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It's a comedy turned tragedy for AIB founders

The beleaguered AIB comedians find themselves at the centre of a controversy they are ill-prepared for. Such is the impact of the Maharashtra government's actions against their troupe, and outcry by certain groups, that the four comedians have suddenly gone silent.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2015 21:29 IST
Avantika Mehta
Avantika Mehta
Hindustan Times
AIB,AIB roast,roast shows

Inspired by the brash American roast shows bordering on vulgarity, four young men launched the popular YouTube channel All-India-Bak**** (AIB) hoping to make Indians' laugh and earn money and fame.

But, what has unfolded in the last few weeks since the January 30 broadcast of the AIB's show 'roasting' two popular Bollywood actors has left them nervous and sad.

The beleaguered comedians find themselves at the centre of a controversy they are ill-prepared for. Such is the impact of the Maharashtra government's actions against their troupe, and outcry by certain groups, that the four vociferously outspoken comedians have suddenly gone silent.

Contacted for their comments, AIB's co-founder Tanmay Bhat refused to speak to HT and said the groups "were not talking to the press yet," while hinting that they may break their silence "when the time was right." Efforts to reach other AIB members garnered similar evasive answers.

Since the roast was aired on YouTube, the troupe has gone underground. While all four were once active on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, their online silence on these unfolding events has been deafening.

Perhaps the first clue that there was trouble in the waters was Tanmay Bhat's tweet in late January. "Do a roast they said," he wrote but gave no further clues as to why he was jaded with the idea.

A few days later, AIB took down the roast video and attracted adverse attention with no initial explanation as to why. Only two days later - still refusing to speak in person - the group released a note on their Facebook page explaining their actions.

Imploring those frothing at the mouth because of the roast to "take a deep breath", AIB wrote "They're just jokes. Unfunny, crass or whatever you want to call them, they're still just jokes."

The happenings of last few weeks could go a long way in explaining their sudden reticence understandable. Once the recipient of over 1,200 applications in answer to a hiring drive, the group now faces criminal action on several fronts.

On February 2, an activist of Mumbai's Brahman Ekta Sanstha filed an FIR against them for obscenity. On Friday, the Maharashtra government filed another FIR against fourteen people including the show's celebrity guests and organizers Only Much Louder (OML).

Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mumbai (spokesperson) Dhananjay Kulkarni told media "the 14 persons are booked under sections 294 (obscene acts or songs), 509 (word or gestures intended to insult the modesty of a woman), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), 34 (acts done by several persons with common intention) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Environment Act, IT Act and Bombay Police Act."

If convicted, the four 20-somethings could face up to 3 years in jail, not to mention lakhs in fines. But experts say the laws they're being charged with are archaic and limit every citizen's constitutional right to freedom of expression.

"These are Victorian era laws; even though they have been interpreted recently by courts in a limited manner they still permit subjectivity and the individual value choices of a person. Due to this, every artist is under a constant fear of legal prosecution, which hinders the creative output of India," SC advocate Apar Gupta tells HT.

On the irony of cops charging actors Bollywood actresses Alia Bhatt and Deepika Padukune - who were the butt of most of the AIB jokes on the day - with outraging woman's modesty, Gupta adds the law is slanted towards sexism. "The reasoning behind outraging a modesty of a woman implies a woman must be modest all the time. It assumes a woman has no agency," he explains.

While the comedians wait out this sandstorm, professionals from their field stand tall in their defence. "The only judgment a joke ever deserves is whether it's original and funny;" says actor-comedian Vir Das, adding "the only solution to this situation is more comedy, more jokes."

In the meantime, no other videos have been posted on AIB's YouTube channel; and sources close to the group say the roast's organizers OML are facing difficulties with their venture capital funders because of the controversy surrounding the event.

In the meantime, faced with the comedians' silence, interested parties and fans can do little else but wait and watch.

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear," George Orwell had once said. In liberal India, however, as AIB said, "the truth's a little sadder."

First Published: Feb 13, 2015 21:15 IST