Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The dangers of a society that bans debate

(Published in Sify.com, on March 17, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/the-dangers-of-a-society-that-bans-debate-news-columns-pdri0cbhhbjhe.html)

Often, I think about what it is that makes us different from our neighbours – China, where artists of all kinds are in constant danger, Sri Lanka where every column could lead to the issue of a death warrant, Pakistan where it appears no one is safe. Perhaps not very much.

We call ourselves multicultural, and boast of unity-in-diversity. But is this diversity tolerable only when it is skin deep? Are we allowed to have opinions that are different from that of the majority?

One of our most important rights is the right to freedom of expression, but even that Constitutional guarantee comes with a rider that is open to interpretation – that it must not offend or hurt the sentiments of others – and is, besides, bound by several other parameters, ranging from foreign relations to ‘decency and morality’, all of which are open to interpretation.

Irrespective of the government in charge at the Centre, India’s first reaction to controversy, especially when it concerns art, is to ban without question.

Art is often considered representative and reflective of society, and so it ought to come as no surprise that our democracy is only really a pretend-democracy. We, as citizens, have never had a say in the actual running of our country. A politician can change the names of our cities at will, and we have no choice. A party can push through a nuclear deal that offers little guarantee for life or livelihood in case of an accident, and we have no choice.

We live in a country whose rulers actively escorted Warren Anderson to safety and immunity in the wake of the Bhopal gas leak, allowing him to die in peace and of old age – neither of which luxury is available to generations that were affected and will continue to be affected by the tragedy. And, yet, we offer little security to authors and artists who are threatened by bigoted and extremist outfits.

Every day, as the rest of the world grows more liberal and our own country thumps its chest on its economic progress, we are adopting smaller minds.

The clampdown on debate is only getting more stringent.

Nowadays, we don’t simply protest against opinions that are contrary to our own. We will not even allow them to be heard.

A television channel is attacked over the trailer of a programme which discusses the relevance of the thaali. The reason given by the attackers is that the subject is against Tamil culture. Now, the attack would have been disgusting even if the protesters were objecting to the opinions of some people in their programme. But it is absolutely terrifying when the protesters are objecting not only to opinions, but to the existence of debate, to the prospect of an open discussion.

It would be troubling enough if this sort of hooliganism were ignored. However, there is a sense that it is even encouraged. The governments at the state and central level have offered no protection to media networks that want to run programmes to which sections of the population object. Even our judiciary shrugs its shoulders. For the longest time, the judiciary kept legislative powers in check. We must begin to despair if it acts as enforcer now.

The number of bans brought in by the government has turned into a joke. But none of us will be laughing when the control exerted by the government begins to extend to the internet.

Because that is where China is right now. And I worry that its economic model will be held up to us as a shining example of all that can be achieved when debate is banned.

From the re-criminalisation of ‘unnatural’ sex to protests over Valentine’s Day to the treatment of women to religious freedom, it seems our country is moving back a century at a time, and will freeze at the most conservative period of its history.

It is not becoming a ‘Hindu’ nation, because there is no stricture in Hinduism that objects to romance, sex in all its variations – premarital, ‘unnatural’, orgiastic – or to debate.
It is becoming a nation of thugs, who make the rules.

We cannot afford to succumb to a dictatorship of ‘moral’ codes. For too long, we have been a society that has acquiesced in handed-down opinions on what is right and what is wrong. We have allowed these opinions to fossilise into rules, and even define our laws.

This conservativeness must be blamed for most of our current social stigma, our prejudices against divorcees, unwed mothers, single parents, and even rape victims.  

Unless we leave this conservativeness behind, our claims of progress will ring hollow.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Forget the documentary, let's talk about rape

(Published in Sify.com, on March 12, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/forget-the-documentary-lets-talk-about-rape-news-columns-pdmjrPfcaiiha.html)

In the week since India's Daughter was released, this country and its media has gone through a schizophrenic set of turnarounds.

First, there was the how-dare-India-ban-a-documentary-what-happened-to-freedom-of-expression campaign.

Then, people saw it and began a why-are-we-looking-at-India-as-a-rape-capital campaign. Of course, it doesn't help that the likes of Devdutt Pattanaik contributed to this discussion by posting comparative rape statistics in India and the US.

Then, Arnab Goswami got in on the act, and made a fool of himself yet again.

And now, the discussion centres on whether the filmmakers bent or broke laws to make the documentary.

It doesn't matter which country has the worst statistics of rape.

It doesn't matter what the background of rapists is.

It doesn't matter what the filmmakers did, unless it obstructs the course of justice in this particular case.

What does matter, and what we don't have an answer to is, what are we doing about rape?

In one corner of the country, an angry mob breaks into a police station and beats an alleged rapist to death. In another spot, a woman writes an angry blog about how she was harassed on her morning run by a sleazebag, and no one came to help.

What are we doing about the laws that govern harassment?

And why are we, instead, wasting our time and energy on discussions of whether India is indeed the rape capital?

A couple of days ago, the internet broke over the rejection letter written by a German professor, denying a job to an Indian student on the grounds that there are rapists among Indian men. She was put in her place by a cold, severe letter written by her country's Ambassador to India. So, can we move on from that?

If we were to take into account unreported rapes across the world – because, in every country, hundreds, maybe thousands, of rapes go unreported every year for various reasons, ranging from shame to doubt to 'cultural' – chances are that the statistics would change drastically. It would be a dark contest to see which country has the least per capita rape. So, can we leave that out of the discussion?

Our focus needs to be not on the documentary and how it was made, but what we know about rape and why it is such a serious concern.

When she made the documentary, Leslee Udwin said she wanted to understand why men rape women. Eventually, she spoke about her own experience of having been raped.
There is no point trying to understand why someone goes out there and rapes. Perhaps it is jealousy. Perhaps it is a natural tendency towards violence. Perhaps it is the need to enjoy power over someone. Perhaps it is sadism. Most likely, it is all of the above.

But what are we doing about it?

The fact is, someone who was an active participant in the Delhi bus rape will get out after three years at a juvenile home.

The fact is, over the decades, adult rapists have got out of jail after serving between four and seven years. Many have gone on to rape again. Remember the Nurse Aruna case? While she has been in a vegetative state for more than forty years, her rapist got away with a seven-year-term, which did not include charges for rape.

At the moment, marital rape does not even qualify as a crime.

And, yet, it seems to me that we have forgotten the central point of the discussion about the Delhi bus rape. Suddenly, it is all about the documentary, and about perceptions of India, and worse, about perceptions of India in Europe.

Every now and again, a 'survivor' of rape 'comes out' to the public. She or he – because there have been male victims of rape too – reveals her or his story, which is shared on social media for a few days, and goes viral. We all salute this survivor, and pat her or him on the back for being 'brave' enough to come out with the story. And then, we get back to our armchair philosophising about the clothes people wear, and how India is not the worst country in the world for women. We forget the irony of our calling these people 'brave' – they did not choose to get raped; and they should not have to think so much about revealing their identities. But they do, because there is a social stigma attached to rape.

Fact: I don't know any woman who hasn't been sexually harassed.

Fact: We couch sexual harassment in cute-sounding euphemisms such as 'eve-teasing'.

Fact: Rapists continue to get away as easily as they did before the Delhi bus rape, because the laws haven't tightened enough.

Fact: Any pro-woman amendment to the rape laws finds devil's advocates not only among men like Mukesh Singh, who think they are entitled to rape, but among people from the socio-economic background that is associated with liberalism and broadness of mind.

Perhaps we need to stop going blue in the face yelling about the documentary, and look inwards instead – what are we doing about rape in this country? And why do we want to stop talking about it?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The depressing truth about India’s Daughter

I set an hour aside, and watched India’s Daughter. What depressed me most about the documentary was that it had nothing new to offer, nothing that I didn’t already know, nothing that hadn’t tired me to the bone over the last couple of years.

Of course it’s exploitative of the victim’s family, as all documentaries are.

Of course it humanises the basest creatures on earth, as all documentaries do.

Of course it tries to find socioeconomic and geopolitical excuses for extreme human behaviour, as all documentaries do.

It leaves me drained. I am tired of people offering ‘impoverishment’ and ‘upbringing’ and ‘cultural seasoning’ and ‘mentality’ as reasons for rape.

This is not about India. Look at the trailer of The Hunting Ground.

This is not about education. Look at the trailer of The Hunting Ground.

When the verdict came out, the defence lawyer – an educated man – said, “If my daughter or sister engaged in premarital activities and allowed herself to be disgraced and to lose face and character by doing such things, I would certainly take her to my farmhouse, and in front of the entire family, douse her with petrol and set her alight.” Two years later, he stands by the statement. This man is rich enough to own a farmhouse.

What I find chilling – more chilling than the defence lawyers’ assertions, and the rapist Mukesh Singh’s rationalisation of the rape – are the reactions of the liberals to the documentary.

Do we still think rapists should be given a second chance?

“These men are ours, our society has to take responsibility,” we say. NO. These men are not ours. These men are brutes. If you and I wouldn’t do such a thing, why ought we to claim responsibility for these men?

We preach tolerance in the “spirit of India’s history”. What history are we discussing? When has tolerance ever been practised in India? And when has tolerance of crime served us well?

Here’s a chunk out of the documentary: An NGO worker says, “There are people who have committed two hundred rapes, and have only been punished for twelve. They do it over and over again, because they don’t realise it is wrong.”

They don’t realise it is wrong?!

I don’t know, maybe they do it over and over again not because they don’t realise it is wrong, but because they are addicted to the sense of power they have while they are doing it, and because – just a thought – they can get away with it, over and over and over again?

Here’s another chunk out of the documentary: The rapist Mukesh Singh compares this rape to other rapes, and says, “In one case, they cut out her eyes; in another, they poured acid on her; in another, they set her on fire.” While all he and his friends did was to pull out her intestines. He argues that the death penalty for rape could actually put women in further danger – now, rapists will not “spare” the victims, as he and his friends did, “spare” her by disembowelling her, but will kill them so that they cannot testify.

It does not even occur to him that rape should stop.

Our takeaway from the documentary, if there is a takeaway at all, should be that the only way we can put an end to rape is to lock up the perpetrators, and throw away the key.

Those who argue that the death penalty will not deter rape ought to chew over this – hanging a rapist may not end all rapes, but it will deter more rapes by that particular man. And those men who have committed more than 200 rapes would not have been able to commit 199 of those if they had been punished right away.

Don’t tell me this is about patriarchy, and how women are perceived. A male friend of mine was raped. Shortly before he was raped, he was sexually harassed by a police patrol. When he tried to complain, he was asked why he was wearing effeminate clothes.

Don’t tell me education will change things.

Don’t tell me that second chances will change things.

Mukesh Singh has no remorse, and he deserves no sympathy. Even if he were remorseful, he would deserve no sympathy. Don’t tell me that he didn’t know it was wrong to assault a woman. Don’t tell me it was because he had grown up witnessing women being slapped around in his slum. Millions of people work their ways out of slums. Millions of people are horrified by violence because of early exposure.

This is a man who respects a woman with whom he indulged in a quickie at a wedding, because she was culturally sound enough to object to kissing on the mouth. On the other hand, the rape victim was loose enough to be out at a movie with a male friend, and object to the advances of the men on the bus. Why ought she not be taught  a lesson?

Because that is the word he uses – “sabaq” – lesson. He calls it an “accident”, and reasons, “Sabaq ke liye hua hai”. It happened so that the victim and her friend could be taught a lesson.

If there is anything we need to learn from the documentary, it is this – it is about time we stopped confusing poverty and morality and culture and mindset with crime, as the documentary does. We could listen to talking heads compare women to flowers and diamonds till kingdom come. We could watch the parents and wives of the rapists crying for all eternity. But the truth is that a lot of people who are not yet in jail ought to be behind bars. A man who says on camera, twice, that he would set someone on fire for going on a date ought to be locked away from society.

Our failure is not in producing these brutes. Our failure is in not recognising that they are beyond redemption.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ind vs Pak: Should we leave the politics out of cricket?

(Published in Sify.com, on February 18, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/india-vs-pakistan-should-we-leave-the-politics-out-of-cricket-news-columns-pcsi9rjhfjbgd.html)

Picture Courtesy: Sify.com

Some years ago, when I was at university, a Pakistani asked me the sort of question that only a Pakistani can ask an Indian – “When India plays Pakistan, whom do the Indian Muslims support?”

And I gave him the sort of undiplomatic answer that only a Madrasi can give a Pakistani – “You mean Muslims like Pataudi and Syed Kirmani and Azharuddin and Irrfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif, whom do they support?”

I was a little shocked at the vehemence of my reply at the time, partly because I don’t get offended easily, and partly because I have never associated nationality with sport – geography is really a convenient way to band teams together. You could just as easily band them by language, or alphabet, or height. I’ve always watched cricket as I have watched football – I have my favourite teams, and they have nothing to do with either my nationality or my patriotism.

And so, I wonder both at the force of my reply, and at the fact that my patriotism suddenly finds expression in cricketing fervour every time India takes on Pakistan.

But, I know that my reply would be the same, if I were to be asked the question again.

Because, any attempt to further divide a nation where all any two people have in common could simply be the colour and design of their passports offends me deeply.

It would never occur to me to ask a Pakistani whom the Christians support when they play against Australia or England or New Zealand. It would never occur to me to ask a Pakistani whom the Hindus support when they play against India.

Having roots in the South, I have been as far away from the horror of Partition as an Indian could be. I have Pakistani friends for whose families Partition was far more painful, and who had as little say in that historical mistake as we Indians did.

But why does all the acrimony pour out into the cricket field?

Why are the supposed loyalties of Indian Muslims questioned, and the religions of Indian cricketers enumerated, every time India plays Pakistan? Because I’ve been asked that too – why there are so few Muslim players in the Indian team. I usually reply that a list of cricketers of distinction in the Indian side would include Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Parsis.

Is it fair, though, that the twenty-two men taking the field at any time should be burdened by the history of the two countries?

Is it fair for them to have to come back home to brickbats from the press, and fans tarring their houses, and burning them in effigy?

Yet, what choice do they have, when the first reaction of either side to a diplomatic fallout is to cut cricketing ties?

Now that the teams meet so rarely, every game has gained more significance.

The Pakistani team is haunted by its World Cup history, and the Indian team holds on to it for dear life. However beleaguered, it’s a do-or-die match, and neither can afford to lose. Because people from the two countries are stupid enough to give a first-round match the epithet “real final”.

If India were to lose to Pakistan at the World Cup, even winning the title would not remove the sourness of the loss, just as Pakistan is never allowed to forget that it lost to India in 1992.

And no sporting team deserves that kind of pressure.

As it happens, the camaraderie between the two teams has improved enormously over the years. One of my earliest cricketing memories is of Javed Miandad doing a kangaroo jump in imitation of Kiran More, and Azharuddin approaching the umpire in a rage to complain. On the 15th, Shahid Afridi made up for accidentally throwing the ball at Virat Kohli by playfully patting him where he had been hit.

If Pakistani players were not banned from the IPL, several of them would be sharing team colours with Indian players.

While I did have my fun baiting the Twitterati from Pakistan on match day, I was disturbed by some of the images people put up on Twitter. One was of the Pakistani twelfth man giving water to Virat Kohli, as if it were the most remarkable thing in the world. Would the image have been imbued with as much significance if India had been playing Australia, and their twelfth man had offered an Indian batsman water?

Perhaps it’s time we got mature about the game, and left the baggage behind.

Cricketers should be playing their sport; the politicians and diplomats can handle the rest.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

V-Day: Questions for the guardians of our sanskaar

(Published on Sify.com, on February 14, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/v-day-questions-for-the-guardians-of-our-sanskaar-news-columns-pcokGUdcjhfhi.html)

Dear Guardians of our Culture,

I greatly appreciate your plans of marrying off young people who have no respect for our sanskaar, and are actually caught celebrating the Western bane that threatens to corrupt our society – Valentine’s Day.

Over the last few years, you have beaten them, threatened to call their parents, and filed cases of obscenity against them for holding hands. But now, you’ve decided to teach them a lesson by actually ensuring that they stay together till death – or a family court – do them part. Congratulations.

However, as a Bharatiya Nari, and a strong proponent of our culture, I have some doubts.

First of all, there seems to be no clear mechanism in place to distinguish lovers from non-lovers. Of course, if the people in question are caught making out, it is clear that they are attracted to each other, and fully deserve the punishment of being forced into matrimony.

But, what if they happen to be out on work? Well, maybe they deserve to be married off too, for being in each other’s company, without due observance of purdah. I have some doubts in this regard, but we’ll come to those later.

Now, what if they are related? Over the years, male relatives have picked me up from airports and such. Aside from my personal disinclination to be married off to relatives, it would also greatly confuse the family tree. Also, I’m not sure that incest is an inherent part of our culture. Please do address this issue.

If they are just colleagues, or friends, to whom it hasn’t occurred that Valentine’s Day is any different from any other day, you would be imbuing it with significance for them, turning it into their wedding anniversary, and ensuring that they celebrate this Western concept every year, for desireasons.

Even so, I suppose it is better than having people of opposite sexes randomly hanging out at coffee shops and other dens of debauchery.

So, yeah, get them married.

There is just one small problem. What if one of the people involved here happens to be Muslim? Are you not facilitating their love jihad?

Of course, you could do the ghar wapsi ritual, thus nullifying the attempt at jihad.

Even so, there is another problem. What if the two people are not of the same caste? Since Muslims and Christians do not technically subscribe to a caste system, it is not clear to what caste their ghar wapsi will entitle them.

Let us assume that the Hindu partner in the couple is of one of the higher castes. If you start with the base level in conversion, you would essentially be fostering an inter-caste marriage. Surely, that is against our culture as well?

The only solution will be for the person who is converted to get a caste upgrade. Is there any provision for this in the ghar wapsi ritual?

My third doubt pertains to those criminal degenerates, whose horrific activities are kept at bay only by Section 377. Not only do they indulge in unnatural sex, but they are also allowed to escape marriage on Valentine’s Day through a loophole.

Your threat to marry off people of opposite sexes does not technically apply to lovers who belong to the same sex.

So, they will be celebrating this Western intrusion into our culture, without fear of having to worry about being married off.

Now, you have a choice between bringing them to book the way you would heterosexual couples, and discriminating against them. As you are aware, the last occasion on which proponents of various religions shared a platform for a cause was a protest against the decriminalisation of Section 377. Clearly, there is only one thing on which all our religions are agreed, and that is the idea that homosexuality is against Indian culture.

So, the question is, how will you resolve this issue?

Last of all, the basis of your protest is that “humans are not animals who can change partners at will”. However, science is dedicated to proving that humans are, indeed, animals. 

You would know this, since science has its roots in India, what with our ancestors inventing aeroplanes and cosmetic surgery and whatnot before the West got a whiff of the possibilities of science. Would we not be compromising on Indian culture by arguing against science, given that we are the pioneers of science? I mean, the Matsya Avatar sort of put humans and animals on the same platform, quite literally, eh?

As a proud Indian, I urge you to sort out all these loopholes.

Jokes on LGBT community just aren't funny

(Published in DailyO, on February 8, 2015, retrieved from http://www.dailyo.in/art-and-culture/jokes-on-lgbt-community-just-arent-funny-aib-roast-shankar-i/story/1/1909.html)

While most of the country is stewing over AIB – some are offended by the swearing, some are offended by those who claim swearing is offensive, and some are offended by the quality of humour it takes to get a standing ovation – I went to watch Shankar’s latest film I, which has caused a controversy over its portrayal of transgender people. As it happens, the film was no more offensive than the AIB Knockout, and its comic track was about as lowbrow.

That is to say, it is no more offensive to transgender people as it is to doctors, models, bodybuilders, makeup artistes, ad filmmakers, the disabled, the dark, the skinny, the obese, smokers, drinkers, men, women, medical science, the laws of physics, and really, any semblance of basic human intelligence.

What does worry me – and this is what worried me about the AIB Knockout as well – is that the audience appears to find the LGBT community hilarious; its members are the perfect target for mockery, meant to be ridiculed, and they are ‘good sports’ for taking it with a smile. As a stand-up comedian and humour writer, I personally believe that nothing ought to be considered sacred and beyond mockery. But, then, how many times is a Karan-Johar-won’t-admit-he’s-gay jibe funny? And how many times is a gay-men-have-anal-sex joke funny? Apparently, every time.

Fact: A lot of people who believe their sexual orientation is their business and no one else’s have been, and are being, pressured by both their fellow-homosexuals and the self-accredited liberal brigade to ‘come out’.

Fact: About as many gay couples have anal sex as straight couples.

Fact: Gay-rape jokes are as funny or unfunny as straight-rape jokes.

Fact: The majority of any audience, for a film or comedy show or theatre, will fall over itself laughing at stereotypes of LGBT individuals.

In Shankar’s I, the transgender makeup artist is played by Ojas Rajani, who is herself a transgender makeup artist. When she meets the hero, to give him a makeover, he and his friend mock her and dance around her. Shankar’s defence has been that this is faithful to reality. The hero is a bodybuilder who belongs to the lower-income group, and the milieu in which he would have grown up is the sort which would mock a trans-woman, he says. The trans-woman goes on to fall in love with the hero, despite his contempt for her, and decides to revenge his spurning of her advances by crippling him with a debilitating disease. Now, the realism of this particular sub-plot is barely an issue in a film where a dying man simultaneously fights off a bodybuilder and a male model played by Upen Patel.

However, there is a point of concern – not in the film, but in the audience’s reactions. A woman sitting a few seats away from me laughed so hard every time Rajani appeared on screen that she nearly keeled over. She was not the only one.

Shankar is not the first to portray the LGBT community as laughingstock.

Bollywood commercial cinema has had comedy tracks that revolve entirely around homophobia. There was the imbecilic Dostana; then, there was the even more imbecilic Happy New Year, where Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Dadlani play a gay couple who are worried about a leaked ‘sex tape’ that involves them dancing in corsets and feather boas.

Even Kamal Haasan, who has the reputation of being a ‘thinking actor’ – and director – has done his share of stereotyping. For some reason, he chose to play a Muslim posing as a Tam Brahm kathak exponent in Vishwaroop(am). For an equally incomprehensible reason, he had the dancer flapping his hands, and speaking in a high-pitched voice, and running on his tippy-toes to switch off the microwave. Because, guess what, this dancer is so effeminate, he makes the dinner, while his wife bitches about how gay he is.

Again, this had most of the audience in splits, during the show I watched. A group of young men started catcalling and making nasal noises every time Kamal Haasan’s character appeared on screen.

In Gautham Menon’s film Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, where Kamal Haasan plays a cop who tracks down a pair of serial rapists and killers, he figures out that they are possessive of each other, and spits out, “Chi! What are you, gay?!”

The line drew its share of laughs, even applause.

No wonder, then, that the short film starring Randeep Hooda and Saqib Saleem in Bombay Talkies, was considered ‘sensitive’. Because even gay men hounding and assaulting and molesting each other is preferable to them dancing around in corsets.

First of all, the idea of ‘sensitive’ portrayals of members of the LGBT community is a patronising one. Sexual identity is not a disease. Portrayals can be intelligent, and they can be reductive, and they can be idiotic. But they can’t be ‘sensitive’.

Secondly, we need to think about whether these films are shaping the audience’s thinking – which is usually the allegation – or giving the mass what it wants.

If the latter is the case, and I suspect it is, the situation is far more disturbing. At a time when homosexuality and transsexuality are considered ‘unnatural’, and have been recriminalised, at a time when campaigns for the removal of Section 377 are being organised and ignored, the warped view a few people from the entertainment industry have is not the problem; the idea that this warped view is shared by the majority of Indians is the problem. Because sexual identity should not be an adjective. And to speak of someone as ‘a gay makeup artist’ or ‘a gay designer’ or ‘a gay actor’ is as ridiculous as portrayals of gay men dancing in corsets, and of lisping makeup artists calling everyone ‘dah-ling’. 

How to organise a successful Indian ‘roast’

(Published in Sify.com, on February 3, 2015, retrievd from http://www.sify.com/news/how-to-organise-a-successful-indian-roast-news-columns-pcdkIJahjifba.html)

Picture Courtesy: Sify.com

Want to notch up more than two million views on YouTube? Want to get lauded for ushering in a new era in India and Bollywood? Well, here’s your formula, in a few easy steps – and your jokes need never get more complicated than the average ‘Yo Momma’.


First up, the setting is most important. Organise your event around several charities, so that you can justify the price of the ticket.

Second, ensure that you stage it in a city where the mutual back scratching culture is so deep-rooted that a standing ovation is an instinctive reaction to a curtain call.

Third, call in a celebrity host who is so important in the film industry that no one can afford to ignore an invitation, and no one can afford to be caught rolling his or her eyes at the camera. If he is a director who also hosts a talk show, and is used to gay jokes and casting couch jokes, all the better. If he is a director who stands to lose nothing irrespective of what he says about the people who depend on his big-budget films for launches, press coverage, relationships, and controversies, all the better-er.

Fourth, call in two dummy roastees, the kind who will lick the camera, scratch their heads, and shake their butts for the intro reel, and hump chairs and roll on the floor when they are insulted.

Constitute a panel that features friends of yours, and people with their own television shows. The more incestuous this panel is, the better for making fat jokes, black jokes, virgin jokes, ugly jokes, bald jokes, puns, and other elite forms of comedy that are central to this evening.

Populate the house with industry insiders, so that it looks like a knockoff version of a schoolroom version of the Academy Awards.

Also, watch the Academy Awards. A lot of them. These will be your chief source for Step 2 – and all the other steps, really.

Step 1:

Explain the term ‘roast’ to the audience, because this audience will need it.

Step 2:

As the most mundane, and most popular, award functions – such as those hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – show us, every ‘roast’ must begin with “X is here. Now, X has...”

When you have more people on stage than in the free seats, this tactic should kill a good deal of time. And as the people on stage as well as the people in the free seats are obliged to laugh at every jibe at them, this is a great way of warming up your audience.

Step 3:

Never underestimate the importance of naked jokes, fart jokes, anal sex jokes, and vaginal-anything jokes. They are nearly as crucial to a stand-up comedy event as fat jokes, black jokes, virgin jokes, gay jokes, and fat jokes – did I say ‘fat jokes’ before? Let me say ‘fat jokes’ again. It gets funnier every time.

Step 4:

When you’re not a professional stand-up comedian, and are not entirely sure of the audience’s IQ – despite the fact that everyone except the people who can afford it have paid Rs 4000 to watch you – and are not confident of its despair to laugh at anything (despite the fact that it has greeted a casting couch joke with a standing ovation), your best course of action is to make a self-deprecatory joke. Diss yourself, diss your show, or – and this is an excellent idea – go meta and diss the event itself.

Step 5:

On an audience that applauds a host who doesn’t know the difference between ‘uneducated’ and ‘illiterate’, a mixed metaphor like “skid-marks on the commode that is Bollywood” will work really well. And so will all toilet humour. Make a day of it.

Step 6:

Also take pot-shots at everyone you know in the audience. You need someone who has publicly dated more than two men, so that you can call her a slut; you need someone who is reputed to be dumb, you know, like Paris Hilton, so that she can be the target of all the Paris Hilton jokes you’ve recycled; you need someone who was, or is, fat – yes, in the audience as well as on stage. Fat jokes are very important. Have I said this? Well, fat jokes and black jokes. Black jokes about Indians. They are so important I’ll say it twice, or thrice.

Step 7:

Ensure that every person on the panel repeats the black jokes, fat jokes, virgin jokes, ugly jokes, gay jokes, bald jokes, and casting couch jokes that were cracked in the first five minutes.

If you feel compelled to follow a fat joke with another fat joke about the same person, do obey.

Just in case the audience laughs a little less the second time, convert your next fat joke into a chemo joke. It means pretty much the same thing, but there’s nothing like chemo to lighten the mood.

As funny on repetition as the fat joke and the black joke is the failed-twelfth-standard joke – it is particularly funny if the person in question failed around the time his parents were going through a divorce.

Another joke that never fails to work is 9/11. And ISIS. Ha ha. Those were the funniest things that have ever happened to the world. Avoid subtlety with these topics. You don’t want to do a Jim Jefferies and say something like, “If someone told me I couldn’t have alcohol and pork, hell, I’d fly a plane into a building”. Because, you know, an audience that gives every fat joke a standing ovation won’t get a punch line of that quality.

On the off-chance that the audience’s enthusiasm appears to wane a tad, throw in a swearword or two – nothing gets the Indian audience gasping for breath and falling off the seats like the word ‘fuck’. Except the word ‘choot’.

Then, go back to the fat jokes, black jokes, ugly jokes, casting couch jokes, gay jokes...did I say black joke? And fat joke?

Step 8:

Remember that in order for the roastees – who must compulsorily be nobodies – to take it all in good spirit, you must roast everyone else on stage, and only acknowledge them with the odd failed-twelfth-standard and you-so-slutty-you-gave-a-dildo-an-STD joke. That way, they will end up being the funniest people on the podium. To increase the feel-good factor, do say something ridiculous like, “You’re an inspiration to a generation” as you leave.

Step 9:

Ideally, keep all your jokes predictable, so that everyone knows what’s coming...you get the drift? An audience that has coughed up Rs 4000 a seat likes to know it got something right that evening.

When there is no laughter track provided, make sure you laugh at your own jokes, so the audience knows when each one is over.

Finally, see that the audience knows you’re carrying cue cards – the only thing funny about repeated jokes is the revelation that they were pre-planned

Once you do all this, rest assured that you will inspire an even lower grade of comedians, who are derivative enough to derive from you, and just maybe host a Kollywood roast.
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