It doesn't matter which side of the divide you are on, the fact is that AIB's super successful roast of all things Bollywood is spawning an army of supporters crying out to Indians to loosen up a bit. The latest is YouTube group The Viral Fever's (TVF) new video, #NoCountryForFunnyMen: It makes a case for the roast, saying it was a show aimed at "just making people laugh, no more and less." TVF goes a step further, and puts the whole controversy in the right perspective: “It is understandable that some people did not find it funny. And the internet was fair to them also. You could comment, make videos and express your views for or against the roast. But what followed was really scary.”
This, a day after AIB pulled down its viral video, followed by a lengthy Facebook post clearly stating that theirs is not a fight for this particular ‘roast’. It is far wider. The debate that we should have right now is not whether the AIB Roast was funny/vulgar or not, it should be whether moral policing should be allowed for adults and whether Indian citizens should be allowed freedom of speech.
TVF too touches on the legality of the controversy: “We are no legal experts, so we will not comment on the legal aspects, but as a part of the online community, we feel that this incident will affect us and you – the audience.”
Meanwhile, several Bollywood celebs (who were not part of the event) have also come out and spoken in support of the comedians. Speaking at the trailer launch of her production venture NH10, Anushka Sharma said: “The way I look at it, I think it was in a good humour. Not meant to be taken very seriously. This is my opinion and someone else may have a different opinion about it and that is the beauty of a living in a democratic setup.”
Earlier, when the police complaint was filed against AIB and the event organisers, Parineeti Chopra had tweeted, “Nobody is forcing you to watch the Roast! You choose! Why oppose it completely? Take it easy guys!! #AIB” However, she later deleted the tweet.
AIB Roast: What was wrong with it, what wasn’t
To be fair, the Roast was certainly not the best AIB has got. It was crass, filthy, below-the-belt and more forced than funny.
Was it then vulgar and obscene too? Whatever your opinion, the fact is that legally, obscene is defined thus in our country: It is "things that deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences are obscene”.
The AIB video on YouTube clearly warned that the content is “filthy, offensive and rude”. Moreover, the people who were targets of the offensive attacks were enjoying the jokes at a live event. Why then, do we give rights to random people to be offended and object to it? People who claim to be offended by AIB Roast are not the ones at whom the AIB roasters aimed their comic guns at. If anyone should have the right to be hurt or take offence for the abuses and filth, it has to be Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Karan Johar, Sonakshi Sinha, Deepika Padukone and the other Bollywood celebs who were "made fun of". However, they laughed their hearts out that night, respecting the art of criticism and satire. It was more like a gang of friends having fun abusing each other, not because of hate but because they are brave enough to accept their own traits and laugh at them.
Changes in law and society is the need of the hour
Akhilesh Tiwari, President of Brahman Ekta Seva Sanstha, filed a complaint in Mumbai claiming that AIB Knockout "not only ruins the clean image of the Indian culture & women, but is also misleads today's youth", demanding a criminal case against AIB members, Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor and other Bollywood celebs who were part of the event.
Legally, Tiwari has the right. Section 294 in The Indian Penal Code states:
Whoever, to the annoyance of others—
(a) does any obscene act in any public place, or
(b) sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.
It has been more than six decades since India adopted those laws. Isn't it time we introduced amendments to the IPC Section 294? Times are changing, and drastically so, with the widespread penetration of the internet in our country. With the cheapest of mobile phones offering web browsing, it is not just the elite and English-educated public that has access to the world wide web. Moreover, maybe it is time we granted more credence to freedom of speech.
The US federal laws allow broadcasting of obscene, profane and indecent programmes between 10pm to 6am. This makes sure that the ‘impressionable minds’ (a favourite term with our moral police brigade) are not exposed to the content while protecting the right of the artists.
Historically, artists and ruling governments have never been the best of friends. When monarchies prevailed, artists who dared to question the king, queen or even offend their taste of art, they were most likely to be punished severely.
It is time we moved beyond this mindset. Criticise AIB and their video, tell them they are bad at what they do; but barring the comedians from creating an art piece or stopping them from showcasing their talent (no matter how mature or immature) is not something that should be legal in a democratic, modern world we aspire to live in.