After sifting through tens of web pages saved in my Saved Links folder on the fiasco that has made much of India ‘snap’, deferring my judgment till I had consulted the who’s who of Bollywood (through erratically curated articles, unfortunately I don’t have a Twitter that allows me to shout nonsense at absolutely anyone I fancy and weigh in my opinions on whatever catches the same), herewith I present my singular, well-reasoned-out verdict:
Indians have too much of free time.
What is it that makes public outrage so blind to certain issues and rankle our voices for something so fleeting as a Snapchat video? The permanence of the effect of Snapchat content is laughable: built mainly for teenagers wanting a temporary space to express wanton desires a.k.a. sexting and not leave embarrassing relics lying around cyberspace, and which I personally used to react with a friend over Phanfiction, Snapchat has become a medium for celebrities to connect with their fans by showcasing random moments from their day and, like Tanmay Bhat, display random caricatures that would fade into irrelevance had not more than half the country’s (apparently) sensible, literate, web-connected audience erupted into spluttering belligerence over it.
India’s virtual territory, thereon, has been punctuated by hissy fits ranging from the nation’s #BestComicActor to Celina Jaitley and Aaditya Thackeray. Several voices rose in indignation, some from the ashes of their mediocre films that have been funded by the masses, solely slobbering at the skin show in a plot-less rut.
The backlash is certainly not unfounded – if one finds humour crude, one is entitled to label it in bad taste – but have we forgotten how crude some of our Censor Board-approved movies are? Say, Grand Masti, that had phallic objects as one of the main characters on the poster, and ran on innuendos as screenplay? What is hilarious and completely expected from today’s trend of mass outrage is the intense focus on a stupid video meant to be taken with a pinch of salt, and heavy sedatives for those okay with politically-motivated violence but enraged at a “legend” shown saying the word “fuck” – while a man being nearly lynched by goons in Rajasthan for transporting cows in the names of conflicting religions – is not a matter of national concern.
After all, why should we?
Let me give you an example of what feminism has been touted to be, as of now. Of course, if we’re focusing on “lighter” themes like body positivity, what the term “real woman” means, fighting against caste and colour discrimination among and towards women, raising awareness about the naturalness of menstruation and trying to erase the taboo starting from urban areas to the rural grassroots, instead of “focusing” on the “real” issues like dowry, caste violence, gender-motivated violence, female genital mutilation, acid attacks – why can’t the country, too, end its vigil on the real issues and start talking about how two legends – who are happy to remain away from the spotlight – have been insulted, ‘degraded morally’ (because saying “fuck you” in a stupid crass video made for laughs is similar to, I don’t know, hate speech, communal violence, the death of a civilization)?
We keep fighting over labels: who is a “feminazi”, who is a “feminist”, whether feminism means to equate ourselves with men or be men, because the IQ of a country whose citizen invented “zero” is also unfortunately threateningly close to the same. And in this process we fail to note that an animal trader was stripped naked and lynched – again, stripped, hit repeatedly with sticks by physically strong, able men on a hot summer day in Chhoti Sadri, Rajasthan, who were reportedly Bajrang Dal activists and cow protection “vigilante” group Gau Raksha Samiti, all for what? For transporting cows – I repeat, he was an animal trader. It is perhaps, the Gita itself, that advocates heartfelt commitment to one’s job without thinking of the consequences. And I now say, as a Muslim animal trader, he should have known about the rewards his commitment to his job would have brought him and refused to continue his livelihood, instead of following human philosophy.
As a country we have failed, time and again, to prioritise civil violence, rape, the importance of gender sensitization and sex education; in a country where harassment is seen as love and coercion is seen as dedication, but where display of affection is seen as the seeds of immorality, it’s only but natural that a video that is a conversation between two unlikely people who’d never be so in reality, enacted by ONE person as a nonsensical mono-act, would be seen as fomenting bad taste in India: where Kya Super Kool Hai Hum and Housefull 3 gets more coverage, and individual interviews, than The Lunchbox and Margarita With A Straw. I’m not saying that arthouse is the way to go, but if the MNS thinks Tanmay Bhat’s video, and AIB’s brand of comedy are the seeds of poor choice, it’s a good thing they haven’t seen the amount of lechery, female objectification as a specific plotline, suggestive movement in the place of actual rhythmic dance etc. that gets passed as mainstream culture.
Because what else do you expect from a country that has no actual connection with what they profess as the divine, but worship sports icons and singers as gods? As if anything could remove them from the pedestals we have created for them, beyond the scope of humour, because that would show them as actual humans, when actual scams, hit-and-run cases, illegal possession of arms, cannot touch them?
Let’s get this straight: the video was funny. It was tasteless at certain points, but we all laughed when Karan Johar cracked a joke at the expense of Ranvir Singh and Deepika Padukone: “the last good thing Ranveer was in was Deepika Padukone”. There are far more explicit, ridiculously lewd content made with the full knowledge of every actor involved, but fully allowed by the Censor Board, while scenes tentatively addressed as “bathtub scenes” and “bedroom scenes” are censored like India is a misleading name for a place consisting mainly of monasteries.
Instead, one silly video is the reason for MNS chief Raj Thackeray filing an FIR and advocating the need for violence: “these people should be caught on the road and beaten up. We will protest and he won’t be able to come out on the road.” Let’s just conveniently forget how droughts in Maharashtra had led to countless farmer suicides, instead let’s waste our resources on getting a case lodged against a comedian whose art falls under a creative license, and whose video wouldn’t even have significantly contributed to India’s popular culture history. I laugh at how important the video seems in retrospect, because years later, students of literary and culture criticism will be studying our brand of intolerance, for the furore caused, enough to be chronicled even by the NY Times, will be a symbol of how misplaced our priorities are.
Comedy should be recognized as a free street for satire and critique. You know intolerance is reaching an all-time peak when even Arnab Goswami can explain the fleeting influence of Snapchat and how far the country has inflamed, for no reason, in alleging disrespect to caricatures of two people, nowhere near reality, unless they’re currently watching Game of Thrones Season 6.
- Save your outrage.
- It’s been a week.
- Satire isn’t pointed unless you’re guilty.
- Snapchat is stupid anyway.
- AIB’s name makes real, MAD sense now.
Written by: Sananda Gopalakrishnan