Throw a stone in India, and chances are that you’ll offend somebody. If you’re a stand-up comic, this is a way of life – the genre is one of the last bastions of free speech, a fact explored deeply in Jaideep Varma‘s documentary I Am Offended. But will the rising intolerance in our country muzzle this community? Varma explores this question, while at the same time looking at how Indian humor has evolved over the years, through interviews with a vast range of stand-up comics, cartoonists, satirists, and mimicry artists. The documentary has been released on YouTube in order to avoid censorship, and in the off chance that it may offend someone.
The film feels particularly relevant in light of the extreme responses to the AIB Knockout, the comedy collective’s roast of Bollywood stars that got millions of views on the web, while at the same time evidently offending many because of its liberal use of profanities and adult jokes. In the film, comics like Vir Das, Varun Grover, Johnny Lever, Raju Srivastav, Tanmay Bhat, and Anuvab Pal discuss the difference between English and Hindi stand-up, the challenges involved in performing in front of a live audience, and the future of stand-up in India.
During this revealing 108-minute film, that’s peppered with footage of stand-up routines including one of the legendary satirist Pu La Deshpande, Varma repeatedly makes the point that it’s a struggle to speak one’s mind while trying to get a roomful of people to collapse with laughter too. Sometimes it even results in death threats.
Are there subjects that are taboo in humor? Religion, caste, rape, India-Pakistan – wait there’s more – politics, Modi, Indian culture, Salman Khan, courts, police, sexuality, terrorism, the list is endless. What I Am Offended does is make you question whether we need a thicker skin. It opens your mind towards humor and the right to free speech. Next time, perhaps we’ll be able to laugh at life, and yes even at ourselves.
I Am Offended is available for free viewing on YouTube. It’s worth your time.