Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Open letter to AIB

Dear Ashish, Tanmay, Khamba and Rohan,

I have been debating whether or not to write to you for the longest time - after all, we are not friends. You guys don't know me, and I don't know any of you personally. I'm just a fan, a fan who didn't show up for your Big Night because the ticket prices were too steep. I kept meaning to catch the video on YouTube until it was taken down, and then I couldn't watch it (and I would never, EVER watch an illegally streamed copy online, 'coz that would be, you know, illegal).

So what business do I have writing to you, pretending familiarity? And then it hit me - AIB is no longer the obscure podcast I used to listen to at work, pretending to transcribe interviews. AIB is Big. AIB is Famous. I can write an open letter to you guys now, because apparently open letters are quite a thing now.

So here I am, a fan who does not know, and perhaps now, will never know (because I've still not seen the video, pinkie swear) what all the fuss over the Roast is really about. I do know your comedy.

I hold the dubious pride of having known AIB Before They Became Famous. I latched on to Ashish Shakya's HT column before there was AIB, before he even started with stand-up. I watched the first video he posted online of his stint at an Open Mic evening - "Speaking of assholes, I'm North Indian." Over the years, I have followed the growth of adult stand-up comedy in India, always meaning to catch a live show in Mumbai, and religiously tuned in for every update from AIB.

So it was totally, absolutely unsurprising for me that your show was filthy. What actually surprised me in fact, was how dumbstruck it left a lot of people, the fact that a bunch of comedians can get up to a podium and make lewd jokes. Not that I'm a fan of dirty language in my own interactions with anyone - I still get a big adrenaline rush if I so much as let the f-word erupt from my mouth, and when I do it, I do it deliberately, calculated for effect. The f-word does not come naturally to me, not as part of everyday conversation.

But it always felt natural to your comedy. What surprised me more than everybody else's distaste at the content of your show, was the sudden realization that I had been consuming all of this content for all this while without remembering to get offended. And I'm usually quick to take offence. Maybe it didn't affect me because of the inherent understanding that the language of your productions was always just part of the package. I just took it as another layer of the humor, like Mehmood in a 60's comedy speaking in a faux-Hyderabadi dialect, hoping that everything would sound funnier in Hyderabadi. Or like Navin 'Pehchan Kaun?' Prabhakar always talking like a Bar Girl. Or like Munnabhai prefixing each of his pop-philosophical pellets with "bole to...", because everything sounds funnier in bhai-boli. Or like PK speaking in Bhojpuri, because how funny would it be if an alien meted out generic opinions on earthlings in a Bhojpuri accent?

My point being, I always took it for granted that the language was just packaging, and rather beside the point. You guys are performers, and every performer has a persona. And I was always fine with it, because I agreed with the point you made. Okay, not always agreed with everything, but I have at least appreciated the earnestness of your opinions, and the fact that you have never taken the lazy route to dish them out.

In all of the material I've seen coming from any of you guys, whether on your blogs, twitter, YouTube or the original podcasts, you've never accused people of agenda beyond facts in public domain. You have never been degrading to women that I remember of. You have always backed your opinions with facts, not platitudes. You have never posted any sleazy shots of women. You stood on the right side of the Deepika-Times tussle, and took a stand against victim-blaming on the issue of rape. And you have always made yourself the butt of your own jokes more than you did anybody else. The worst sexually explicit image I've seen coming from you has been of four guys having a group orgy. Just the four of you.

Those are the things that matter to me, the gaalis and sexual innuendo notwithstanding. And perhaps you checked some right boxes for a lot of people in the film industry too, to enjoy their support the way you did. Which is perhaps why so many actors, directors and assorted industry-wallas have been so generous with their time to work on your videos, laughing at themselves along with world. This is what has set you apart from other comedy channels on YouTube. The fact that the butt of the joke was in cahoots with you.

I now hear that you have been accused of insulting people - I thought that was the idea. As a contrast, another channel posted a sketch featuring a duplicate Raghu Dixit along with the real Ayushmann Khurana. Raghu was the butt of jokes. Did any of the writers, cast and crew see what was wrong with this? You guys, you had Raghu on your panel to take all the trashing in person. That's the difference.

And funnily enough, a certain respected actor disappointed at you for the content of your show has, just like me, not seen the Roast. Well neither have I. But I have seen your other work. And I can swear upon my honor that you guys are anything but violent. Pinkie swear.


A fan.

P.S. Not sure if I need to mention this, but I completely and wholeheartedly support AIB, no matter what the outcome of all this madness. Be safe and be strong.

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