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Does India Lack a Sense of Humor?

By Shreya More

India is a cauldron of topics; all ranging from politics to religion to Bollywood to economy to cricket. The nation is bustling with ‘new news’ everyday! To make life relaxing, to strike a chord with their audience, or to simply address a social cause, comedians and artists present their ideas replete with songs, acts and satire. However, unfortunately, most of the times, these acts don’t go down really well with us Indians.

Earlier in 2014, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) had banned the “transmission or retransmission” of Comedy Central channel for 10 days on any platform across the country because one of the shows had suggestive gestures that were apparently derogatory to women.

Member of Parliament and Bollywood actress Jaya Bachhan lashed out at radio jockeys of private radio channels because of them “mimicking” politicians and said that their “objectionable” language wasn’t “palatable”.

Yashraj films banned a spoof that a popular Youtube channel had made on its movie, Dhoom 3.

All these above instances show that Indian sensibilities can be hurt by anything – political, sexual, religious etc.; but what we have to understand is the fact that comedy as a genre is very topical, as it based on the local cultural environment. Therefore, accepting satire is the best and only way of appreciating comedy. We can’t and shouldn’t be such hypocrites. “If it’s funny, then laugh it off and move on. It’s a joke, it’s meant to be that way,” are the views of most of the Indian stand-up comedians.

The subject matter for comedy has to come from somewhere amongst us; we are the content. So we will have to learn to laugh at our religion, our politicians, our culture, and ourselves. Indians, generally, worry themselves over how they are perceived by others, and the only way forward is if we manage to move beyond this. Most of us have more confidence and belief in our religion than in ourselves. As a result, hearing and accepting a joke on that religion becomes very difficult for us, and we get offended by even slight negative commentary.

Comedians have all the right in the world to uphold their “freedom of speech.”  Moreover, our consumption pattern clearly shows that Indians enjoy all the regressive plotlines in the daily soaps and movies, but rile up when a ‘joke’ on womankind is made. We enjoy jokes about the foibles of other communities (how dumb a sardar is, how stingy a baniya is, etc. etc.;) but cannot handle any made against our own.

We have to learn to outgrow all the false defenses that we have been using against “harmless humor”. Humor has immense power; it can expose and criticize grave issues of society with which we have become so accustomed that we don’t even care to resolve them.

Take leverage. Make jokes. Laugh, appreciate, and move on.

Shreya More is a student of Economics at Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. She is an avid movie buff and loves reading. A foodie, she loves exploring new places to eat. She prefers lazing around to partying on weekends. A great listener, she will always stand by people whom she calls friends!

Edited by Madhavi Roy, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

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