May 30, 2016

It's not about publicity. Viral videos on ichhadhari naagins would've got Tanmay Bhat more publicity, minus the FIR

The AIB guys are smart, and I’d be surprised if they thought Tanmay’s latest stunt would win them publicity of the right kind.

BYShrabonti Bagchi

I didn’t find Tanmay Bhat’s videos mocking Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar offensive. I did feel a bit uncomfortable at one point, when Bhat made references to Mangeshkar’s age, but parts of it were giggle-inducing — especially when Bhat broke into songs from the singer’s massive ouvre of sickly-sweet love ballads or mentioned Tendulkar’s signature move on the crease.
I didn’t even find the outrage against Bhat or threats of an FIR offensive. What else can one expect in a country that has no genuine culture of comedy, and where making wholesale fun of entire communities and countries is ok but individuals are sacrosanct?
I’m actually really disappointed with people who loved it when Bhat went on a rant on feminism last week because it touched a chord with them, but are now being all passive aggressive, saying things like ‘Tanmay Bhat who?!? why are we even giving this waste fellow so much importance??!” and “Haha he got what he wanted, the publicity seeking attention-hungry so-and-so.” This was a common refrain during the AIB Roast maha-outrage days too — that it was all a “publicity stunt”.
The AIB guys are smart, and I’d be surprised if they thought Tanmay’s latest stunt would win them publicity of the right kind. Fanatical admirers of Lata and Sachin will unfollow them for life, while those who have liked some but not all their stuff will be put off and stop paying attention to anything AIB does in the future. As for its core group of admirers (people like me) — that remains unchanged and may even have shrunk because Sachin. In fact, they have, yet again, blown all their chances of working in Bollywood, that small and insignificant culture machine. They are in the news, but in a profitable, let’s-monetise-this way? Nah.
Sadly, Indians love to call anything they don’t understand a “publicity stunt.” It’s a cynical attitude, and unreasonable too. Performers love attention, but that doesn’t (always) mean they wake up in the morning and think ‘hmm let me see how I can get max attention today’. Sometimes they are just pushing the limits of what they can do with their art, and in a field like comedy in India, there is a LOT of pushing to do.

Sadly, Indians love to call anything they don’t understand a “publicity stunt.” It’s a cynical attitude, and unreasonable too.

As well-known comedians in a severely comedy-unsavvy society, where “being respectful” of achievers means never questioning them, their choices, their work or their personalities, AIB has a lot of ground to cover. You just have to watch one cringe-inducing, predictable AF love-fest that is any Bollywood awards function with its in-jokes, feet-touching and spurious feel-goodness, to know that this is not an edifice that will crumble because of jokes made by a comedian. But boy, does it need that sting of bitterness to prick the bubble of fakery and mutual sucking up.
The internet, especially platforms like Snapchat and Instagram which are not really that big in India and are therefore less closely scrutinised, are giving digitally native performers the freedom to break rules and step on mighty toes. Tanmay Bhat’s Instagram feed has been full of these short and sketchy videos for quite some time, proving that this isn’t so much a one-off publicity-seeking performance as an experiment. Hopefully, he can continue doing so without creating trending Twitter hashtags and FIR threats each time. Hopefully, this web culture will, sooner or later, seep into larger Indian culture. Already, we are more comfortable making fun of politicians. Can Amitabh Bachchan be far behind?
To be honest, AIB would probably get much more publicity if they stuck with safe stuff that all millenials love to hate, like sanskaari daddies, ichhadhari naagin TV soaps, and boring IT jobs. These made-for-virality topics would win them more eyeballs without any of the FIR threats. The fact that they instead choose to make fun of very unsafe topics convinces me that they are genuinely interested in the future of comedy in India. I find comments like ‘This is not comedy’, ‘Comedy does not mean you have license to make fun of anything and everything’ and ‘Comedy is ok but you cannot insult anyone’ really hilarious. Comedy is exactly those things. Does that make you uncomfortable? So sorry. Go watch a five-hour Bollywood awards show to restore your faith in humanity.
The jokes practically write themselves.

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Shrabonti Bagchi is a writer of FactorDaily.