What is the fine line between offending the mythology and cracking a hilarious joke?
Stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and his 4 associates were arrested on the new year day by the Local police in Indore following a complaint from Eklavya Singh Gaur, son of Indore BJP MLA Malini Gaur. Gaur complained that the comedian and his team had allegedly insulted Hindu deities during a comedy show and also cracked jokes about Union Home Minister Amit Shah. When Munawar and his associates went to the local court for bail, it was rejected and all the 5 accused were sent to judicial custody on 2nd January.
The stand-up comedy show was held at Cafe Monroe in Indore’s 56 Dukan area on 1st January. Munwar Faruqui, a resident of Junagadh in Gujrat and four other Indore-based people were booked under IPC sections 269 (unlawful or negligent act likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life), 295-A (outraging religious feelings) and other relevant provisions. Section 269 was invoked for allegedly not following the social distancing measures at the event.
Eklavya Singh Gaur told reporters that he had gone to watch the show along with his friends where Faruqui was performing as the main comedian. He alleged that the show mocked Hindu deities and indecent. Amit Shah and Godhra incident was also mentioned inappropriately. He said, “We shot a video and stopped the show by taking the audience out of the café.”
It was alleged that the comedian makes jokes only on Hindu gods. In his defence, Munawar Faruqi stated that he had made many jokes on Islam too. Just imagine a scene when he would have been answering whatabouteries.
Understanding the jokes
Every joke has a back story and a context, which are possibly more important than the punchline. A comic goes on stage, more often than not exposing his/her own life stories to change an anecdote into a joke. The stand-up comedian connects many contemporary incidents, institutions, images, practices or people and maps a cultural and social pattern. Religion is one of the elements that comedians use because it is considered an integral and unquestioned part of the life of the majority of people in the audience.
Taking an example of a comic who uses a wheelchair and wants to highlights the difficulties faced by him/her because most of the places are not accessible to him/her. She might mention how mythology has portrayed disabled figures negatively as the punchline to highlight society’s apathy and drive home the point. It would be ridiculous to think that the comic is making fun of the mythology. If there is anything people should be angry about, it’s the lack of wheel-chair friendly neighbourhoods. The comic is actually trying to point out a very serious problem that a person on wheelchair faces.
Stand-up comedy is about humans and their practices, behaviour and not about gods and goddesses. Our country has a rich tradition of using mythology, religious figures and religion as a part of storytelling. There are a number of examples. One is from the 1983 cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro by legendary director Kundan Shah. There is a scene in the movie where the late actor Om Puri says, “Oye tu kaise Draupadi ko akele le jayega, hum sab shareholder hai.” The sequence was about human corruption and depravity.
It is not the rarest of moments when a comic has been arrested for cracking jokes. It has been a trend in the last few years. Here are some other similar incidents when comedians found trouble for cracking jokes.
Read more: Selective approach of the Supreme Court
Agrima Joshua in 2020 received open rape threats and abuses and was threatened with legal action after her 2019 video of cracking a joke about Maharashtra government’s Shivaji statue project in the Arabian Sea went viral on social media. Joshua had tendered an apology on social media and clarified that the video in question has already been deleted. Anil Deshmukh, Maharashtra Home Minister, had also instructed the Mumbai Police to take legal action against the comedian. Later, the person who openly gave rape threats and abused Agrima, Shubham Mishra was arrested by the Vadodara Police.
Very recently, Kunal Kamra posted a series of tweets alleging that the Supreme Court of India was partial and indulged in favouritism when it granted an easy reprieve to Republic TV Anchor Arnab Goswami. His scathing attacks came amid several journalists languishing in jails or getting targeted by political parties or power brokers for voicing their opinion or simply doing their jobs. But they do not get quick reprieves usually. The Supreme Court initiated contempt proceedings against the stand-up comedian.
An FIR was lodged against Tanmay Bhatt in 2017 after he posted a tweet with a meme of PM Narendra Modi with a dog filter on Snapchat. The cyber cell of the Mumbai Police had taken this case. The former AIB member was previously targeted by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. They had filed an FIR against Bhat for a video he posted on Snapchat where he had seemingly mocked legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar and former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.
Paras Rajput, a BJP politician had confronted Masoom Rajwani and Kunal Kamra for cracking offensive jokes on Hinduism. The BJP politician had posted a year-old video on Facebook where Rajwani was seen apologizing and Kamra was trying to cool down the situation. The actual incident took place on April 15, 2018, when Rajwani had allegedly insulted Hindu gods and goddesses at a show in Mumbai. Paras had immediately interrupted the show and filed a complaint on the same night.
Actor Kiku Sharda, famous for his comic acts in The Kapil Sharma Show, was arrested in 2016 by the Haryana Police for mimicking Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on the show. The comedian apologized and said he was an artist and presented the programme on the directions of the channel and programme producers. Later Gurmeet Ram Rahim himself tweeted “ If he has apologized then no complaints from my side.” Followers of Ram Rahim alleged that Kiku Sharda had hurt their sentiments by mimicking Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in an episode of “Comedy Nights with Kapil” aired on December 27, 2016.
The YouTube sensation AIB had to go through a defamation case in 2017 after tweeting a controversial picture. AIB had tweeted a picture of Modi look-alike looking into his mobile phone at a railway station alongside a real photograph of the Prime Minister, with props superimposed with the help of Snapchat’s dog filter. The post had a hashtag that apparently referred to frequent visits of PM Modi in foreign countries. They were also charged for obscenity for the roast program featuring Bollywood celebrities Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor.
ISCKON lodged a police complaint against stand-up comedian Surleen Kaur and Shemaroo Entertainment for using inappropriate words for Hindus, Sadhus and ISCKON during an act. Surleen Kaur had linked ISCKON with pornography in one of her acts in 2019. The complaint was filed following a massive outrage on social media. After the ruckus, Shemaroo Entertainment disassociated with the comedian.
Kapil Sharma, possibly the most famous comedian of the country found himself in trouble after he tweeted that some BMC officials were asking him to pay a bribe to let him construct office space in Mumbai. He later sent out tweets to PM Modi saying that he had been paying 15 crores as tax from last five years and still he was asked for a bribe of Rs 5 lakhs for making his office and asked the PM “ye hai aapke achhe din?” Later it was alleged that the comedian had undertaken illegal construction near the mangroves. The Bombay High Court then stayed the FIR against him as the BMC decided to withdraw all litigation against him in the lower court.
These were a few incidents when comedians found themselves in trouble. The Indore incident where Munawar Faruqi has been apprehended by a group of men and then handed over to the police should worry every citizen. If someone doesn’t like the jokes, he/she should simply avoid going for the show. If religious sentiments are in question, one has the right to file a complaint with police. Any further action would be taken by the police as per the law. But citizens themselves can’t become the self-proclaimed extension of the police, act as vigilant or drag someone to the police station.
If you would have seen Faruqi’s comedy, you would know that he is extremely comfortable laughing at himself and his faith too. Some of his jokes on his faith are remarkably intelligent too. One can observe that whenever he is on the stage, he is in a happy space. That’s why the audience pays a good amount of money to watch his acts. Some of them are funny and some are not.
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