28th January. We had one agenda.
We spent our evening glued to our laptops. Offended. Disgusted. Amused. We watched the AIB Knockout right to the finish. Some of us, twice. This roast was the talk of the town.
Over the last week, social media has been flooded with an outrage on the negative feedback that the AIB Roast received. Rants on how the views of our politicians are regressive. How everyone just needs to “chill”. How it is a clear violation of our freedom of speech.
Now, I like to believe that I’m a liberal person, with liberal views and outlooks. My issues with the roast have nothing to do with it “being sexual” or “not in line with Indian culture”.
However, I disagree with the outcry on how the roast was completely harmless. I believe that there are real, negative impacts that this roast could have on the masses. And that many of us are conveniently choosing not to see them.
I sense eyes rolling already.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about how this post is going to be received. Especially since now, this roast has become a battle between “young, liberal” vs “lame, old, regressive”.
So, at the risk of being categorised among the likes of the fossilised politician who declared the roast a “porn show” (lol), I have to say that while it is indeed, liberating that the roast touched societal ‘taboos’ like casual sex and drug use with candid indifference. The show also involved content that I believe could be unhealthy for the masses.
Now before I begin, I’d like to say that I don’t have a solution. Only a point of view. I am not implying that the roast should never have gone live. Or that it should be censored. Or that those who filed complaints against AIB were right in doing so.
But simply that we acknowledge that there are two sides to the coin.
That a lot of the jokes, though intended in good humour, could have deeper consequences on a society that is highly diverse. And hence, fragile. That these consequences are real.
We come from a country where actors are considered gods. Where an overwhelming number of men from the 80s sported Amitabh Bachchan’s haircut in Deewar. Where Obama flooded our home pages for saying 1/3rd of a dialogue from a movie that released a decade ago. I think it’s safe to say that Bollywood has a deep impact on India.
But we can ofcourse, debate the influence that celebrities have on the masses. I don’t believe that celebrities talking about casual sex or drug use will directly encourage people to indulge in it. People tend to have a stronger stance on casual sex and drug use. It depends highly on their upbringing, peers and circumstances. It’s unlikely that the references they made about snorting coke backstage, will influence the masses to snort coke.
However, unlike sex and drugs; fat jokes, homophobic jokes, jokes about one’s skin type, are a lot easier to adopt. People are likely to direct similar jokes at people more aggressively, with a stronger sense of validation, because celebrities do it.
“Tanmay Bhatt is so fat…”, “Ashish Shakya is so black…”, “Aditi Mittal is only here so Ranveer Singh can have someone to jerk off to on stage”. These jokes might be perfectly acceptable within the context of a roast when directed at consenting individuals. But the truth is, it won’t stop there.
We need to acknowledge and accept that masses don’t live within the context of a roast. That these jokes will find its way to non-consenting individuals. That they will seep into classrooms, workplaces and homes. People will quote the same jokes, directed at the fat boy in class, the dark-skinned maid, the only woman on a panel discussion. And suddenly, the fat boy has lower self-esteem, the dark-skinned maid feels unattractive, being the only woman on the panel doesn’t feel empowering anymore.
We need to remember that while those who are offended can ofcourse, choose not to watch it, they’re still going to be surrounded by people who have. People who now, have a stronger sense of validation in telling jokes about one’s sexual orientation, body type and skin colour.
A discussion with my peers made me realise that we tend to underestimate, or simply not understand the impact that the media has on those from a different social strata. On those who are not as rational or mature. While many of us can be sure that watching the roast will not turn us into fat shaming, sexist homophobes, because “we simply know better than that”, we can’t ignore that there must be a good number of viewers among the impressive 8 million views that the Knockout received, that will think of degrading jokes as acceptable and ‘cool’.
And why not? Ranveer Singh does it. Arjun Kapoor does it. Karan Johar does it. India loved it.
Let’s stop believing that this roast is a symbol for social change. Stop glorifying it as a rebellion by a generation that has grown up being morally policed. While it is essential to fight for freedom of speech and expression, its important to remember that it comes with a context. Have we considered what it is that we’re fighting so relentlessly for? The right to be politically incorrect? The right to be offensive? The right to be degrading? The use of the words ‘liberal and progressive’ here, are starting to seem more and more like an oxymoron.
Perhaps it’s a ‘roast’ in itself that I have a problem with. I believe that roasts are a ‘healthy’ form of comedy for a very (very) niche audience. One that is ‘rational and mature’. One that laughs, because they really just “know better than that”. One that will simply enjoy 2 hours of ‘harmless’ comedy before returning to their liberal, cultured, enlightened lives.
But until then, the impact it could have on Indian society seems dark. Erm, I mean, black.