To take offence seems to be becoming a full-fledged pastime in India, and not just for political groups desperately searching for relevance. This became evident, once again, in the case of a stand-up comic named Tanmay Bhat who was found to have “insulted” “national icons” Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar by mocking them in a video.
The video posted by Bhat on a social media platform, where he has morphed the faces of Mangeshkar and Tendulkar onto his own, is puerile and downright abusive, apart from being ill-mannered and cruel. While even the most acclaimed figures in history have not been spared the rapier thrust of a satirist’s wit or a cartoonist’s pointed pen, satire or humour requires a degree of finesse to take “mocking” to a higher plane for it to become an art form. It is certainly not humour, or satire, when a “comedian”, Bhat, verbally abuses a person, urges him—in this case, her—to die and peppers his narration with expletives to score a point. Even all arguments in favour of freedom of artistic expression cannot take away from the fact that the video is coarse and is in sheer bad taste.
But that’s about it.
To make it into a matter of national importance, as it happened over the week, is over-reaction on the part of the two stars’ fans, the several cine stars and cultural “icons” who vented their ire on nightly television, and also the media.
Throw into this cauldron some local politics and it is no surprise that a marginalised party such as Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navanirman Sena has latched onto it in an act of desperation, after trying hard and failing for years to replace, in public perception, the Shiv Sena as the protector of the Marathi Manoos. Perhaps not finding many North Indians to beat up in Mumbai, the hoodlums of MNS have been threatening bodily harm to Bhat for insulting the two Maharashtrians. Not to be left behind, both the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party have jumped onto the bandwagon, urging action against Bhat. The police too has got involved in this theatre of the absurd, doing what it does best: urging Facebook and Google to block the video. It’s a different matter that Facebook and Google have taken scant notice of the angst gripping a rather emotional section of the two icons’ fan base and the video is up there for all to see for all time to come.
A democracy can be described as mature when it lets all sections to voice their views in an untrammelled manner, without trying to impose any restrictions. With maturity comes the ability to ignore what is unnecessary. Not every verbal transgression requires a reaction and certainly not the sort of hysteria witnessed against the “comedian”. Such reactions are out of place in a democracy.