In a country like India, where taking offence is a national pastime, how political can the comic scene be? Is it okay to make jokes on politicians and their politics, or is everyone too scared of Jaya Bachchan?
We sent email questionnaires to India’s leading comics and satirist to get answers to these questions. We also asked them to rate themselves on our liberal-conservative scale.
Next on our series is Ashwin Kumar. Apart from writing regular satire columns for The Unreal Times, Ashwin is also the co-editor for the Tamil version of the portal.
How political is comedy in India?
I personally feel it depends on the areas the comedians and comedy writers are focusing on. There are many areas apart from politics too, where comedy can be and is being done – Bollywood, sports, business, technology, happenings in everyday life, and so on.
But yes, there’s no doubt that politics, especially in India, as has been proven time and again, provides great fodder for comedy. Every political party has at least one neta who’s an object of fun. Comedy has always been an effective tool to get your thoughts across to the public. With the advent of social media, politics is being discussed a lot more by the youth and is seeing a lot more involvement by the youth. Fun at the politicians’ expense is something the public seems to enjoy a lot. Laughing at jokes on them is probably a way for the public to get their frustration with the system out and de-stress themselves. Hence, we’ll probably see more and more political comedy in India.
How important is it for comedy to be political?
Again, I feel it depends on what the comedian or comedy writer is seeking to do. If he or she is just looking to entertain people with comedy, she can do it even without taking stands on political issues or being for or against things. Like I said, it depends on the areas – Politics, Bollywood, sports etc. On the other hand, if they’re looking to propagate some thought, message or ideology to their audience, then being political and bringing politics in perhaps gives it a bigger push.
We know there are a large number of liberal comics (writers and performers) in India. But are there any conservative comics in the country? If yes, please name a few.
I could be wrong here, but this is what I feel:
Liberalism and conservatism in India have unfortunately become very subjective terms. Everyone one has their own definition of liberalism. For some (I don’t mean comedians/comedy writers), being liberal means blindly opposing anything and everything Hindu or opposing anything and everything Narendra Modi does or hating Indian culture and tradition at every step. And those who are against this bunch of people hate to bring themselves anywhere near the word “liberal”.
Because of the thoughts and actions of this bunch, there tends to be a generalization and the word “liberal” itself is increasingly becoming a joke (going by the popularity of the “Adarsh Liberal” jokes online.) And it’s happening the other way too, with a bunch of people blindly supporting anything and everything Narendra Modi does.
Being liberal is increasingly being seen as hating your culture and blindly aping the West. Being conservative is something that is seen as being still rooted to your culture, traditions and having a liking for them instead of blindly aping western ideas.
There’s also a misconception that all liberals are left-leaning and all conservatives are right-leaning. There can be and are right-wing liberals too.
But I believe that no matter what his/her political stances are, at heart every Indian is liberal in the sense that at some level, we believe in peace, tolerance and the principle of “live and let live.” I guess that’s just the way Indian culture and philosophy is. If we hadn’t been liberal deep down, we’d have become another Pakistan.
Where would you place yourself on our liberal–conservative scale?
I believe in taking the good things from both schools of thought, but going by the definitions I gave in my previous answer, I would give myself a six.