#LOL

All India Bakchod is proof that India’s moral police is fighting a losing battle

Quartz india
Quartz india

A section of India’s right-wing moralists are standing up to apparently protect the country’s culture, women and youth from, well, stand-up comedians.

In a criminal complaint against comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB)—and a group of Bollywood celebrities—Akhilesh Tiwari, president of Brahman Ekta Seva Sanstha, objected to gross and abusive language used at a comedic “roast” performance, where the comedians took down two young Bollywood actors, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor.

“The show, which can be seen on YouTube and other websites, was extremely abusive and it is not only ruining the clean image of the Indian culture & women, but is also misleading today’s youth,” Tiwari reportedly said.

And while Tiwari is surely entitled to his opinion—and the right to file a police complaint—it is perhaps time that India’s moral police understands that it is fighting a losing battle.

Fan following

There’s a simple reason why AIB successfully transformed itself from producers of humble podcasts to YouTube sensations: Indians actually like to watch its brand of irreverential humour that isn’t afraid to poke fun at the rich and famous.

So, while popular television shows like “Roadies” and “Splitsvilla” are forced to censor expletives, the gents (and occasionally ladies) of AIB actually talk like how normal young Indians often talk. AIB’s dialogues might lack in finesse, not accuracy.

Admittedly, the AIB Knockout “roast” was packed with a little more than the usual colourful fare, but it didn’t come without warnings about its adult content.

And with its three part YouTube version viewed over 8 million time in less than a week, there’s clearly demand for its content in a country where 65% of the population is under 35 years.

Perhaps the weight of this demography compelled the Maharashtra government to back down after reports suggested that it was going to examine AIB’s show to check for “vulgar” content. The state’s minister for culture made his stand clear in a tweet early on Feb. 2:

Comedian and AIB co-founder Tanmay Bhat declined comment when Quartz reached out to him, although the comedy collective put out a short statement via Twitter:

The offended

While censorship on television and in cinema—bees and flowers, bleeps and abrupt cuts—are par for course in India, free-speaking, profanity-spewing, stand-up comedians are an entirely new (and unregulated) phenomenon.

AIB’s event, which originally took place in December last year at a packed stadium in Mumbai, was the biggest homegrown stand-up gig of its kind seen in India. Some 4,000 attendees paid Rs4,000 ($65) to watch a clutch of Indian comics and Bollywood A-listers make fun of themselves, each other and any celebrity worth lampooning for almost two hours.

Those who bought tickets presumably knew what they were going to watch—and most chose to sit through it.

Even when it was released to the public, AIB only put it on their YouTube channel, with appropriate warnings in place.

Effectively, for someone to be offended by AIB’s latest, they either had to pay good money to watch it—or choose to click on the YouTube video.

Nonetheless, India keeps getting offended—again and again.

In November 2014, the Indian government suspended the US entertainment channel, Comedy Central, for six days. Reason: Obscene and vulgar content. This, however, wasn’t the first time. In 2007, the government banned Fashion TV for two months, and again in 2010 for 10 days.

The moral policing in case of the AIB videos is starker—it wasn’t broadcast on Indian television.

Consent to insult

But AIB and their ilk aren’t merely comedy collectives anymore.

They have such terrific traction that mainstream Bollywood stars are making a habit of aligning themselves with these online-only outfits to reach key audiences. The partnership has grown rapidly in recently months—and it’s here to stay in the form of promotional events, marketing for films, and in this case, raising money for charity.

Such is this newfound affection that Bollywood stars, including the likes of director Karan Johar, and comedians were party to the choicest insults—and with consent.

Meanwhile, filmmaker Ashoke Pandit—a new member of India’s Central Board of Film Certification—had this suggestion.

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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