A few weeks ago AIB (All India Bakchod), a YouTube channel created by 5 Indian comedians, put out video clips from one of their latest shows- The AIB Knockout- A Roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranvir Singh. The video got around 8 million views in the 5 days that it was online. It was, as the name suggests, a Roast- A type of Insult comedy that is popular in the west which involves a group of “roasters” making honest, often rude, and sometimes outright offensive observations, albeit in good humor, about the celebrity being “roasted”. In this case the roast happened in front of a crowd of over 4000 people including Bollywood celebrities Sonakshi Sinha, Deepkia Padukone and Alia Bhat among others. The video was taken down soon after it launched after some people took offense to the language used in the video. The move stirred a debate that has long been dormant in India regarding the freedom of speech in this country- or the lack of it.

But if one were to look at this controversy in its entirety, there is only conclusion to be drawn from it. The freedom of Speech and expression hasn’t died in India. It is very much alive and kicking. People just need to understand one fundamental truth about India. We are, in Amartya Sen’s words, a bunch of Argumentative Indians. We’re 1.2 billion strong and everyone has an opinion.

  • All India Bakchod organised the roast in front of a large crowd who thoroughly enjoyed the show. AIB made some money from the show (which was donated to charity). The intent of the show was to introduce India to a form of comedy that isn’t already popular here and to make some money for charity in the process. Part of that objective was achieved. But, AIB successfully introduced the new format to India. Whether it was well-received by Indians or not can not be gauged by the reaction of a few ( or by the over-reaction of some others) but AIB have done their bit. They were free to conduct the show, make money from it and upload it on YouTube. It was, by their own admission, taken down voluntarily. So AIB was free to do what they pleased. 
  • Some people who were offended by the roast took to facebook and twitter and made themselves heard. They were free to do it even though some of them were extremely abusive and sometimes even threatening and should’ve been stopped. But, they did what they pleased as well.
  • Many celebrities came out in support of AIB, saying that artists should be free to express their opinion without fear and the atmosphere being created in the country didn’t allow for it. They were free to make those observations and do as they pleased as well.
  • Aamir Khan took a slightly contrary view and said that he didn’t enjoy the roast because it was “too aggressive and violent”. He also said that he had formed those opinions on the basis of small clips of the roast and admitted that he hadn’t watched the whole video. No one stopped Aamir from saying what he wanted to say. He did as he pleased.
  • It didn’t stop there. Russell Peters, one of the world’s most famous stand-up comics came out strongly against Aamir Khan, saying that he should “shut up and mind his business”. Despite the fact that what Aamir did was “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it”, Russell was free to say what he said. 
  • Apart from these, some people went ahead and filed FIRs against Arjun Kapoor, Ranvir Singh, Karan Johar, Alia Bhat, Sonakshi Sinha and Deepika Padukone because, well, they wanted to do. They were free to do what they pleased. 

Apart from these “celeb” examples, millions made their opinions clear on facebook and twitter. It isn’t for any of us to decide who is right and who isn’t. Primarily because there are valid arguments on either side. Arguments, that the opposite side thinks holds no water. But that’s true of any public debate EVER. The truth is, the debate is happening. Everyone is free to do what they please.
There are reasonable restrictions on the right to speech. But one of the guarantees that comes with it is that one will not suffer from unreasonable consequences as a result of their opinion. The FIRs filed is certainly a shame. No one should go through a humiliation of that kind. Not least people like Alia, Deepika and Sonakshi who were simply in the audience. But one can trust the judiciary to be more sensible than the overly-sensitive haters and that the legal system will put that FIR where it belongs- shredded into a dustbin.
But one thing is clear. Everyone in India has an opinion. They are always free to express passionate opinions. But when you make a passionate argument in India, just remember that there is someone, somewhere with an equally passionate counter-argument. Take it on the chin and move on. This is India and “we are like this only”.

Stay Safe.Stay Informed.

Anirudh Dinesh.
Editor-At-Large, Dudurudh.

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