Bhupendra Chaubey And The Thin Red Lines Of Comedy

Last night, on prime time, it was suggested that creative pursuits make for a happy hunting ground for those inclined towards molestation. What the…?

ByAnuvab Pal
Bhupendra Chaubey And The Thin Red Lines Of Comedy
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I don’t watch much television news although I am aware that trial by media is fairly commonplace. Throwing up a photograph and beginning a segment, shouting “This Man IS A…” is the modern replacement for the ye olde days of Doordarshan News.

Equally, I find writing about the fallacies of how we cover the news to be a futile effort. One time, I saw a news anchor wearing badminton clothes and actually playing badminton on prime time. Why? Because PV Sindhu was on a winning streak at the Olympics. Wearing army fatigues inside a studio that is dubbed “war room” and covering any army story has become so common that it’s not comic anymore. It’s just normal. Judging from ratings, this is clearly what the public want – public executions or a Roman circus. Which makes it hard for comedians. Parodying or satirising something that is already the love child of a spectacle and a joke leaves us with very little to do.

Love and hate, some argue, are just different versions of loving something. If you truly dislike something, apathy sits above hate. That was my relationship with the news until last night.

Yesterday, on CNN-News 18, during Bhupendra Chaubey’s Big 5 @ 10, while covering sexual harassment and men in power, suggested (and I paraphrase) that Mumbai creative people (ie those working in comedy, film, ads and theatre), had a more suitable environment for misbehaviour than other professions. Because one could always turn around and say, “It was just a joke”.  The implication is that if people can take creative liberties with ideas, why not behavioural and moral liberties with colleagues?

Actually, why am I paraphrasing? Here’s what Chaubey asked first, “Is this a reality of this whole entertainment, creative setup in Mumbai, between Andheri and Bandra?” When comedian Karan Talwar rubbished this idea and said the creative world offered its participants freedom, Chaubey followed up with this question: “How free the environment is, how liberating the environment is, is that the problem? In our attempts to constantly push the creative envelop, somewhere along the line, the thin red lines get blurred? And are those the reasons why instances like these get reported?”

I needed a cold glass of water and some silence to understand what I’d just heard. Only Chaubey was helpfully going to explain himself a little more.

“What passes off as comedy may be extremely crass,” he said, “and maybe it all just adds up to this sentiment that ‘I can get away with it’.”

Comedian Karan Talwar sensibly responded with, “You are connecting dots that don’t exist”.

Now I’ve heard points made on TV that I don’t agree with, accusations that are unproven, judgments without evidence, the debate outcome decided before a debate. I’ve even seen a panellist get up and dance. This is the first time I witnessed madness. Proper insanity under the disguise of a normal question.

Imagine the logical extension of this idea.  A human resources department of some company saying, “Oh, we’re an accounting firm, we can’t really pursue your harassment case, because, you know, we do accounts. This isn’t like one of those Mumbai film companies or comedy offices where women are running around escaping from men every Thursday.”

Suggesting a profession or a line of work encourages a kind of behaviour or excuses it – as opposed to an individual – is a kind of legendary, archaic way of thinking. The sort that led to your neighbourhood uncle to say, “Oh she’s an air hostess. Therefore, she must party a lot.” Or “Oh, theatre person and anti-national comrade, can you sell me some marijuana?”

I’m not quite sure what the popular press think creative people do. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of “Oh those creative people! Fun lucky life! Crazy partying lifestyle. Anything goes!”. This is usually from people who have no idea and haven’t left their home since 1871 (as is common for all Indian social judgments).

So for Mr Chaubey, I have a suggestion: spend a day with a filmmaker or an assistant director or a comedian, or a production designer, man or woman, to realize that they work 24/7, for a fraction of the money earned in most other professions. Just to get a stepping stone that leads to another stepping stone. The only orgy happening here, sir, among these talented men and women, is of unpaid bills. All for the minute satisfaction of saying, “I did what I loved, at least I was honest to that, and went down in flames.”

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