Bong On the Beeb

Yesterday I was invited to be one of the panellists on BBC’s “World Have Your Say” on a show about the Big Brother and the Gandhi Youtube controversy.(If you want to listen to the program, look at the right hand sidebar of this page, find the “Listen Again” tab and click on the Thursday link. The audio file will be there only till next Thursday i.e. January 25, 2007).

Somehow the show, which started of as a discussion on whether the “racism” shown towards Shilpa Shetty on Big Brother was simply a reflection of the culture of intolerance in Britain, soon became almost all about how racist Indians were, about India’s untouchability problem and all the other standard chestnuts. One caller said ” This experience will sensitise Shilpa Shetty to the plight of the untouchables in India and she can go back and act as an ambassador for them” and another simply: “India is the most racist country in the world”. [This incidentally was a charge that I was asked to answer.]

As a matter of fact, I was waiting for someone to invoke Gujrat and Narendra Modi just like Farah Baria of the Indian Express does in a piece that starts out with the Big Brother Controversy but ultimately winds down the well-travelled road to the well-worn “Mea Culpa” conclusion.

The most fun was when Gautamh Prasad, the man who dressed up as Mahatma Gandhi and did a strip-tease, came on the show and made an attempt to justify what he did. I asked him whether he would be able to show Martin Luther King stripping and get the same laughs as he got for his Gandhi act. Of course, we both knew the answer and Mr. Prasad’s reply was “he just had not thought of an act with Martin Luther King” (of course he has not. Because it would be suicide to do that in US)

Unfortunately, BBC did not give me a chance to come back at him with “What was it about showing Gandhi stripping that’s funny as opposed to say showing King? Why among all people did you select Gandhi for a stripper act?” which was just as well as the show’s tone was not an aggressive one at all and I would have ended up sounding like Bill O’Reilly.

In all, an interesting experience.

40 thoughts on “Bong On the Beeb

  1. Very Interesting..
    I would like to ask some questions to that person also….

    If he would dance like M.L.K they would strip his skin…
    Very bad for an indian to behave like that….

  2. Did BBC not give you a chance to ask those questions because they could have pre-empted where it was headed or they ran out of time? Your experience about racism very closely matches a friend of mine who was on the show a couple of years back on farmer suicides, which started off with farmers and quickly dissovled into Indians-are-the-most-racist dialogue.


  3. Chalo maan lo ki India is the most racist and whatever else country in the world. Does that imply that it is more pardonable if you racially discriminate an Indian citizen, compared to citizens of countries where racial discrimination is less prevalant? Gaah..

    And about this particular episode of so called racial discrimination, a lot of it is just looking for a reason to get sympathy..mama.. I’m a victim.. pity me!

    I hope you had a good time on the show. Was it on TV too? If yes, then pls upload a link to the video

  4. Wow, what an honour! Congratulations Arnab!

  5. how did the BBC know about you? was it through this blog? congrats!…

    (was the experience worth congratulating or not as expected?)
    i’m a loyal die-hard fan of the BBC.. would like to know your views.

  6. Great going Greatbong, congrats! i’m as curious as sang.froid is..

  7. Of course, ‘Indians are the most racist people in the world’ is highly exaggerated. Everyone is a wee bit racist and just depends on the circumstances.

    BTW I don’t necessary agree with your MLK analogy. All censorship I believe is personal. For e.g. in Bombay no one not even Shekhar Suman in his show, Movers and Shakers would make fun of Bal Thackeray but he did poke fun at Lalu a lot. That wouldn’t be possible in Patna. So the choice of person you make fun of is of course contextual. Perhaps the lack of fear of retribution played a part but that shouldn’t be a condition otherwise we wouldn’t have any comedy at all.

  8. There seemed to be an apologist attitude from the indian panelists saying “look we’ve not figured it out and so we can’t blame them (the british) for acting so.”

    It was sad to see that attitude when people should have been attacking the issue of how brown folks are percieved the world over and how it was on display during the show.

  9. Great question for Gautham-ass-Prasad – Bong. I loved that and I agree with you and disagree with Patrix; I think the the MLK analogy is quite correct. MLK is respected in the same way by the black community (primarily) as Gandhi is respected in India. Comparing Bal Thakerey and Laloo is a competely different issue. Even Pat Robertson or Jesse Jackson can’t be ridiculed in the SAME manner that the politicians are ridiculed on Jon Stewart or Colbert Report.

    Gautham Prasad would be skinned alive by the blacks as well as the whites if he did something like that when it comes to MLK.

    It is interesting that the program veered away from the main issue in question and started talking about racism in India. Regardless of whether that is true or not, how does that justify what happened to Shilpa. I’ve had a few friends who travelled to UK and they’ve told me that Canada is much much better than the UK when it comes to racism.

    I just talked to a Jamaican in my office who thinks that America represents everything that is free and fair and how a society should be. He has this whole idea of India as being the same as Saudi Arabia with barbaric laws and all. When I told him about this Gandhi video, whom he reveres, and asked him how something like that would be treated in America if the person in question was MLK, he was at a loss for words.

  10. I can understand the furore against Gandhi. But Shilpa has no reason to cry foul. She has entered the game and should have done homework about what to expect. End of the day, it’s all about the money for her. If she cannot handle it, leave. About th larger picture of racial discrimination, it;s not started yesterday and while this may have helped bring it into the spotlight, fact remains that it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Rather than shutting the show down (or sponsors pulling out), there is a case for finding ways to stop it. Of course, that’s easier said than done…

  11. Great Bong…I am a fan of urs and have been reading ur postings for quite sometime. It is really a great honor being invited to BBc. Congrats Bondhu!!

  12. GB,

    Well congrats (even though I can’t hear the damn thing lacking plugins and all).

    Now I have mixed thoughts about it. Of course it is bit of stretch to call India most racist country*, but yes there is a lot of prejudice going around.What troubles me is how action of some individual (Goody in this case) is extrapolated to indict whole British society. No doubt there must be some real bigots, but why tarnish good decent British with it.

    * For the last time will someone explain how caste based oppression, as bad as it is, racism.

  13. Thanks for doing this. I am getting so irritating this self flagellating, look we are castist-communal-sexist-too-so-its-ok-to-bash-up-any-desi-abroad-in-fact-call-me-a-paki-burn-down-my house-s0-that-i-can-feel-less-guilty-about-oppressing-thousands-of-my-countrymen-attitude.

    Indians, like Blacks, Jews and Latinos have their own prejudices. In fact the only think that brought the Hamas leadership and the Jewish Right in Israel was a decision to oppose the Jerusalem pride parade! But how does the fact that some groups are racist take away from racism/discrimination that they feel.

    Germain Greer’s uninformed (she decided Shetty was a tamil), hysterical and obnoxious article in the Guardian was painful to read.,,1992029,00.html

    The only think I am grateful to Shilpa for, is kicking Ash of the front pages. Go Baby Go!

  14. I am finding all this judgmentalism ridiculous at best. Yes, Shilpa did it for the money. Yes, she went to the show with her own free willl but does that mean she should put up with any abuse? Today it is the racist rants, tomorrow it might come to fisticuffs, even then she should take it just because she chose to go on show. And I don’t understand what difference does it make to you or me whether she did it for money or not. It is becoming rather fashionable to criticise India n Indians by people who are usually living outside india while they fail to see all the hypocrisy in the country they are living in.

  15. Oi, so who decides which celebrity is game for making fun of? Why is Gandhi off-limits but Lalu or Bal Thackeray aren’t?

  16. I am really surprised that you are comparing Gandhi to Laloo or Thackeray. Its the same as comparing Bush to MLK. Do you think that is a fair comparison?

  17. Shilpa’s style was really unbearable. She has an irritating attitude. Methinks if she was brought up in a hostel, things would have been different. Her non-verbal stuff irks me even more. Just follow the whole sequence – where she complains (1:18) about the ‘chicken stock cubes’ –

    Danielle’s comments – ‘she is a dog’ (00:35)

    made me think twice. Reference to dogs isn’t new. Didn’t Churchill say the same thing, albeit in a different context? (scroll up a few lines)

    I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

  18. BBC Interview- Another feather in the cap for India’s best blogger. Congrats GB.

    @YOURFAN- Your views on the interview?

  19. Oi, I am arguing about the principle of ‘making fun’ irrespective of individuals because respect of individuals can be subjective. We may revere Gandhi and MLK but there are some people who may worship Thackeray and Lalu. Is their respect somehow lesser than ours?

    I may disagree with people making fun of Gandhi or MLK but that doesn’t take away anyone’s right to do so. Of course, the consequences as long as they are legal are the responsibility of the person making fun.

    GB, apologies for hogging your comment box.

  20. Kudos.

    Those films you nominated – are they for real? Where can I get them?


  21. Great to hear you speak, GB. I am sure that you not being allowed to speak for long enough on such a debate is similar to showing you a delicious fishcurry and then giving you a teaspoon full of gravy. 🙂

  22. Sriram Venkitachalam January 21, 2007 — 11:06 pm

    why isn’t “whites”, “gore log” racist?

  23. @Tarzan: Whether they would strip his skin is not known for certain, but he definitely would be tarred with the “racist” brush. However for Gandhi, it’s good fun.

    @Suyog: I do not know why they never got back with me with anything I would have to say in reply. Maybe it was my inexperience but I purposefully kept my replies short and to-the-point while many others kept rambling on. Otherwise I could have squeezed a whole lot more in.

    @S: Exactly.

    @Sudipta: Thank you.

    @Sang.Froid and Giri: Yes it was through my blog. If its my opinion about BBC you want, BBC definitely has its own biases and I suppose I wont be the first person to say it. However compared to the US news media whose interests about the world stop outside the confines of US and Europe and to wherever there is oil, BBC is much much more global in its outlook and I admire them for it.

    @Patrix: Emm I am not sure I got your point. If you like to claim the moral high ground as Mr. Prasad does, then you have to be an equal opportunities offender. Else you have to accept that you did a Gandhi skit because it would go down well with the crowd and did not do the MLK skit because it would not. And yes that does sound like you are an opportunist who doesnt mind pandering to racism for a few bucks.

    @Footballnath: Well somehow if you do not take the “apologist”‘s stance, you are a jingoist.

    @Oi: Yes indeed.

    @Aditya: Well its all been resolved now. Ms.Shetty has realized that its in her best interests to forgive and forget…else the show may get cancelled and she may lose out on her turkey.

    @Aby: Thanks

    @Gaurav: Indeed. That’s exactly the point I made that you cannot generalize this to “whole of Brittain is racist”. That would be the same kind of conclusion Western media draws about India being turn asunder by race and religion.

    @Red: Yaa but Ash will be back. She sure will.

    @NaiveRealist: It is obvious that racism was merely the vehicle these people took to express their irritation at Ms. Shetty.

    @yourfan2: Thanks.

    @JAP: Thanks. The movies mentioned in my previous posts I saw all on the Net. Free Entry is available “free” on Google Video in case you are interested. The rest I paid to see on Bollygrounds.

    @Amit:Yep. There was much I still had to say.Again I was very conscious of sounding like a mice-hog.

    @Sriram: Depend on the context. “Blacks” isnt racist…unless you use it in an improper context. Some words like “negro” have been used so often in the negative sense that it is universally considered to be racist. But then again, there is the United Negro College Fund ! Context again.

  24. Yourfan writes:
    @GB:Congratulations! It seems BBC has taken the path of preference for Indian ness with respect to ‘talks’ which are long and running in a loop. That is why I think they didn’t get back to you with your crisp replies. I don’t think it was inexperience as you mentioned because one who writes so fluently doesn’t need more experience to answer a few questions. I think you can write to BBC about this or forward our comments to them or write your views relating crispness in thought expression vs long boring talks in your blog (suggesting again? – it seems I never learn!)

    As for views regarding Gautamh Prasad’s antics – it is a can of worms. The only thing that most people who have voices in this world care about is their skin – sad but that is true. GP wouldn’t dare to do anything which is provocative in the country where he lives. Same is true about M.F.Hussain, Tasleema Nasreen and others. Of course it is not easy to draw a line between freedom of expression and infringing on other’s belief. I am positively against death threats and all that. I am all for freedom of expressions.But at the same time other people’s sentiments are not to be sacrificed in the name of freedom of expressions or art or comedy or entertainment. If some loony in his own private space says some thing outlandish then no body pays attention. But if it is a public figure or someone who has the access to the public through whatever means including video on the net then he should be held accountable for his ‘action’. There should be some sort of censorship. The best censorship would be public protest like the one which is being faced by Goody of Big Brother – she is eating her humble pie now because she realizes that she is been hurt where it matters the second most in life – the source of her future income! Of course that can’t be done to Prasad but the protests will teach him that his antics are not liked (to put it mildly).

  25. oh crap! 😀 just saw ur new banner ‘You Better Believe Us’
    (the one with salman khan and jumanji.) hahahaha

  26. the discussion is interesting. and congrats to you for voicing your opinions out there. it’s true that shunning the reality, however crooked they may be, is like closing your eyes in order to ignore the harsh truth for we like to live in a false comfort zone that we create around us. is there a need to show the things wrapped in goody-goody covers? let it be heard, let it be seen; debate. scream. but dont push them under the carpet to pretend that there is no dirt!

    while we’re over-doing a bit on shilpa issue, arent we forgetting the criticism that we launched over the daish cartoon issue saying that the freedom of speech must be protected? while shilpa is laughing all the way to the bank and stardom (who knows, may be she’ll bag a few hollywood movies for such publicity that she is not worth of), we chose to blatantly ignore the reality at our own place. watch the desi ‘big brother’ version and you’ll know why!

    here is an interesting article on times of india..

  27. >>> I asked him whether he would be able to show Martin Luther King stripping and get the same laughs as he got for his Gandhi act.



    Martin Luther King did not do all those things that have been done to death in the previous post of yours about Gandhi. He did not sleep with other naked teenagers. He did not favour Muslims in the name of secularism. He did not ask African-American women to get raped.

    Martin Luther King was a much higher and upright man than Gandhi.

  28. >> MLK is respected in the same way by the black community (primarily) as Gandhi is respected in India.


    Whether we like it or not, except in the press, most people hate MKG. Go out and listen to what people say. In their drawing rooms, in the clubs, on the streets, on campuses.. .. 80% of the people I have met do not favour MKG.

  29. @ Shadows: well said. the character out of that man is much too flawed for such imitation.

    watch this clip – even people do make comedy out of Jesus! the probem is that we live with two faces – and the public one refuses to acknowledge certain things, which the other approve of. MKG is certainly not idolized by many for a few reasons that are out of context here, but certainly not a figure beyond cynicism or dark humor! munnabhai and the circuits cant change that fact either!

  30. @shadows

    Yes, he did not sleep with naked teenagers without having sex. He slept around while he was married and was promiscuous. That is definitely better than Gandhi. Yes, he did not favor Muslims over Hindus, he just favored Blacks over whites, that is definitely better than Gandhi.

    Most of the people who I know hate Gandhi have been ignorant teenagers who get a kick out of calling him baldy. Do you have any stats to prove that a majority of Indian’s hate Gandhi. I am assuming you will say no. 80% of people I have met love Gandhi. Please stop making such sweeping statements, because as you said yourself, you are interested in “facts and knowledge” and the above comments by you represent neither of them.

  31. Great Bong goes to BBC!
    not bad my friend! hope you did not covnert them to the Bengali Boradcasting Corp! LOL

  32. Hardly opportunist. I was arguing for freedom of making fun of all celebrities. But of course, I cannot force anyone to make fun of someone specific. All I said was that people exercise personal censorship when they choose to make fun of a particular celebrity and not others.

    Jesus Christ, George Washington, and other revered people have been made fun of in the U.S.

  33. >hope you did not covnert them to the Bengali Boradcasting Corp!

  34. “Jesus Christ, George Washington, and other revered people have been made fun of in the U.S.”

    But Patrix, they are white* The point is anyone can take crap on whites, but you can’t touch african american figure with a barge pole, this is called overcompensating.

    * All right Jesus Christ was not exactly white, but lets not split hairs.

  35. There is a nice video of Gandhi at my site:

  36. @ patrix

    As you rightly said, we should not be hijacking this post with an off topic (at least in relation to the post) discussion. We can continue it on my blog, if you wish.

Have An Opinion? Type Away

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close