Does it make me a ‘bad person’ if I liked AIB Knockout? And other such existential questions.


If you haven’t seen AIB (All India Bakchod) Knockout – The Roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh yet, you should perhaps check your internet connectivity and if you’re working on Gmail offline. It has raked up a million views in 24 hours and is the topic of discussion almost anywhere online. The only thing that can seemingly topple its popularity is the on-going display of senility by Kiran Bedi, on assorted new channels.

Here is the Roast, anyway!

I thoroughly enjoyed the Roast – it was a no-holds-barred spectacle. Yes, some of the jokes were repetitive and some didn’t fit in the flow and seemed obviously ‘scripted’, but overall, it was a fantastic Indian debut for the Roast format. And mighty unique for the Indian society in general, to bring such form of humor out in the open.

For the uninitiated and easily offended, the Roast format may seem utterly bewildering. To begin with, Roast, as a format, is a parody of ‘Toast’ and is meant to be the extreme opposite.

More history, from Wikipedia.

After I finished watching the 3 episodes last night, I had an animated and mildly acrimonious debate with a friend of mine. He is not on Twitter and recently quit Facebook too, for context.

Some of the questions he asked me (and asking himself, in a way) were based on ignorance of the format, but a lot more were rather pertinent, to us Indians, as a society, and to mankind in general (yes, seriously!).

The first few points of debate were about the super liberal use of expletives. This is something a lot of people seemed to have mentioned as a feedback or an opinion, on Twitter and in YouTube comments.

The interesting thing is that we generally talk like that among close friends, at times – depending on the wavelength between friends. It’s a buddy-thing to do. But doing it for an audience seems awkward in the Indian scheme of things, particularly when a newly appointed Censor board Chief, who once made lewd/crude films, says, “There is vulgarity on TV…it should be controlled”.

Much of our debate was around the need to be this explicitly abusive, in front of an audience.

Are the people on stage ‘acting’? That is, are they putting up a show, using their real names and mouthing someone else’s lines? Or, are they being their true self, given that a Roast is usually between friends?

My friend’s contention was the need to be this abusive – that’s something entirely subjective as I explained my perspective, but there’s something logical about it not merely remaining between friends and is being shared widely with an audience.

Now, our new Censor chief could come down upon this too, the way he admonished the easy availability of Sunny Leone material on the internet, just as he wants to ‘cleanse’ Indian films of things that he considers ‘not worth allowing for public consumption’. The trouble there is simply a man/board deciding what the rest of the nation should or should not watch, hear or consume. The thumb-rule there is always, if you do not want to watch it, stay away – do not try to dictate what others should watch, or shouldn’t. If you are offended, your options are limited to,
a. do not watch it
b. express your point of view

The options do not include deciding on behalf of others and seeking a ban on such content. That’s akin to seeking a ban on allegedly provoative dressing by women because some man couldn’t control his faculties as a result and acted against prudent judgement. Wrong priorities as regards ban, there.

The second topic of our debate was around the fact that such content go through some form of censorship for other mass-media channels like cinema, but are a bit more liberal here (barring self-censorship, around assorted reasons, as this Quint article helpfully explains – Check Out What Even The AIB Didn’t Have The B***s To Show!). After all, both forms of broadcast could potentially reach the same audience, so why should one form of broadcast go through a stringent, official censorship and other only goes through self-censorship?

I have no answer to this one. A related debate was around kids getting access to this (as against say, a film, which is playing in the theater, though one could argue that films can be accessed too, online, if the kid is intent on doing so). At an impressionable age, are we spoiling them with stuff that they perhaps should access on their own accord, later in life, once they are mature enough?

We after all do not allow kids to drive till a certain age and taste or decorum is certainly not the reason for that.

My simple point here is that there is a world of things to watch and consume out there in the open, whether online or offline. Kids can get access to all of that too – it is perhaps up to parents how they’d like to let their kids grow up. But there’s always school, peer pressure, friends etc. and there’s only so much that parents can censor for children – they are not 24-hour surveillance bots anyway. Even if that were possible, that can only increase the child’s curiosity and try to watch what is being barred (simple human tendency).

So, a 12 year old’s takeaway from this may be that it is absolutely cool to use the F, BC, C word liberally no matter who you are talking to – after all, a respected director like Karan Johar is doing it too! They perhaps have to be told by parents that it is not a blanket assumption and there are more situations in life that simply do not allow them be on F’ing terms in spoken language. They would also perhaps learn it the hard way, from life’s situations, themselves.

Next on line, in our argument, was Kapil Sharma!

Creating jokes around misogyny, skin color, homophobia is not unique to Kapil Sharma – our films have been doing that (dis)service for a very long time. But Kapil Sharma brought that to scale, to our drawing rooms and for that, he his usually reviled in intellectual circles, but enjoyed in most other circles. It usually ends up around a discussion about ‘taste’, or the lack of it and other adjectives like ‘crass’ and ‘crude’ are thrown into the equation. I do understand that that negativity is around the influence his show has, than about him as an individual.

So, my friend announces, ‘I thought Karan Johar was a classy, cultured person. I now see him as a crass and crude person, based on how he spoke in this show! How different is he from Kapil Sharma?’. Is it?

Does it matter? My friend is not going to offer his daughter’s hand to Karan? He’s after all going to watch Karan’s next film, if at all. That really does not need him to judge what kind of person Karan is – it perhaps requires him to make up his mind about the kind of movie he’s going to invest some money and time in.

When I put forward this point of view, my friend brought me back to one of the earlier points of debate – are they acting on stage? Are they merely reading the lines written by a script team?

If yes, do they subscribe to what they are talking about? And do they believe in what they are saying?

If not, do they have a point of view on their lines that is removed from what they are uttering?

I don’t know this part, honestly, and have no idea how to deal with this.

Next on the debate was around the kind of perception that people like Karan, Arjun and Ranbir are building around themselves.

I’m sorry to use this rather crude example with you, as I did with my friend, but do you think Sunny Leone is… ummm, erm, ‘available’, because she stars in ‘those kind of films’? I’m sure most Indians consider that a possibility, and do not see the need to split her on-screen roles from the kind of person she may be, off-screen. And that she may merely be ‘acting’ a part (however pointless such ‘parts’ are, in those kind of films).

The easiest counter to that is to ask them, ‘So you think Ranbir Kapoor is a singer because he played one in Rockstar?’. The simple, stumbling response would be, ‘Of course not, he played the role of a singer!’. So, someone can play the role of a singer, but a woman cannot play the role of a you-know-what in an adult film?

Connecting this line of thought to AIB Knockout – I do not know whether to consider stand-up comedy and shows like Roast as ‘acting’. Don’t the comedians bring a lot of their own personalities into their shows to make stand-up work at an intimate and personal level, not to forget the fact that they go by their own name on stage? They are definitely not doing what Johnny Lever does on screen – reading others’ lines for a fee?

I do realize that most stand-up comedians rely on ‘material’ that is scripted – AIB Knockout has writing credits too, incidentally. But even with AIB’s earlier avatar, like most other stand-up comedians around the world, they do not get into another skin to talk – they talk in their own skin, own name and identity. And most importantly, they talk about real people. So, how would you assume a stand-up act as – acting, or a real person performing funny stuff about real things, that is expressing his opinions in a funny way?

I did Google to get some perspectives around stand-up comedy being an act, but didn’t get much. The closest I could gather was this page from The Dissolve,

Maybe it comes down to separating the ?actors? from the ?performers.? Some stand-ups are performers; they tell personal anecdotes and offer amusing observations about their own lives. Others are actors disguised as stand-ups; they create little stories in which they play every part and act out each scene. Some stand-ups are comfortable in their own skin; others like to try on other people?s skin.

So, where does that leave a non-comedian like Karan Johar, for instance? Or Rajeev Masand? How much of their true self is in the show? There is a place and time for such lines, in their life, I agree, but when it is being done for an audience, live or on the internet, do they worry about the kind of perception they are building around themselves, as a result? I suppose Parineeti Chopra did, as Rajeev Masand alluded to, in the blind item in this Open magazine gossip section.

The last point of discussion was around liking such shows openly. My friend pointed out to a lot of people on Twitter (seeing my timeline, since he doesn’t even lurk on Twitter!) expressing their liking for the show and in turn, appreciating the ribald lines of the show. This included a former Minister too (Milind Deora)!

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 5.56.45 pm

My friend pointed out to the raging television debate that happened just yesterday evening around an IAS officer being reprimanded by the Tamil Nadu Government for preaching Christianity, and that here is another opportunity for debate – can a current minister (hypothetically) openly appreciate a ribald show like the Roast (wherever it happens, in Comedy Central, or in India)? Or, for that matter, appreciate a Sunny Leone starrer in a magazine interview, again, hypothetically?

I can extend the logic: can a CEO of a company like it, openly, on Twitter or Facebook? How would his employees take that? Like my friend’s perception of Karan Johar, what would they think of their CEO for this open appreciation? Should they (the CEO) be subject to higher standards of <fill appropriate word here> just like the Government holding the IAS officer to higher standards?

Or, let me extend that logic in another direction – I noticed other actors like Sanjay Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Sonakshi Sinha in the audience. Does the fact that they laughed at foul jokes, in public glare (after the video went online) give others on Twitter some kind of right to tweet abusive or filthy jokes to them, about them? Would they be offended if they get tweets from strangers on similar lines? They may very well ignore such jokes, but can they complain that they are getting jokes in ‘poor taste’ (or offensive) from strangers on Twitter?

By that same logic, should Deepika be offended anymore by a national newspaper asking people to focus on her cleavage (photographed without her permission, no doubt) after sitting through and laughing at a line, from none other than Karan Johar (TOI equivalent of Indian film directors, at least from a popularity point of view?) like ‘the last good thing Ranveer Singh was in was Deepika Padukone’.

I do not know this either.

The only thing I did summarise to my friend is that Roast, as a form of humor, is subjective. It is intended to provoke, in any direction, but is also meant for mature audiences. And AIB makes it amply clear in the warnings. For example, I may not like death metal, as a form of music, but it is a legitimate form of music for those who like it. And I can choose to stay off that form of music, and perhaps even review it negatively in the media vehicles available to me, to convey my point of view about it. But I cannot go around seeking a ban on it to stop others from hearing it.

I think I have made this point clear. But he did leave me with a lot of other things worth pondering (the crux of this blog post).

Your take?