Thursday, February 12, 2015

All India Bakchod - Their experiments with the law

First, an apology for a rather delayed post, and, on a subject that has now become somewhat stale.

This is about the All India Bakchod `Roast’. I think it would be helpful if you know what a `Roast’ is as well as get some background on the controversy.

Wikipedia says that a `Roast’ is an event in which a specific individual, a guest of honour, is subjected to good-natured jokes at their expense intended to amuse the event's wider audience. This type of event was created as a mock counter to a `Toast’. Such events are intended to honour a specific individual in a unique way. In addition to jokes and insult comedy, such events may also involve genuine praise and tributes. The implication is that the roastee is able to take the jokes in good humour and not as serious criticism or insult, and it is seen by some as a great honour to be roasted. The individual is surrounded by friends, fans, and well-wishers, who can receive some of the same treatment as well during the course of the evening.

The party and presentation itself are both referred to as a "roast." The host of the event is called the "roast master." Anyone who is honoured in such a way is said to have been "roasted."

All India Bakchod or AIB is a Mumbai based comedy group. They have released several skits on You Tube, most of which are hilarious by most standards. The skits are genuinely funny, well put together and have just enough bad language so as to remain in context. I have seen almost all these skits. One member of AIB, Ashish Shakya is a columnist for Hindustan Times. I make it a point to read his columns. They are often very funny. Sometimes they are badly written, but that is not the point.

The point I am making is that I am familiar with AIB’s work, I find it funny, I like it and it does not contain heaps of filthy language. In other word, they have built up a formidable reputation by remaining `clean’. And, yes, I have watched the show i.e. the `Roast’.

The `Roast’ was held on 20th December 2014 at the Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium at the NSCI in Mumbai for which, AIB, have been at pains to point out, tickets cost Rs. 4,000/-. Karan Johar was the Roast Master and Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor were the `Roastee’s’. Of course pot shots were taken at many others, Deepika Padukone, Karan Johar, Alia Bhat and others. The proceedings of the `Roast’ were recorded and later on 28th January 2015 i.e. 5 weeks after the show, uploaded on You Tube for all to see. This 5 week gap should be borne in mind by you, dear reader. The You Tube link contained language to the effect that if you were under 18 years of age and/or easily offended you should not watch the clip.

The clip went viral and soon the long arm of the law intervened. FIR’s have been lodged against the participants. Presumably investigations are on. The complaints range from obscenity, using filthy language, the `Roast’ being offensive to dignity of women, Christians and Sindhis, digs at sexual orientation and so on and so forth.

AIB have pulled the clip off You Tube. AIB have apologised to the Archdiocese of Mumbai for hurting the sentiments of the Christian community. The apology has been accepted.

This episode has resulted in an uproar. You have protests from those who support free speech [without being aware that there is no free speech in Indian Law], you have women groups protesting, Christian groups, Hindus, intellectuals who alas are also unaware that there is no free speech in Indian Law, television anchors stoking flames. In other words, just a normal storm in our tea cup. Frankly, this entire storm in a teacup is only among the English speaking. This will never cause a storm in a `Khullad’.

Now, I am a washed up lawyer with an incomplete and imprecise knowledge of law in general and criminal law in particular. This places me in the unique and privileged position of expressing my opinion on this subject.

With help from Legally India, here are transcripts of portions of the show. Please do read this with attention.

"I am not saying that Ranveer Singh does Sh** films but truly, the last good thing he was in, was Deepika Padukone."

"Ranveer spent 4 years in the industry. One of acting and three years of getting over Anushka Sharma."

"Arjun has lost the kilos faster than Deepika lost her dating standards."

"In 2 States, Arjun plays a Punjabi guy who falls for a hot South Indian. So basically he played Boney Kapoor. "

"Parineeti Chopra is not here tonight as we told her she will get f***ed by 10 dudes in front of 4000 thousand people. Karan Johar is here for the same reason."

"Deepika and Ranveer, what an awesome couple. Deepika is a state level Badminton player. Ranveer is a national level sex offender. "

"Kuch Kuch Hota Hain is Ranveer's favorite. Even today he will reach out to a box of tissues. Because he is the only guy who will j**k out to Farida Jalal."

"Arjun and Ranveer send out the message that if you work hard, then one day, you too can S**k Adi Chopra's C*ck."

"No matter how remote, dangerous or smelly, if there is a hole, Ranveer Singh will enter it. "

"We wanted Ranbir, but we only managed Ranveer..which is what Deepika did, so it should be okay" 

“F***ing, Abuses by Mother name, Bhosdi Ke, Ch**t (Hindi Word for vagina), L**d (Hindi Word for penis), Male & Woman Genitals, were used very often.

“[X] is so unattractive that he was an altar boy for 10 years and even a priest wouldn't touch him” 

Explanation: The trope of paedophilia within the Church is very common in comedy and often used as a stock joke, though it is originally based on widespread child abuse scandals within the Catholic and Roman Catholic churches by priests, for which churches in many countries have issued apologies.

“X is such a virgin, that in five days he's going to give birth to Jesus. Unfortunately [he's] also so ugly, that Jesus doesn't love him but he just wants to be friends.” 

Explanation: This was used as a put-down of one of the AIB comedian’s sexual prowess, referencing Christians' belief that in the Bible, Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God. The second part is referencing Christians’ common belief that Jesus loves everyone, couple with the insinuation that the target does not have a girlfriend.

“[X] is so catholic, once he's done masturbating, it takes three days for his [penis] to resurrect.” 

Explanation: Referencing catholic guilt of masturbation, innuendo about a lack of sexual prowess, obliquely linked to a reference about the resurrection of Jesus.

One of the statements made by Mr. Vinod Tawde the Maharashtra Culture Minister was that he had directed an enquiry to be made on the question as to whether the `Roast’ had the necessary permissions in place. This is of some relevance.

My enquiries with those in greater know than me reveal that all performances require permission. As far as scripted performances are concerned, a copy of the script has to be submitted when applying. Thus, scripts of plays are submitted. Furthermore, at times the performance may be directed to be open for viewing by adults only.

Now as far as extempore performances are concerned [which the `Roast’ was claims is one, which claim was later denied by AIB] you cannot possibly have a script. So, in these cases a synopsis of the performance is submitted to the authorities, who, presumably grant permission on condition that there will be no deviation from the synopsis.

A complaint against AIB was that the script submitted deviated from the actual performance. Now this, to me, is mystifying. If the show was extempore it could not have a script. AIB said that the show was not extempore i.e. not live, in a reply to the authorities. But, at the same time the show was touted as being live. Why was there a 5 week delay in upload? Was there a lot of manipulation in `creating’ a live show? Is there more than what meets the eye? Is AIB caught up in its own web of lies? Is there any permission? I have no answer.

None of these laws or requirements is new and unknown. So why is there so much confusion?

Now our English `Middia’ had a few shouting matches on this controversy. Alas, they could not continue as the AAP – BJP – Arvind Kejriwal – Kiran Bedi show hogged prime time television. The points being explored, ad nauseum by our English `Middia’ – breathless schoolgirl Barkha Dutt and the equally breathless and extremely sanctimonious Nidhi Razdan – were, who is to decide what is obscene and vulgur? People were at pains to answer. I am amazed at the sheer stupidity and ignorance of the compares’’ as well as the talk show participants. Surely the answer is the Courts. I mean what are Courts there for? Do they not determine questions of law, do they not determine if a crime has been committed? So why do we have these asinine questions? I have no answer.

Some of the other clichéd questions asked.

Is there absolute freedom of speech in India?

Do you have the right to offend and equally be offended?

Why are we such a sensitive nation/people?

If you are so easily offended why not turn the TV off, or log out of You Tube or not read the book?

No matter how offensive, a couple of jokes/painting/cartoons/[insert your offence of choice here] can do nothing to diminish our faith in Christianity/Islam/Sikhism/[insert your faith of choice here].

Is not Christianity/Islam/Sikhism/[insert your faith of choice here] greater than the jokes made?

Well dear readers, the cruel fact is that we do not, in law, have absolute freedom of speech. To very briefly point this out, you should keep in mind the differences between India and France. France, of course being where the Charlie Hebdo massacre took place.

In India freedom of speech is subject to the following limitations.

1.             security of the State,
2.             friendly relations with foreign States,
3.             public order,
4.             decency and morality,
5.             contempt of court,
6.             defamation,
7.             incitement to an offence, and
8.             sovereignty and integrity of India.

In France the position is slightly different. Here the restrictions:

1.             prohibit incitement to hatred, discrimination, slander and racial insults.
2.             prohibit any racist, anti Semite, or xenophobic activities, including Holocaust denial.
3.             prohibit hatred against people because of their gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

Most significantly, France does not implement any preliminary government censorship for written publications. Any violation of law must be processed through the courts.

Therefore, some parts of the `Roast’ even in France would have fallen within (3) above. There is simply no point is jabbering on about freedom of expression in India. It does not exist in absolution. Of course we may aspire to a Utopian state where absolute freedom of expression does or, could exist, but, alas, at the moment it does not.

If absolute freedom of speech does not exist, why should turning a blind eye, i.e. turning the TV off, or logging out of You Tube or not reading the book stop the act from being an offence? A wrong is a wrong whether you see it or switch off. Can our `Middia’ and intellectuals and liberals not realise this?

To conclude, as he has been most appropriately described, Our Nation’s Conscience – Aamir Khan has suddenly jumped into this. An ulterior motive? He says:

“I don’t like to show you violence. I am sure there are lot of young people who have liked the show. My opinion is that it was a violent show. Karan (Johar) and Arjun (Kapoor) are my friends and I scolded them and told them that I was not impressed with it. I am not someone who can laugh at abuses and bad language, I think I have passed that age. I am not a 14 year-old who will laugh at abuses. I am not impressed. I personally have a problem with what they have done, therefore I have not seen the show. I felt that this is not my type of show, that’s why I haven’t seen it,” 

Did you get the last sentence? Truly another great intellectual.

By the way, did you think that the transcript was offensive? I did.

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