One question has kept me puzzled ever since controversy erupted around Tanmay Bhat's spoof on Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar. What has Bhat done in his latest video that India's beloved comedian Kapil Sharma doesn't do every weekend? Insulting women with derogatory remarks, assassinating his co-actors' characters, body- and age-shaming, mocking human sentiments, spoofing legends and spewing double entendres have made him one of the biggest superstars of Indian television. Kapil Sharma is our hero. We laugh our guts out at his misogynistic jokes. On top of that, he hangs out with Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar and all the other superstars who we worship, so all is forgiven. But how dare Bhat mimic a couple of legends?
I in no way appreciate Bhat's graceless video... However, I stand by his right to create such content, just as I support criticism of it in public discourse.
Let me clarify that I in no way appreciate Bhat's graceless video. In fact, it is a classic example of how comedians take liberties with their art and produce distasteful content based on mocking gender, age or appearance. However, I stand by Bhat's right to create such content, just as I support criticism of it in public discourse. But there's no space for apology as long as the people projected do not object. In this case, nothing of that sort has happened. Both Lata and Sachin have been the inspiration for comedians. Stand-up comic Sugandha Mishra, for example, raised eyebrows last year when she imitated Lata during an award function.
I agree that Lata Mangeshkar is among the biggest icons of India. She's our pride, a Bharat Ratna. But that doesn't mean that she cannot be the subject of comedy or jokes. After all, her legendary career spanning seven decades involved several accolades and controversies. If there can be movies and television shows on her life and her rivalry with her sister Asha Bhosle, why not a comic act? Ditto for Sachin, who's looking forward to the release of his biopic. And in case you don't know, Lata Mangeshkar herself is a great mimic and loves to crack jokes. She would be the last person to want to see a comedian behind bars.
Lata Mangeshkar is among the biggest icons of India. But that doesn't mean that she cannot be the subject of comedy or jokes.
What's actually baffling in this entire episode is the strange silence among Bollywood comedians right now. Kapil Sharma didn't take long to come out in defence of fellow comedian Kiku Sharda, who also stars in The Kapil Sharma Show, when he was arrested for mocking Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh last year. The film industry created a hue and cry. Rishi Kapoor had dared the spiritual leader to get him arrested too. Paresh Rawal slammed the judiciary for locking up Sharda while rapists roamed scot free. But for Bhat, Bollywood is following a new rulebook. Ironically, even Kiku Sharda is asking for an apology from Bhat. Censor board member Ashoke Pandit doesn't see any difference in this spoof and anti-national sloganeering. In a tweet, which he deleted later, he called the video "anti-India". The CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani has demanded Bhat's "immediate arrest". Is there any limit to hypocrisy? Shouldn't the same logic be applied to film-makers, actors, singers and lyricists endorsing all kinds of violence against women on screen? Will Bollywood ever introspect?
Tanmay Bhat tweeted after Kiku Sharda's arrest: "The damned law needs to fucking change or go." May we echo that sentiment!
In the age of social media where young folks draw non-stop entertainment on Snapchat and Facebook, such light-hearted videos, even though they are crap, cannot be prevented. That the cops are asking YouTube and Google and Facebook to block Bhat's video is not only a plain attack on freedom of expression but also a foolish attempt to censor the internet.
So, instead of persecuting Bhat and taking jokes to heart, it's time we stand up against goons who cash in on popular controversies to get some political mileage.
PS: Tanmay Bhat tweeted after Kiku Sharda's arrest: "The damned law needs to fucking change or go." May we echo that sentiment!
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