Political cartoonist and graphic novelist Vishwajyoti Ghosh talks about comedy, censorship and the fast-fading quality of self-deprecation.Your views on the AIB Roast?
The Roast is something that happens in private all the time. It’s highly sporting of those who volunteered to be roasted and the audience must’ve been fully aware of what they were buying tickets for. Those who are outraged might not be aware of this, much as I wish the video online had an ‘A’ for Adult disclaimer. I also wonder if the same support would have been there if it was done by stand-up comics from the Hindi belt.
Some found it totally vulgar.
As much as AIB has the right to defend it, it’s equally fine for anyone to oppose it. We all know there’s worse stuff available online and someone should do something about that too then.
Jaideep Varma’s I Am Offended has some comedians suggesting that Indians can’t laugh at themselves. Do you agree?
I’ve been saying this in the world of cartooning forever. Over time, we have forgotten to laugh at ourselves and mastered the art of getting hurt! Too many times, political cartoons have been taken off, and even banned. A lot of good humour in our times happened during the period of Emergency, where a repressive regime was imposing censorship. Humour was an act of rebellion then. That unfortunately is on the decline now.
The Charlie Hebdo incident was such a brutal blow on free speech. You knew some of the staff as well...
My initial reaction was of great shock, the thought that some friends I had made and lost touch with, had been shot in the edit meeting – I had attended one meet as an observer in 2004.
How do you draw the line between freedom of expression and tolerance in a democratic society?
Different cultures have different vantage points and references when it comes to humour. What’s funny to one can be vulgar for another. The danger with satire is that it can be construed in many ways, hence we are entering a sad phase, where one has to hashtag as #sarcasmalert.
In Hebdo’s case, the cartoonists were doing what they found funny and there was an audience for it. It doesn’t suit my sense of humour personally, but it might have been working for their world and readers.
How do you see the political satire space in India?
It is up to us to keep political satire alive in this country. Of course, some will find it offensive or disagree with it, but that doesn’t mean it has to fade out. There are umpteen cases in India where a cartoon has been taken off, without even a debate. That has to be resisted and fought.
Is it ironic how as the system becomes repressive, the better the grounds for satire to flourish. And yet, it becomes more dangerous?
A friend from Pakistan has an interesting take on this. In the Zia-ul-Haq years, considered the most repressive in the nation’s history, what the people on the streets missed most were the jokes. Similarly, during the Emergency of the ’70s, humour was one way to deal with a totalitarian government. So yes, typically, irreverent humour emerges from the societies where citizenship is undervalued, but not always, as we’ve seen with the Hebdo incident.
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From HT Brunch, February 15
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