By Sagar S Nov. 07, 2017
A cartoonist was arrested for criticising the TN government; a journalist was jailed for making fun of Modi. Their humour was in “poor taste”. The only jokes we are allowed to laugh at are the ones where actors like Akshay Kumar say, “Aap bell bajao, main aap ko bajata hoon”.
The thought police, or the WhatsApp Uncle Unit as it is known in India considering its harsh stance on smart jokes, has claimed another victim. A Tamil Nadu cartoonist was arrested for what he believed to be sharp and thoughtful satire, and what the authorities thought was insulting because it showed a couple of politicians covering their genitals with cash. Maybe, it got too close to reality.
The WhatsApp Uncle Unit has had a busy couple of weeks, getting a journalist arrested for making fun of the prime minister on the messaging service, and another man for making obscene jokes about him on Facebook. A message is clearly being sent here: No joke directed at a prime minister, a chief minister, or even “Yes Minister” will henceforth be permitted in this country.
What all three of the aforementioned “bad jokes” had in common were that they took digs at an authority figure. But did anyone see Archana Puran Singh rolling around on the floor like a hyena who accidentally ingested a tank of N20? I don’t think so. That’s a problem because this is apparently the new gold standard for any joke to be considered funny. That, and a person of Navjot Singh’s stature sitting on a throne, approving the humour through laughter that can be heard well over Arnab Goswami’s journalism.
The WhatsApp Uncle Unit will soon decide what we should laugh at, and frankly that takes a lot of pressure off us. I no longer have to go for a stand-up set and decide if I feel the emotion of humour for myself. I simply run it by this handy checklist compiled by the new police unit:
Does this joke insult a particular gender, or race?
Does it contain digs about an imaginary scam?
Does it refrain from insulting political parties whose names begin with B and end with P?
Does it deliver a mildly sexual, misogynist punchline?
Only when the answer to all these questions is a yes, do I think it worthy to let out a chuckle.
It turns out that in this country laughing at anything that hasn’t been approved by a person with a round belly and a silver tooth is officially out of fashion.
The changes the WhatsApp Uncle Unit has brought about are there for all to see. Very soon the maximum amount of humour we will be allowed in our lives is to turn on the TV and see the men of Bigg Boss piss on the ground, and wax themselves while the women slut-shame and colour-shame each other. Then we can tune into that other *insert generic comedy show title here* where actors like Akshay Kumar think it’s super hilarious to say “Aap bell bajao, main aap ko bajata hoon” to a comedienne. The tweet uproar from this incident may have led to a series of compilation articles and a response from Mrs Funnybones herself, but meanwhile, we turned a blind eye to the guy who got arrested for making a sheep joke.
It turns out that in this country laughing at anything that hasn’t been approved by a person with a round belly and a silver tooth is officially out of fashion. Our sense of humour will now be dictated by a person who loves the latest Golmaal movie, a person who laughs uproariously when the hero mispronounces “Santa” to rhyme with “ghanta” (Get it? Ghanta sounds funny, lol). Jokes must start with “My wife is so ugly” and end with the perverse objectification of a Bollywood actress. Visual comedy must involve at least one roundish man dressed in drag, and another telling him how terrible he looks in said drag. Stand-up comedy must only address the issues current Indian engineers are facing, the issues future engineers may face, and how everyone in India attempts the IAS but fails.
The benchmarks and guidelines for Indian comedy have been set. Let all the good Indians who care about soldiers at the border follow. We will become a nation that enjoys our farce with farsan, and are happy to throw satire into the pyre. It’s said that laughter brings people together, and that holds true in India as well, where all comedians can get together and have a good laugh… in a prison cell.
Sagar has lived in Mumbai for most of his life. You can often find him complaining about potholes and local trains when he isn't out having a mediocre time.