The Unwritten Protocol: Shhhhh!!! They are ‘Godly’; Don’t Mock

When the Almighty was spreading his bounty at the beginning of time, he gifted everything worthy but a sense to accommodate humour or rather satire.

And if you are an enthusiast or performer of popular art forms including Mimicry, Comedy, Fancy Dress or Cartoon, you are not supposed to mock the ‘Godly’ persons of the nations. The unwritten protocol says.

As the humourless forces of order stampede around Tanmay Bhat, calling for his head – and calling, also, for YouTube and Facebook to block a short video by Bhat –let us consider what is at stake.

Comedy group AIB member Tanmay Bhat’s video of a mock conversation between legends Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar has provoked a howl of protests and faces a ban. Prodded by political parties, the Mumbai police says it is consulting legal experts and will contact Google and YouTube on blocking the video.

Police complaints have been filed against Mr Bhat by Maharashtra’s ruling BJP and also Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

The video, captioned “‘Sachin vs Lata Civil War”, was posted on Snapchat and Facebook on Thursday.

The video has the revered singer and the master blaster – both enacted by Mr Bhat using Snapchat’s face-swap feature –  “arguing” about who is the better player, Sachin or Virat Kohli. It was posted with this disclaimer by Mr Bhat: “I make such nonsense on my Snapchat.”

By Sunday, the video had been widely shared and had triggered far more outrage than deserved by “nonsense”.

An irreverent comedian, of the kind that flourishes uncensored in countries where speech is free and humour abundant, made fun of two of India’s icons: Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar. His comedic device was an inversion of the obsequiousness with which Sachin and Lata are treated by their compatriots. Instead of bowing, he mooned them.

Bhat was taking Sachin and Lata down a few pegs. Like him, I happen to believe that they’ve been placed on a pedestal that is much too high – too high, in fact, for their own good. Sachin was a great batsman, but nowhere near the God he’s made out to be. To call him ‘selfish’ would be harsh, but not outlandish.

Lata is regarded as the queen of Indian cinema-song, but a case can be made for her having stifled, or shut out, a generation of singers, not to mention the corrosive effect her style has had on the development of alternatives.

But I digress. Sachin is a cricket player. Lata is a singer. We are, each of us, entitled to our views of them, and of their worth; and if we wish to roast them with our humour, it is our constitutional right to do so. A democracy that bans humour is not a serious democracy. We mustn’t let our land become a place where cops patrol the bylanes of levity, deciding what’s fit for a chuckle or a guffaw, and what’s not.

So I call on Sachin and Lata to come to Bhat’s defence – in fact, to India’s defence. Both of them should say in public that they are not offended, and that the video was humour that should be allowed to pass. That would be the classy thing for them to do, and would elevate them in our esteem to a pedestal of real merit. Their silence in this matter is a form of civic dereliction. Thin-skinned icons are more dangerous to society than bumptious comedians.

You might argue that Sachin and Lata have a right to remain silent. I disagree. When the forces of censorship seek to shut down speech in their name – by asserting that Bhat’s humour is a form of lèse-majesté – they need to come forward and defend the political rights of citizens in the land that has been so good to them.