In India, Comedy Is Not All Fun And Games

Image Credit: Pixabay (Representational Image)

In India, Comedy Is Not All Fun And Games

India is a promising market for creative talents to emerge. However, they have been subjected to crackdowns by the ruling dispensation, thereby severely limiting their freedom of speech.

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Gone or those days when comedy was restricted to only films and weekend shows in India. The new age has pulled up their socks and is looking forward to entertaining the masses with their fresh, sometimes shady and a lot funnier jokes. Comedy has now become a serious business with several youngsters looking to make their place in it.

Over the last decade, the massive boom of the digital medium has given stand-up comedians a platform to showcase their skills. So have spaces like cafes.

The Rise of Comedy

Flashback to 2005, the Indian consumer was just acquainting himself/herself to the world of social networking with Facebook, Orkut, Messenger and YouTube and the youngsters preferred to lighten their weariness out by conventional recreation methods like sports, reading and watching romantic comedies. Fast-forward to 2015, YouTube provided the much-required initial kick to beginners in comedy. That was when stand-up comedy and several open mic events started taking place. However, the question arises if the Indian market has the appetite for accepting 'jokes' as they come. Comedians have long been charged for their defamatory jokes about film stars and politicians.

In 2014, the infamous AIB Roast tickled the funny bones of many. However, the event was followed by lawsuits and became a reason for conflict between many in the glitzy film industry. In the 21st century, while the youngsters are looking out for creative ways to make a living, the other side is that the country still is one of the most sensitive nations. The West is doing considerably well in this regard. In Western countries, comedians have the liberty to make jokes on national leaders in the garb of their right to free speech, whereas, in India, one can be allowed the right to speech if it is not defamatory, seditious and does not hurt another's individuals' or their religions' sentiments.

Troubled Incidents Of Comedians

Such a scenario limits comedy to a great extent. In January this year, comedian Munawar Farooqi was put behind bars for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. And as if that were not enough, the Madhya Pradesh High Court denied bail to him. The matter went up to the Supreme Court, and it was only after a Supreme Court judge's intervention did the Indore jail authorities allow Farooqi to walk free.

In December 2020, the Supreme Court issued several show-cause notices to comedian Kunal Kamra for 'contempt of court' for criticising the court for granting bail to Republic TV Editor Arnab Goswami. The Attorney General of India KK Venugopal had highlighted a few tweets of Kamra in his letter, which were defamatory to the court. The tweets read, "The Supreme Court of the country is the most Supreme Joke of the country." He further posted an image of the Supreme Court premises with a saffron flag in the foreground, indicating the influence of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party.

A majority of the Indian population are youngsters who try to find and experience newer ways of entertainment, relaxation and rejuvenation. Therefore, the fact that India is a promising market for creative talents to emerge is unquestionable. At the same time, the government's stringent policies and the fear of being put behind bars can handcuff specific ideas even before they are put to practice. On the other hand, British and American comedians like John Oliver and Bill Maher have redefined how comedy should be put forth and accepted. The list goes on and on.

Stand-Up Comedy, An Attraction For Public

Metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru have lively nightlife (or did have one before COVID). However, repeated songs and a similar environment at all pubs and restaurants wear the public out, especially youngsters who want to try something different plan to invest their time and money. Thus, the owners of bars, restaurants and cafes had to rope in local musicians, stand-up comedians and open mic speakers to attract their customers better. While the COVID-19 pandemic was a curse for almost everyone, it was also a blessing in disguise for those who always wanted to start something on their own, Forbes mentioned.

The trend of reels on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, all were by-products of the pandemic. Once again, social media and YouTube became a platform for people to engage in heavily during lockdown's long and boring months. While old stand-up comedians saw an increase in their viewership, the budding artists also had the opportunity to attract a larger circle of viewers, just because everyone had ample time at hand and wanted something new to help them break out of their monotonous work daily routines.

The comedy industry in India is thriving, but the comedians are wary of putting out content that might hurt someone's sentiments. Creativity is one of those personality traits that lacks the sense of legal or political judgement. Therefore, keeping a hold of a large chunk of the audience, while ensuring that you are politically correct is a tad too much to ask for, especially from the generation that loves ideas, relaxation and speed, all at once.

The comedy industry is once again one of those sectors where India might profit by following the example of the West. A liberal set of laws and an acceptance of the sense of humour is much-needed. The audience relates better to the jokes when the jokes are relatable, and joking about mannerisms and non-living things are too little to explore. The human side of every industry is the face of it. Therefore, it is imperative to take things with a pinch of salt now and then, especially if one knows that they are looking forward to some entertainment and laughter.

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Editor : Madhusree Goswami
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Creatives : Ratika Rana