Hate campaigns against Indian comedians have resulted them to be stuck between fragile egos and FIRs
A group of friends sat together after a long day at work. Over coffee, they began discussing a funny incident that happened at work. One thing led to another, and they all got into hysterical laughter. It got so intense that they couldn’t stop laughing and then one said, “I can’t breathe!”- to which another replied, “Is it because black lives matter?”
Did you find this joke funny or did you find it offensive?
The silence in the room was quite awkward, probably because none of them could find the answers to the questions.
Comedians are stuck in that awkward silence in between fragile egos and FIRs. Given the current political and religious scenario, the cancel and woke culture, the space for humor is diminishing in the world’s largest democracy. The film tries to find the answer to the question “Who decides what is funny and what is offensive?”
Indian comedians have to be prepared for a lot of things including an audience who might not be in on a joke, hate comments on social media and easily hurt sentiments. However, in the last decade an FIR has topped the list.
Kjeld Shresth, a Bangalore based comedian was under the radar due to a joke where he compared religion to toothpaste. He said, “Sarcasm today is a dying concept. Everyone takes everything literally. They’re always trying to find what is between the lines. The only reason I became a comedian is because I wanted no responsibilities in life or in what I say.”
Shivangi Shrivatsav, another comic in the city, usually finds content from her regular day-to-day life. She said, “I joke about my condition-Polio. But people take offense in that too. It’s my condition, I’m joking about it. For the past few weeks, I’ve refrained from making those jokes, because I notice the shift in the audience. I have to check the audience and then make the joke.”
Shivangi also adds that she refrains from making political jokes as she wants to make it big in this industry. She chuckles, “I stay away from it. It is not that I am not ready to make political jokes, it is that the people are not ready for those kind of jokes. We have to work according to the market, let us not get ahead of ourselves. If people are not ready to accept a joke on my disability, I don’t think they can accept anything else. I don’t want to end up in jail.”
Comedians find it difficult to ascertain what the audience finds offensive. Lohit Kumar S., Co-founder and Director of Multi-box Entertainment Private Limited, said, “I don’t know what people are sensitive about sometimes. It is always a challenge to understand that. There is the woke community who is vocal about the sensitive things, and then there is the other side who is sensitive about the emotions.”
The debate between humor and offence has come under the spotlight especially with the advent of social media. But that has also given momentum to online hate and the cancel culture. The generation today has learnt to be sensitive and accepting of different aspects regarding gender, sexuality and cultural norms. So, making fun or ridiculing these advances is what the society finds insensitive.
Sourav Chunder, a lawyer, said, “In so far as Freedom of Speech and Expression is concerned, there is a fine balance which is however a perceptive balance. This distinguishes what is in the freedom of speech and what is a breach. It is perceptive because what is moral to you may not be moral to me.” He also added that there are a plethora of Supreme Court judgements that mere criticism of someone in power or anybody, cannot tantamount to a breach of that line that is protected by the Freedom of Speech and Expression.