes, Tannishtha Chatterjee had a choice. And if she chose to appear on the show, she should’ve taken the jokes in the spirit of a roast.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently stated, “These days humour can be a risky thing.” Crack a joke on a cow and we have an army of ‘Gau Rakshaks’ to attack you, post a funny tweet and get jacked by moral policing.
One has the right to be offended, but equally one also has the right to offend, while remaining within the parameters of law. A roast is where certain boundaries are crossed and if you are not ready to take the heat you might as well not enter the kitchen.