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Dissent with a grain of humour

Published : Nov 6, 2016, 9:59 pm IST
Updated : Nov 6, 2016, 9:59 pm IST

In times of trouble, humour perhaps could be the best tool to speak out against power and conformity, provided it’s used with some caution thrown in. Dissenters weigh in.

Ravish Kumar (centre) with the mime artistes on November 4
 Ravish Kumar (centre) with the mime artistes on November 4

In times of trouble, humour perhaps could be the best tool to speak out against power and conformity, provided it’s used with some caution thrown in. Dissenters weigh in.

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you,” goes one of the several aphorisms from the master of words, Bernard Shaw. NDTV’s Ravish Kumar video with mime artistes (in response to the ban on the channel after the Pathankot reportage) is arguably one of the most innovative forms of dissent in recent times and borrows heavily from Shaw’s philosophy. While much was being discussed about the one-day ban here, interestingly, something similar happened in UK. British MP Andrew Rosindell demanded that the country’s national anthem, God Save The Queen be played at the end of BBC1’s programming every day. In response, the channel played God Save the Queen, the Sex Pistol’s single.

Funny man Cyrus Broacha who hosts the show The Week That Wasn’t, has been pushing the boundaries of political satire for years now. Although in a ‘quasi democracy’ like ours, no one really knows where the line of control lies, he admits. “Every week we learn something new. It’s almost like a puzzle piece; every week, we check what we can get away with.” He laments that statesmen these days are appreciative of intelligent jibes. “I would like to refer to what Arun Jaitley had lamented about humour being lost in the statesmen of our country. Look at statesmen like Feroze Gandhi or Vidyasagar — unfortunately today politicians are busy sledging because they lack better language.” But Cyrus has a way to work around the edges. “I draw inspiration from the Soviet writers like (Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn, who kept writing critical about the state without actually offending them.” Taking a spin on Winston Churchill’s famous speech (“we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields”) Cyrus adds, “We shall fight from the ditches, under the ground and from under the sea.”

Fellow comedian Anuvab Pal isn’t a big fan of political satire even though he believes that it is the last resort in terms of being a form of dissent. “Often comedians pick on the government for shock value. I feel it’s easy. What we really need though is better and clever writing to go around the system. Eventually everything boils down to how things are being censored and how one can keep resisting just that. Humour hasn’t been the target yet because I think there has been a lot of self-censoring that the writers have imposed upon themselves,” he says.

Speaking of satire, Kundan Shah was one of the first to take on take on the establishment in a delightfully comic way with his film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron that earned a cult status in Hindi films. As much as he enjoys humour, he believes it is a means to “live through suffocation” than make a difference. “When I made the film, I think I could get away with a lot because the film was produced by NFDC.” he says.

“Although several artists like Vijay Tendulkar and Anand Patwardhan had to face censorship. Having said that, it wasn’t as bad as it is today. There is some sort of invisible military program that’s threatening everyone,” Shah rues.

Speaking on the dose of humour for surviving rough times, he points out, “I think people need humour to survive. It is a form of resistance for sure. It might express the frustration but cannot bring a real change. Humour can only help one to live through suffocation.”

True as it may be, it isn’t a form that can thrive in ‘our part of the world’, points out columnist and writer, Aakar Patel. ” He explains, “Humour works only in a civilised world. Even though we live in a democratic country, there is a threat of violence and a threat to any form of dissent. I don’t think today someone like the great reformer Perriyar Naicker (who broke Ganesha idols as a act of dissent) could do the same thing today; the mob wouldn’t allow him.” The fact that pages like ‘Realhistorypics’ and ‘Norinder Mudi’ are so popular, and yet the owners of the page stay anonymous says something about the current state of things, he argues.

Citing the famous satirist and writer Khushwant Singh, Aakar continues, “He had said that said Indians have no sense of humour. To which I would like to add, that we have no ‘tolerance’ for humour either.”

In Britain, mainstream musicians apart from humorists have also played a part in building up the conscience of the youth — punk rockers like

The Clash and Sex Pistols brought sensible dissent in vogue. Have Indian musicians stayed behind Rahul Ram of Indian Ocean and his musical/comedy collective Aisi Taisi Democracy laments, “There is a history of protest songs in India. But in mainstream of course you cannot expect anyone to express any form of political dissent. Except a few in the periphery of the music industry, and who sing mostly in regional languages, music in India won’t respond to the current problems.” Can we imagine Farhan Akhtar singing a song about the Bhopal encounter, for instance “It’s not happening. And why would he When he knows that immediately he would be attacked by the huge political lumpens.”

Balladeer, Gadar, Imphal Talkies, Sumon and Rabbi are a few names that come to his mind in the context. However, according to him it’s the cartoonists in India who have done the most for the cause of political satire. Speaking of what worked in favour of Aisi Taisi Democracy he adds, “We poked fun at everyone and everybody which I think people could see through.”