What we laugh at says a lot about us and off late I’ve begun to deeply question the collective conscience of the world’s largest democracy, and more so of the educated and empowered part of this population. Let me look at comedy from a frame of objective criticism. Yes, everyone deserves to be criticised, just because its a ‘Roast/ Knock-out’ does not mean you can get away with saying or doing anything.
And yes, this is a queer person’s rant, but we don’t hear many queer voices in this part of the world, so don’t even dare to say ‘it’s your gay ego talking’
Is calling someone black funny? ‘Oh you’re so black that your mother got you tested for Ebola!’ Really? The fact that countless people laughed at this joke bothers me. How can the colour of someone’s skin be funny? Similarly how is someone’s promiscuity funny? How is ‘she has been on top of all the stand up comedians funny? Calling someone a slut is funny? Sure, celebrate promiscuity but this really does cross a line. And if promiscuity is amusing, then what’s the fuss around Honey Singh’s songs? Just because the hindi translation of slut ( ‘randi’) sounds crass and is therefore intolerable? Do standards of humour and morals apply differently to classes?
Why would Ranveer kiss Karan Johar? First, where is the consent? As a queer person, let me put it out there- we don’t go down on every penis that comes our way. I don’t need a heterosexual man to kiss me to validate my identity. Had Ranveer done it to a woman, how would we have reacted? Why don’t we treat our LGBT people with the same respect, care and sensitivity as we seek for women.
Further on, I would have been really happy if Karan Johar came out for real because that deserves to be celebrated in ways more ceremonial than a Knockout. An ace director, who has given legendary movies to Indian Cinema, must come out, if not for his sake, then for the sake of countless millions of people who look up to him. Since he really hasn’t I don’t quite understand what’s so ludicrous about his sexuality to be made fun of over and over again. We get it that he is a closeted homosexual man, but that’s nothing to laugh about. I am sorry, it really does undermine the struggles of an openly queer person in India. Would bedroom practices of a heterosexual man be funny?‘Oh he’s a sucker for bdsm – Now let’s say it over and over again and laugh about it. Not funny. It won’t make a good joke. But he likes it in the ass- So? He likes to fuck a vagina- Is this funny? No. Then how is ‘he likes it in the ass’ funny. I also find it deeply offensive when people ‘act gay’. I am sorry. You don’t have to ‘act black’ ‘act Chinese’ ‘act American’ or ‘act gay’ to show me sympathy or give me approval. I hate it when heterosexual men make homosexual gestures or act feminine. Please do not. It’s deeply offensive.
Look at Deepika our new feminist from the industry enjoy those oh so sexist and misogynist. jokes, and where is the brigade of educated intellectuals now? Is the moral compass of our English Speaking population different from the fibre of the rest of the population? Is humor a privilege of a certain class?
And please for the love of humanity, don’t pull of such outrageous, tasteless and disgusting things in the name of charity. Oh wait, the money goes to a charity run by Tata, a corporate house which treats its tea plantation workers as slaves, and the other- Being Human- the prodigy of a man accused of murder. Hmmm… Charitable indeed.
We need to hold the same principles to sexual orientation and gender identity as we do to race, caste, religion and every other form of identity that wrongfully discriminates and till the time we are not able to look at gender and sexuality with the same kind of sensitivity we associate with religion and race we will not make progress. And at this moment, I’m really looking out for my feminist and equalist and liberal intellectual empowered friends to step forward and tell what’s funny in misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, sexism or racism. The fact that we do find it funny, really tells me that probably you don’t quite practice what you preach. If anything, it should make you angry, not tickle your funny bone.
In a famous weekly show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ half of their caste is men who dress as women for their characters in the show. The whole country loves it and the whole country treats transgender people worse than you’d treat a street dog, and we treat street dogs real bad in India. There was quite some outrage when one of the characters in the show dressed up as the other race to imitate popular tennis player, Serena Williams. I guess the question we must ask ourselves here is that if dressing as the other race for comic humour is not acceptable how is dressing as the other gender for comic humour acceptable? The same show has also often mocked other ethnicities for their ‘small eyes.’ Similarly the show mocks the men who dress up as women to portray their character. I am okay with the crossdressing bit but I guess we cross a line if we don’t treat men dressing up as women to play a female character as female and constant reminders of their ugly masculinity underneath their female attire is something that deeply bothers me in the same way as similar messaging about innate attributes of other ethnicities bothers me. If it’s unacceptable to mock people for their small eyes, skin colour it should not be acceptable to mock someone for their gender identity. In one episode, Sunil Grover, who for that part of the episode was portraying a male character taunts another character(male dressed as female) by saying ‘mard agaur aurat ke kapde pahnta hai toh achcha thodi lagta hai’ – ‘does it look nice if a man wears a woman’s clothes’ I started questioning the show from that moment, and having watched a lot of episodes of the show and even loving it for its humour I have also begun to deeply question all the times when they cross a line and no one notices it. In ancient times, men used to play female roles in plays and they did justice to those roles, by portraying them with grace and honesty. They were female for their characters and would be treated so. What Comedy Nights does is make jokers out of men who dress up as women. The fact that men wearing women’s clothes is funny, bothers me. It may not be the intent of the show, but they sure must think about the repercussions of standing on the slippery slope they always find themselves on the edge of.
If you find it funny that a man dresses up as a woman, then there is something extremely disturbing about our conscience, because its greatly disrespectful towards the struggles of everyone who does not conform to the gender binary, and that we find bending the gender binary funny raises a really big question on our tolerance and acceptance of our genderqueer population. A crossdresser ain’t a clown, nor is any genderqueer person. If I walk down the streets wearing clothes of the opposite sex I don’t do it to be your clown and I don’t expect people to look at me and laugh. Don’t make me your clown, please.
Contrast this to a show Orange is the New Black which made Laverne Cox famous. In one of her speeches she said how her character of a transsexual person in the show really made people aware of the struggles of transgender people and it made people more sensitive. That’s the power of media and till the time we don’t hold our cinema and media as accountable we’re not heading anywhere. I understand cultural shifts take time, but its also time to start asking the right questions. We may despise nepotism in politics, but nepotism runs deeply in Bollywood too and I wonder why we never question that. Our cinema is a reflection of our society, and it’s time we really start deeply thinking of the content of our collective conscience.