As comedy explodes with the internet, lawsuits and threats, no kidding

On December 4, Arun Yadav, the Haryana chief of the IT department of the BJP, posted to his more than 4 million followers on Twitter. “Will the spectacle of a traitor like Munawar Faruqui be allowed anywhere in Gurugram across India?” “

It was the scheduled performance of stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui at the Gurgaon Three-Way Comedy Festival from December 17-19.

For Faruqui, it was not the first experience of this kind. In January, the comedian spent more than after being accused by a member of the Hindu group Rakshak of hurting religious feelings during one of his shows.

Three days after his release, Faruqui took to Instagram with one, stating “Let the darkness inside me complain. I made thousands of faces laugh.” But the optimism seemed to be over. short lived as he prepared to return to the stage, but show after show was canceled amid threats from Hindutva outfits. On November 27, with 12 shows canceled in two months, a frustrated Faruqui wrote that “hatred has won “and that” the artist was conquered “.

But when approached by the organizers to perform at the Gurgaon Comedy Festival, Faruqui agreed. However, as soon as a poster of the lineup was released, co-founder Mubin Tisekar said Laundry that they “began to receive several repeated threatening calls.”

Two days later, Yadav approached the police accusing the comedian of offending Hindu feelings through his jokes. Faruqui’s performance was dropped again when Yadav filed a lawsuit on December 6. He’s not the only one facing the heat from the right wing for telling a joke.

Change and self-censorship

In 2020, comedian Kunal Kamra was charged with contempt of court for his social media posts and in 2018 one of his shows was in Baroda because the vice-chancellor of the university he was to attend. Produce believed that Kamra would “ideologically pollute the minds of the youth” ahead of the 2019 general election.

Sanjay Rajoura, a satirist associated with Aisi Taisi Democracy, was also the subject of a police complaint and abuse on social media last year for jokes deemed “to hurt Hindu feelings.” His Twitter account is still suspended.

In the same year, comedian Agrima Joshua received a prize for allegedly insulting Chhatrapati Shivaraj Maharaj in a previous video.

In February, Hindi comedian Shyam Rangeela was also the subject of a police complaint over a video mocking soaring fuel prices while impersonating Prime Minister Narendra Modi in front of a gas pump in Sriganganagar, Rajasthan. Rangeela apologized but did not remove the video. Even in 2017, invited to perform at the Great Indian Laughter Challenge, Rangeela said he should not emulate Modi or Congressman Rahul Gandhi.

More recently, one against comedian Vir Das for his performance at the John F Kennedy Center in Washington DC for “undermining the image of India”.

As the comedy scene in India has experienced an unprecedented boom over the past decade with increased access to the internet and social media spawning new stars, complaints, lawsuits, threats and complaints. trolls negatively impacted the boundaries of a joke. This is evident in the way comedians aren’t even willing to talk about fear of action or changes within the comedy circle.

“As a comedian, you don’t want to be afraid or admit your self-censorship. You want to be fearless and face the system. After all, our very existence depends on our ability to talk about things that you and I don’t want to talk about. But then, as a human being, a family member, a child, a lover, I also want to be safe, ”said a comedian who declined to be named.

Besides Faruqui, some of the other comedians expected to perform at the festival are Rahul Dua, Nishant Suri, Atul Khatri, Gaurav Kapoor and Amit Tandon. Khatri and Tandon, among those who gave up their jobs at the company for a full-fledged career in comedy, said they generally avoided talking about politics on stage.

Like Faruqui, for most actors, the Internet was the place where they first found their calling. Khatri and Tandon both said Laundry they initially used to upload their videos to social media and it wasn’t until these videos went viral that they decided to quit their jobs for acting.

“I haven’t been faced with the kind of challenges Munawar has faced,” Tandon said, adding that most of his storylines revolve around joint families, parenthood and running a business, and that he generally avoids politics and religion on stage. “It’s not like I’m making fun of the gods, but there are words you would use in your living room, in your familiar language, that you would like to joke about, but people are a little touchy today. Maybe 10 years ago, they might have laughed at it.

Khatri said he is reserving his political commentary for Twitter. “I’m not so much religion even though I’m a Hindu, so I don’t talk about it. I also talk about things my audience is comfortable with.

But for Aditi Mittal, who has often been the target of extensive online abuse despite the lack of explicit religious policy jokes, the scripts have usually gone in front of a lawyer. “I think we’ve been saying since 2012 that the personal is political and the political is personal. So how are you supposed to just wake up and decide not to be political. Everything is political.

“In recent years, things haven’t been good for actors. Everything has become systematic. You would be making a joke, the computer cells would be activated with hateful violent content and that would potentially threaten to turn into real physical violence, ”she said.

However, Tandon believes that a lawyer “will only be able to tell you whether you will go to jail or not.” If people want to take offense they will anyway and you will be trolled anyway.

Neeti Palta, an actress who has worked in the industry for almost 12 years, was also supposed to perform at the Gurgaon festival but dropped out due to scheduling issues. “Previously we all had jokes about who was in charge then, but yes that is changing now. Suddenly everything becomes sedition. There are no clear laws for us as actors. You can’t just find loopholes and bill us later.

While many actors Laundry said comedy has certainly seen a lot more self-censorship over the past few years, especially since the BJP came to power, others pointed to a setback: the good change that comes from awareness within the society.

Khatri said that 10 years ago shame of fat, talking about the color of the skin or using the word “rape” was very common. “Today you have to be very conscious of your words and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.”

Tandon believes the increased sensitivity reflects “evolution.” “Even when I look at my past performances, I back down from what I did and said. Today I would not and will not be allowed to say such things. And awareness is also good in a lot of ways.

For the organizers, “a huge risk”

Mubin Tisekar, one of the founders of The Entertainment Factory, said that while much is said about the rejection of comedians, not enough is said about the toll that the cancellation of shows takes on companies. who organize events.

“You need to understand the investment and planning involved in organizing a comedy festival. It’s a huge risk, ”said Tisekar, an engineering graduate who started his acting career in 2012 when working as a programmer at the Comedy Store, a London-based company. In 2017, he launched The Entertainment Factory.

On December 4, after Arun Yadav posted his “question” on Twitter, Tisekar said organizers started receiving several threat calls.

“We don’t want to hurt anyone or endanger the public because we made the decision with Munawar to cancel his niche. For us, the safety of artists and the public is a priority,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Tisekar has had to cancel a show. In 2019, when Kunal Kamra was due, members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad arrived on site two hours before the performance and told Tisekar that the show would not be allowed to continue.

“Even then, we had received threat calls, but I didn’t take them as seriously as I should have. This time, I am clear. Safety first, ”he said.

For Tisekar, it was not an easy decision. “I feel bad for Munawar. Telling him was difficult. He’s struggling so much already. And then I felt bad for the people who were excited to watch it, ”he said.

Tisekar also pointed out that canceling an artist doesn’t just mean canceling someone’s work. “When we have to give up a comedian, a producer loses a show, the people employed in that niche lose their jobs. For example, if a product is destroyed, everything attached to that product is also destroyed. It’s just like that, ”explained Tisekar.

If there is something common to all comedians Laundry talked about is that they all gave up their conventional careers and chose to follow their passion. In this sense, Arun Yadav of the Haryana BJP Computing Cell is no different. Unlike many BJP leaders, Yadav was never a part of RSS, Bajrang Dal, VHP, or any other Sangh affiliate. Prior to 2013, he graduated with an MBA, working in a company and then briefly at Google. But in 2013, things changed, he said. “I saw how Narendra Modi was going to do a lot of things for this country so I gave up my job and joined my passion, BJP. I am the first in my family to go into politics.

Yadav’s Twitter profile photo is a photo of himself with PM Modi. He regularly posts about being a “” with those against.

On a normal day, Yadav wakes up, goes to the gym, spends time on Twitter, and trains groups in social media management. On average, he tweets at least 15 to 19 times a day.

“I also like comedy. Like any human, I also like to laugh but I will not tolerate it if someone jokes about religion, ”he said, adding that“ if he (Faruqui) finds it so funny, why not joke? does he not on his own religion? Why joke about the Hindu gods?

His December 4 tweet on Faruqui has been retweeted 979 times and now has over 3,000 likes. Some comments explicitly call for violence. Because, “We don’t want Haryana khattar, we want Karnataka (extremist) kattar.” The Bhakts reach Gurgaon and annihilate them.

Despite many of these Twitter-violating comments, they continue to exist.

Yadav is relieved that the organizers of the Gurgaon festival have taken his complaint to the police seriously. But what if the organizers hadn’t canceled Faruqui’s time slot? “Well, we would have gathered our karyakartas and organized a peaceful demonstration at the site of the show. “

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