If you an Indian interwebs-junkie and don’t spend every bit of your bandwidth quota in watching videos on the educational site also known as Pornhub, you would have heard of All India Bakchod and The Viral Fever, and if not heard of them, then definitely seen their videos. And if you have not a week ago, you definitely know of AIB now with their roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh going viral on the Net and getting play time in the media, and then being taken down, now that random religious outfits eager to grab their two seconds of fame have filed cases against them for “vulgarity”, and the fans of a prominent star, who has apparently taken grievous umbrage to what was said, anti-hashtagging it aggressively on Twitter, because as you may have guessed it, this is very important issue for the youth of the country right next to global warming and Gautam Gulati winning Big Boss.
So, like every other young man like Rahul Gandhi, I too have something to say.
First of all, well done AIB. You has definitely struck gold with their roast. None of this, the approbation or the condemnation, is going to harm you guys even a little bit. On the contrary it has firmly established your brand.
Because, make no mistake, gaaonwaalon, this is business.
Along with TVF and several other similar comedy-collectives, AIB caters to an under-served market that has huge disposable income, namely upper-middle-class urban Indian youth, drawing their comedic inspirations from Comedy Central and pirated specials of Louis CK, for whom Kapil Sharma and Raju Srivastava are the Guddu Rangeela and Altaf Raja of laughs. The “disposable income” part is very critical because that’s where the business model is. Roasts and stand-up and fake movie award nites are perfect for brands, and, it’s well known that advertising, explicit or implied, works best with humor.
Of course a vital component of popularity in India is Bollywood. No matter how much you “roast” them, it’s impossible to take the next step up in the popularity ladder without Bollywood celebrity endorsement. While that’s not rocket science, what’s less obvious is that Bollywood needs comedy collectives too. The days of inaccessible movie-stars with large sun-glasses has joined abundant chest hair in the dust-heap of history. Now Alia Bhatt’s PR works with them to cleverly roll back a PR disaster for their client. Rising stars like Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh want to associate with AIB, because it feeds in well with the persona their image managers want to cultivate, that of bindass stars who then become first choices to endorse youth brands, like condoms, with a direct connect to the Roadies demographic and it was not a co-incidence, I guess, then that the once-anchor of Roadies, its most recognizable bald head, was also on the Roast panel. Even someone like Shahrukh Khan, who you would think transcends the need for publicity, comes on TVF, because their insane number of Youtube subscriptions is too much for even him to let go.
This is, of course, all a marketeer’s wet-dream. And like most great success stories, the different comedy-groups have their timing right. Ten years ago, when Net speeds were as fast as Munaf Patel, an Youtube-based franchise would not have worked. Now it does, rivalling television in terms of ease of access. If I had money, (which I dont) and the balls to invest (which I dont), I would buy stocks in AIB and TVF right now, because they are a bunch of digital visionaries, firmly on the way up.
Coming to the show itself, I found it quite enjoyable. While some of the jokes missed the mark, either due to the writing or due to the delivery, and that anyone who writes comedy will tell you is inevitable, in all it was very professionally put together event. My favorites were Tanmay Bhatt among the stand-up comics when it came to the delivery, and Karan Johar among the celebrities. Not so much for what KJo said, but the way he said it. The best humor stems from incongruity, and it’s the dissonance between KJo’s “It’s all about loving your family” (which on second thoughts now sounds a bit Game of Thrones creepy) wholesome persona, and the way he comes across (which of course is also an act) in the Roast that’s makes for the best laughs. It’s like a Nirupa Roy character in a film looking tearily into the camera, “Aaj woh hote toh yeh din naheen dekhne padte” as a sad Kalyanji-Anandji tune plays in the background and then suddenly fishing out a multi-speed dildo.
Of course there was the inevitable shitstorm about the language and the jokes. Here is how it works, dear fellows. Just like your clicking and loading a porn link implies implicit consent to nudity, your clicking on a roast implies implicit consent to bad language and overall filth. It’s not that difficult. And I am sorry to have to break this to you, but the language that your innocent self was exposed to when you sat through an hour of an AIB roast is exactly what you would find in a hostel room and in the backyard of a school, and again I am sorry the world isn’t different, but hey, duniye bananae waale kya tere man main samayee, kahe ko chutiya banaai.
But was the bad language necessary? Kind of. The best roasts are those that recreate relaxed meeting of old friends, where they reminisce, throw about embarrassing anecdotes, and talk the way old friends talk, without concern for feelings or propriety or the appropriateness of the language. You are the outsider, not normally part of such an exalted circle of celebrities, but being allowed, by virtue of having bought a ticket (or of seeing an ad on Youtube), to be part of this exclusive group of friends for an hour. The bad language is part of the act, it’s what creates the reality of the illusion, and hence inevitable.
If the roast falls short anywhere though, it is not so much the language, but that it breaks the fantasy of spontaneity, in that there are a tad too many places where the roasters seem to be rehearsed. I may be wrong but KJo seemed to have ad-libbed at places and those, as I mentioned before, were the best parts of the roast because it came off as natural. Part of it was inevitable, roasts work best when the people on the stage have a long history of prior work, and can play off each other, and I somehow think that Arjun Kapoor and Ranvir Singh, despite the back-slaps and the embraces, not really chaddi-buddies with the rest, coming as they do from different worlds.
What was not inevitable and could have been avoided, was the tendency to play the same things again and again, fat jokes at Tanmay, black jokes at Ashish, Catholic jokes at Abish. Not just because it was repetitive, but because the cultural context that has “inspired” the jokes just does not carry over. Catholic priests abusing altarboys is a standard trope in American standup comedy, it sounds silly to an Indian audience because even the biggers haters of the church associate it with conversion, not underage molestation. A “You are so black” joke directed at Snoop Dog isn’t a joke at his skin color, but at his cultural baggage. A more appropriate adaptation would be “He is so Bengali that when a girl asks him to bring protection, he comes with a monkey cap”. Replace that Bengali with “AAP” and “monkey cap” with “muffler” for another variant.
The final word is pretty simple though. Like it or not, the roast is there and insult comedy is here to stay. Just like Honey Singh, Radheshyam Rasia, and Somnath Bharti. And while you are free to counter-protest, or turn-off, or unfollow or unsubscribe, you do not have the right to shut down, either through government fiat, very easily done given the sorry protection given to freedom of speech in our laws, or through implied threats of violence. Of course, this is all going to blow away pretty soon. Political parties love moral policing, while claiming not to, because it’s a cheap and dirty way to “We care” popularity, far easier than building hospitals or providing clean water, and so they will blow hot for a day or two, AIB will keep under the radar for a while, and then after an appropriate period of time has passed, everything will be back to normal and AIB will have a stronger brand than when they started.
And that’s good.
Because we definitely need more humor.