No! You’ve Got To Be Joking

Sometimes our actual news is far funnier than anything comedians can invent.

ByAnuvab Pal
No! You’ve Got To Be Joking
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Nowadays, you look at the morning news and think, right I’ve probably read the worst possible thing that could have happened in India and then you read the next day’s one and something even worse pops up. Then there are news stories that just make you go, “Huh? Really?”

A powerful political party recently said that an upcoming film set in Goa showed Goa in a bad light. The filmmakers have promoted it as a zombie comedy movie. Which can only mean this: some politicians think showing zombies in Goa would lead to tourists thinking, “No, we shouldn’t go to Goa, first the booze is expensive and second, there are zombies. Look, some people in a movie are running away from zombies in Palolim, therefore we might have to do that if we went. You know, our daughter has just finished class 7, so we want a zombie-free holiday.”

Lately, Indian politicians have said a lot of stupid stuff but this stands out as genius.

People say stupid things. It’s what makes us people. After the horrible shooting in Newtown Connecticut in America where a teenager shot a bunch of 6-7 year olds, one Republican gun owner suggested that the massacre could have been avoided if the Kindergarten teachers were armed. Again, brilliant. A KG class where your teacher pulls out a Smith & Wesson if you don’t know what two times two is. Brilliant.

Here, however, the stupidity has hit a stratospheric level. The political party seems to have decided to overlook the idea, entirely, of “fiction”. That films involve, um, stories, that aren’t actually true. That reasonably tiny component that makes up cinema.

I don’t really know where to start. Perhaps explaining the idea of “imagination” something that they may have missed in their mugging up and spitting out education. Should we sit down and explain that there isn’t a man dressed as a bat defending a town called Gotham – and looking for this place on might be disappointing. That the 3 Idiots aren’t actually enrolled at IIT. That Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t actually detonate bombs when love struck.  That some people make it up in their heads and put it in a script and then go shoot it? Or might it be too advanced an idea for them to digest?

As far as I know, in my limited capacity, the world doesn’t have zombies outside movies. And no, your friend who smokes pot till 4 am is not a zombie. He’s close, he looks like one, but he’s still human, even though he mumbles instead of talks. And yes I agree that if zombies were to exist in any place on earth, Goa seems like a good place to retire. If it works for the living, why not for the walking dead? However, if there was a single individual in this nation or a tourist who saw this movie and thought, right, Goa, home to English breakfasts, lovely sunsets, great music and zombies, then I would love to meet this person and watch other movies with them.

Would he/she think for example that when Clint Eastwood was being a cowboy in a cowboy film that Clint owned that horse and dressed like that off-camera?

Should someone explain to someone at some point, that in a movie, this stuff is not actually happening? I understand cigarette causes cancer as I would imagine most people that go to the cinema, do. Are 43 public service messages showing macabre images of our chest with some fool talking in a “you’re going to die” accent necessary? It’s Sunday, we’re out for a movie, take it easy. We get it. The people in the movie are smoking because the character does, it does not mean I leave PVR and jump into a sea of Marlboros. This is the 21st century; we get what’s meant to be a story and what’s not. If they feel our citizens are so dumb that they can’t tell a film from life, why just end with cigarettes? Why not have massive disclaimers at the end of Zero Dark Thirty, which says, “Yes this film was about a terrorist. DO NOT go home and become a terrorist. Or like in this movie, you’ll be shot in the head.”

And do they think these kinds of censorship warnings actually help? Do they think Osama sat there thinking, “You know, yes the world knows me as a mass murdering terrorists but this movie affected me and now I’m thinking, maybe…pottery?”

Whenever stuff like this pops up, (earlier this year with Kamal Hassan’s Vishwaroopam and some years earlier with Jodha Akbar and many others), the argument in the media is always about censorship.  One group objects. The media asks entertainers should there be censorship and entertainers naturally respond with no (who will say yes?). That’s essentially the wrong argument. The argument is not one of censorship – it’s one between literacy and illiteracy. People who object (leaving their 4 minutes of fame as their incentive aside), have a much more fundamental literacy problem. They actually believe the people in a scene are those people in life.

Granted it is a very small minority but a minority in a billion people is perhaps the size of Holland. People can be illiterate but you’d think if the government should take a side, it should be the literate one. That would be, um, the educated thing to do which you think (hope) our lawmakers are. We may not be a nation that values imagination and storytelling over say, money and power, fine, but isn’t that where our elected officials should step in and say, “Listen everyone, this is a story. It is different from your life. If you are dumb enough to think what’s happening on screen is happening, then we’re here to tell you, it is not. And if you protest, you are a moron. Relax, it is just a movie. Rhitik Roshan is not Emperor Akbar, because then he’d be 532 years old, and we’d be hard-pressed to explain why he moved from The Red Fort to Juhu and Rahul Bose is not a one-eyed terror mastermind villain chilling in New York plotting terror with pigeons (we hope). And for the record, no dead people are walking around Goa knocking on doors of your Hyatt suite. Go enjoy yourselves, eat some popcorn, watch the action, it’s fun, it’s all made-up. Forget about it.”

Instead our politicians say, “Zombies in Goa? Hmmm. Maybe. May not be. Not sure. Let us investigate!”

If our politicians join the illiterate bandwagon, where does it end? Will they put up signs for tourists that say, “You are safe. Madhya Pradesh is a Gabbar Singh-free zone”. When the next Krrish franchise comes out will they tell the police, you can have the day off, we’ve seen what Krrish can do. Mr Rakesh Roshan will manage the city with his superhero from now on.

And what will they do to Hollywood movies? When the next King Kong comes out, would they issue a travel advisory to New York? Would a politician cancel a conference or delegation thing saying “Nope. Am fine right here. Not going to New York, what if King Kong grabs me and thrashes me around like he did to The Empire State Building”. Or “Indians!  Don’t go to small towns in America.  I’ve just watched ET. One minute you’ll be riding a cycle.  Next minute, an alien is flying your cycle. Dangerous dangerous place, the US. Avoid.”

And imagine if people abroad started taking a cue from this and noticing how we portray white people in Bollywood movies. They’d say, “Right you can’t shoot here, you show all our people as incompetent policeman or prostitutes. Your billion audience thinks all New Yorkers are Eastern European back-up dancers. Please leave”.

Or if aliens saw how they were portrayed in big budget Hollywood and said, “Eh, we don’t look like that ok. And why do you always show us destroying the White House? We have nothing else to do  or what? Now bus stop it. (I have no idea why an alien sounds like a 19 year-old Delhi college girl).

Old school Bollywood villains would often complain that when people met them, the most common comment was, “BUT he’s such a nice guy!”.  Poor Amrish Puri was fighting the same battle, trying to convince stupid people that he was a made-up guy in a story. That he didn’t actually own a cape and sign cheques as Mr Mo Gambo (which as an aside, sounds like a seafood restaurant).

In some parts of the world, human imagination is celebrated to an extent where they built entire theme parks around a movie or a character. You can go on a ride with pirates at Disneyworld or get scared by a mechanical Jaws at Universal Studios. Creative people in India are trying that, pushing boundaries and doing really cool stuff. Instead of helping them by telling the audience, “listen to him, he’s trying to tell you a story, get lost in it, they’ve dreamt up a whole world for you, how cool”, the first instinct of the authorities is to say, “Shut up. Just take your imagination and shut it”.

If Indian politics controlled our imagination, I can see the Indian movies of the future. A 2-and-a-half hour blank screen. No one would take offense. Nothing would happen. A perfect feel-good film for them. I can see some party saying “What a movie huh. Awesome no? No one was offended. Super. I can’t wait for the sequel. I hope they make the screen even blacker.”

Image By: Swarnabha Bannerjee

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