Watching the moronic Shekhar Suman rolling his eyes and cracking the worst kind of PJs in the pathetic Jay Leno-ripoff “Movers and Shakers” and wallowing in the verbal diarrhea-afflicted Sidhu’s infantile attempts at forced laughter on “The Great Indian Comedy Show” and manfully enduring the physical humor that passes off for “comedy” in Indian movies I cannot help but wonder—-what happened to the great comic tradition of India?
Where are the Birbals and the Tenali Rams and the Gopal Bhaands of today?
Afraid. Very much afraid. Because we Indians cannot take a joke. We love to laugh at other regional groups but when the butt-end-dagger of the joke is twisted into us, we are unable to take the acid. So a Bengali will laugh at a Sardar joke but would call a bandh if someone made something up based on the Bong stereotype. A Tamil would laugh at Mithun-da but feel insulted if the joke was on Rajni. A Hindu would poke fun at Islamic traditions but get all uppity once the tables were turned. [An exception: Only Sardars can take Sardar jokes in good spirit]
As is evident, we Indians have notoriously fragile egos and in such an environment, comedians always run the fear of verbal, if not physical, lynching.
Which is why we deserve the Shekhar Sumans and the Navjyot Sidhus and the Johnny Levers and their homogenized and pasteurized humor which because of its excessive sanitization is the only type that is universally acceptable. Which also explains its abysmal quality.
However this kind of irrational sensitivity is not present in other cultures. Take the Americans for example. Every night the way Jay Leno savages celebrities and politicians, one shudders to think what would have happened to the bloated egos in India if even a tenth of this was said on Prime Time Desi TV. Shiv Sainiks would have been ransacking NBC, Yadavs would have been burning trains in Bihar, Bengalis would have started a new political party, Tamils would have been railing against Aryan conspiracies, Amitabh Bachchan would have stopped giving interviews and in general life, as we know, would come to a stop.
Consider this. Laura Bush stands next to her husband during the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and delivers a comic knock out punch to George W Bush making fun of his inability to pronounce “nuclear”, his poor reading habits and even his bedtime activities. Can you imagine this in India?
“Ooh there you go again”, says future anonymous commenter “bootlicking the West.”
I never get this logic. What is the problem in imbibing the good things of the West—their rationality, their work culture and their sense of humor?
Remember also that we were not always as humor-challenged as we are now—-the Upanishads make fun of priests and how rituals are their means of ensuring a cushy financial future. In Bengali literature, no doubt inspired by the anthropomorphic traditions of the Bhakti cult, Vedic Gods acquired flawed human forms which made them endearing, but judged by today’s standards , blasphemous bastardizations of their original Vedic images.
Shiva is depicted as a good-hearted, loyal but forgetful and poor man-of-the-house (funnily the definition of an ideal husband ), Parvati/Durga as the harried housewife trying to make ends meet on the slender pickings of her beggar better half, Nandi and Bhringi are Shiva’s no-good pals/underlings, Kartik is the meterosexual, airhead dandy who goes about wooing women (the Bengali word for meterosexual is “Kartik thakur”) , Ganesh is the pot-bellied genius geek, Saraswati the musically-inclined learned but serious sister and Laxmi who loves money and the good life. Much of 15th-16th century literature talks about their family life and let me tell you it is not charitable to what Bhappi Lahiri would call their “imeej”.
However, it is heartwarming and funny in a way Shekhar Suman can never be and Bal Thackeray can never accept.
As for me, I endeavor to be funny. My humor often is targeted at specific individuals and I know I can get away with it because I am a cowardly blogger who sits an ocean apart from India and , face it, not many people read my blog. If I came on DD Bangla (DD7) and made fun of Mithun-da or the “Gimme Red” CPM bhailog or Mortal Kombat Mamata, I would be in deep shit.
However even here, I am not immune to brickbats. As someone commented, people love my Mithun rantings only because I am a Bengali making fun of another Bengali. If I do the same treatment to Rajanikant or Rahul Dravid would I still be “as funny” ? I would suppose not.
And woe betide me, if like Crystal Blur , I make fun of our glorious epics (which I have done by the way—only not so “in-your-face” as her). I was amazed to see reactions to it on the lines of “an attack on Hindusim” and “making a sex comedy out of a revered epic”. Gawd !
For starters, it is this intolerance and taking oneself too seriously which is an “attack on Hinduism”. So just give it a break. And Mahabharata, as we all know, is a highly sexed-up, amped up story which should be taken for what it is—a wondrous fairy tale encompassing all emotions known to man (including lust) and *not* a sanitized sacred text which cannot be made fun of or re-interpreted.
So can Hindu sensibility never be hurt? Of course it can. Is all art innocent? No it is not.
This is where we should use our judgment and our intellect and recognize the difference between humor and actual attempts to hurt us—else if we club everything together, we lose focus and end up looking like hypersensitive fools.
You want a real example of where Hindusim was attacked. The movie “Fire”—a vulgar, detestable movie despite the fact that it was about my favorite subject in the world—lesbians.
What was the need to name the protagonists as Radha and Sita? There was no humor there. Why was the Sanyasi shown to be suffering from enlarged testicles? No other motive than to show disrespect—again no humor, no contribution to the plot. And the more-than-subtle innuendo that it is Hinduism that oppresses women with the last scene hinting at the two women adopting a different religion—was that necessary in the context of what the movie supposedly was about?
Another example. Why are images of Hindu gods put on foot-wear or lingerie? Why not Jesus Christ’s? Why not Muhammed’s? Because people know they can get away with denigrating Hindu Gods in Europe/US. Putting Christ would lose them their markets, Muhammed their heads.
And another. The monstrosity that passes of as an introduction to Hinduism in California text books:
The monkey king Hanuman loved Rama so much that it is said that he is present every time the Ramayana is told. So look aroundâ€”see any monkeys
Again no humor here.
And another. The US president celebrates Islamic festivals in the White House but when it comes to Diwali it is given a miss. Official reason: “Hinduism is religion-specific and not country-specific”….hello ? Does Id/Christmas/Hanukkah sound country-specific?
These above are valid issues— however not things for which we should be engaging in violence or disruption. Doing so would go against the grain of the very culture we claim to be so sensitive about. Of course that does not mean we should not protest—obviously we should but in a civil fashion.
It is undeniable that the people who have critiqued Crytal Blur are well within their rights to do so as long as they don’t engage in Shiv Sainik behavior–which they haven’t. And they do have the right to be hurt and vent their feelings—just as I have my right to think that they have gone over-the-top. I genuinely believe that Crystal Blur’s Mahabharata isnt just a juxtaposition of naughty words—there is genuine humor there…..and the motive isnt just to shock for the sake of doing so. I also don’t find any disrespect to Hinduism…. as of yet.
But the more important thing to consider is what would happen if what Crystal Blur has written becomes really really popular (and I wish it does not for her sake) in India. Then it surely does have the potential to make people get out on the streets, frothing at the mouth and running around in a frenzy. They don’t need to know what a blog is or what English is, someone just needs to tell them that Hindus/backward castes/Muslims/ are under attack and they will all be running around like programmed orang-otangs.
And it is precisely this kind of knee-jerk reaction for which comedians in India, at least the ones who are in the popular media, have to stay on the straight and narrow path.
Correction. There was one person who tried to do something different—someone who was genuinely funny and whose humor had teeth. His name was Sajid Khan and his “Kahene Main Kya Harj Hain” (Sony) was one of the funniest half hours on Indian TV. Ever.
But his comedy was, by Indian standards, too offensive and too biting. (I remember he once did a rather caustic take-off on Dilip Kumar on Zee Cinema–the program was “Ikke Pe Ikka” possibly and soon there were angry outraged mails on the writeback section in Zee saying that one of the doyens of Indian movies has been insulted and Zee should do something about it) . Tragically yanked from prime time and never given his due because his humor was too “out there” and thus unable to command a following like Shekhar Suman (and his TRP), Sajid today plies his trade on “Saab TV” which can honestly be said to represent the bottom of the Indian television channel foodchain. And also does a guest apperance or two on “The Great Indian Comedy Show” as a glorified extra while the supremely untalented Shekhar Suman hosts the jamboree.
However it still must be said that it was prudent on the part of Sajid to have only made fun of film stars. If he had made fun of Sonia Gandhi’s Hindi or lesbian Indian politicians or Vajpayee’s “Thodi Si Jo Pee Li Hain” or Mayawati’s “Salaam Namaste” lifestyle or LPY’s chamiya dance with Kholkarni or horny nude sadhus then he would have been six feet under in no time.
Compared to that fate, I am sure he prefers Saab TV.
And so do we.
[Check out this similarly themed post from Gaurav]