Tanmay Bhat, a couple of days ago released the now infamous face swap video featuring India’s nearest and dearest Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar. All liberal bias aside, personally the video was pretty much a compilation of idiotic humour, crude abuse and a badly done face swap. Rather than a roast, it was more of a slow-cooking if the flame was turned down to the lowest, most tepid degree. It was the strikingly unfunny mark of a comedian trying too hard. Honestly, when I saw it I expected people to go to their prevailing method of response and tweet “Tanmay Bhat is fat,” perhaps a defamation suite and Tanmay being forgotten or boycotted for a while.
Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena arose like, well, like it usually arises, with pointy trishuls and threats of quotation and murder, whilst Mumbai cops ran around trying to get Youtube and Google to block said video. FIRs were filed, thousands of death threats sent, and as Tanmay (the archetypal rude comedian caught out) tweeted Snapchat to pay him, the media jumped on that too to add “Greedy” to the litany of abuse. Personally, it’s the highest ceiling of irony possible, the fact that Bhat’s Snapchat video attracts an FIR and immediate police response but a violent threat from a group very prone to carrying out their attacks is seen as ordinary. After all, what are we Indians if not devoted to our Bharat Ratnas, right?
The primary point of the Tanmay-trishul is the fact that he’s insulting Bharat Ratnas, India’s gifts to its people, the jewels in our crown and the thrum of blood in our heart. Sachin and his never-ending cricket success, Mangeshkar and her evergreen voice have become India themselves, so it’s (somewhat) natural if people feel personally offended by such abuse. Now let me also introduce another news item: last week, Ajay Gangwar, an IAS officer, was given a punishment transfer for a Facebook post singing the praises of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Yes, you read that right, he was transferred for praising him, not for insulting him. Is it just me or wasn’t Nehru a Bharat Ratna too, as of 1955?
What then, separates a Good Bharat Ratna from a Bad Bharat Ratna? Perhaps it is those who have the approval of the masses, or those who have the approval of the ruling government. What is the difference between Tanmay Bhat’s insulting caricatures of Sachin and Lata, and countless Twitter users’ slander, perverted jokes and morphed pictures of Nehru? Is a Sachin joke more hurtful to people than depraved comments about Rajiv Gandhi, comments about Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi (who, whilst not officially a Bharat Ratna, is obviously a national icon), and even Satyajit Ray? What of the people saying Mahatma Gandhi’s death was beneficial and that Godse should have killed him sooner? The various badly researched, fabricated articles on ‘the perverse side of Gandhiji?”
One must consider the contrast of reaction to AIB’s ‘Congress Funeral’ skit with that of this video and the difference between the reaction of people to perverse morphed pictures of Sonia Gandhi, Nehru and others: why is a furor expected and encouraged from Sachin fans but followers of Gandhi and Nehru are expected to stay silent?
Hypocrisy is rampant. We either condemn insults on all national icons and heroes or none. And if it is the former, hasn’t comedy successfully driven into obsoleteness? I am not condoning Tanmay. Rather, I think his video was insensitive, especially to Mangeshkar and it was more sad to see the degeneration of humour than it being particularly funny. However, I am saying he does not deserve death threats from the violent Sena and he does not deserve the police nitpicking his videos to find something to charge him under. There is a spreading drought in this country, there are foreigners being attacked, history books being erased, rape and communal violence rising and we are asking our authority figures to take action on a stupid comedian. Let the populace, not the politicians, deal with Tanmay.
Let Twitter users call him fat, let people boycott their show if they wish, let Lata or Sachin themselves file a defamation suite but do not willfully silence someone. Because if Tanmay is silenced, then why are those degrading and perverting Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru allowed to continue? An insult toward the silent deceased is condoned, whilst bad comedy toward those capable of releasing defensive statements deserves death threats. All or nothing, please. We cannot be a ‘sort-of’ or ‘half-way’ democracy. Either we ban free speech like North Korea, or we allow it entirely and let the hurt persons file defamation if they wish.
See, even if Sachin speaks up now with a version of “Don’t Spare Me, Shankar,” the damage has been done. Tanmay has already been threatened by the Sena (who, as we all know, are perfectly capable of doing what they say they will), and we already have millions who think Tanmay deserves death. Is this the country we had envisioned, one in which comedians are put to death for bad jokes – does it not sound more like a Saudi Arabia or a Communist China than the democracy which gaspingly surfaced in 1947? I urge everyone to put aside personal bigotry and think only of fairness: is it fair firstly, to arrest, silence and threaten with violence an unfunny, attention-seeking comedian? And secondly, what differentiates a ‘good’ Bharat Ratna and a ‘bad’ Bharat Ratna, other than your own prejudice?
By Neha S