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Guest Column: AIB Roast and the dilemma of freedom of speech

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Guest Column: AIB Roast and the dilemma of freedom of speech

“Let the filth begin” was the opening statement given by Karan Johar before an obvious attempt at structured undoing of civil and linguistic boundaries started. Indeed the buzz was generated, enjoyed and spread in a way that some people approached the courts in order to stop it. The humour show took place on 28th January this year and we are still talking about it. This shows the audacity and depth of wounds left by the show. It all started in Mumbai when a bunch of unshackled free minds stand ups who named themselves  AIB (All India Bak@!*#@) decided to introduce our audiences with a form of western humour topping it up with trend insults, verbal abuse, below the belt jokes , seemingly abusive and rough language. If sources are to be believed then the per ticket cost for this show was between Rs 4000-8000 and these tickets were purchased by 4000 people who were more than happy to welcome this new genre of uncensored and so called braver version of stand-up comedy. The audiences for this presentation consisted of the elite class of the city and all the big names who are mostly visible on “page 3” of newspapers. Brave were the people who became a part of this show, even braver was their tolerance level to listen to and enjoy the bold content served to them.

Some would argue this was a violation of “freedom of speech” by AIB in an era where people and nations are fighting for the same across the globe. This  ‘Insult Comedy’ consisted of nasty, obscene, gross, indecent, unseemly and bawdy language and references to people, body parts and culture. All this didn’t stop inside the arena; members of AIB uploaded the video of the show on YouTube too. It was only after the matter reached the court that the upload was taken down from YouTube. However by that time it was already viewed by 44 lakh people. India has 2nd largest internet user community in the world, nearly 170 million young adults use internet on mobile devices; that is nearly a country in itself that is on the cusp of moral puberty and AIB is a defining moment.

Bollywood didn’t waste any time to come up with their own definition of “freedom of speech” in order to defend the show, content and their own presence in the live show. I’m compelled to posit, if we dig deep in to this it’s nothing more than a proof that we are still living in an age of psychological frustration and concealed cruelty.

In defense of the show and the content, organizers claimed that the audiences knew what to expect when they were buying the tickets. In the same manner the content when uploaded on YouTube starts with a warning about the content hence still if 44 lakh people decided to watch it then for sure they didn’t took the content as rash, abusive and hurting.

Another logic given says that the content didn’t hold or speak of anything that our society is untouched with. When we decide to talk about content related with one’s privacy and intimacy on platforms like AIB Roast, I believe we are threatening our values and creating a threat to social health and well-being.

It is not about good or bad content where people have a laugh; it is about what kind of a moral society are we developing for our children. Do we want our children to be like is the question we need to ask. Our social lives are fuelled by beauty and moral science.  Beauty helps us to create and adore whereas moral science helps us to stay on a correct path and move smoothly. Striking balance between the two is the mantra.

Ashish Kaul is a media & entertainment professional with over 20 years’ experience in marketing pioneering businesses. The views are strictly personal.

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