(Un)funny business

DECCAN CHRONICLE | ARUN VENKATRAMAN AND SUSHMITA MURTHY
Published Jan 16, 2016, 12:11 am IST
Updated Jan 15, 2016, 11:04 pm IST
It begs the question—when does a joke cease to be funny?
Kiku was booked under section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (outraging religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious belief).
 Kiku was booked under section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (outraging religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious belief).

This is not the first time that Kiku Sharda, aka the popular Palak from Comedy Nights with Kapil has imitated a famous personality. He makes a living out of spoofing real-life characters and is almost always greeted with applause and laughter. So when he was abruptly whisked off the stage by the Haryana police on Wednesday for an act mimicking self-styled godman and Dera Sacha chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim (during an earlier episode of the show), it came as a rude shock to his fans, friends and family. Kiku was booked under section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (outraging religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious belief). But the ones who’re not amused at all at the turn of events are Kiku’s fellow comedians.

In fact, two of them — Raju Srivastava and Anuvab Pal — pointed out that the promptness with which the police acted in arresting Kiku is strange, to say the least. “I find it interesting how prompt the Haryana police were in dealing with this issue. They came down to Mumbai, arrested him and flew him back the same night. Being prompt in action is not bad, but I only wish that they were as prompt in investigating the thousands of murders and crimes that take place in Haryana every year,” Raju said.

 

Anuvab termed the promptness the police showed, misplaced. “What bothers me is that if the said police force has travelled overnight for such a small matter to arrest him, its neutrality should also be questioned. I am against any legal action against comedianss issues as small as jokes.     

“This is at the most a civil matter and should be treated as such and not a criminal one. Kiku Sharda has had two FIRs filed against him with bail set at `1 lakh each. He has to fly his lawyer from Mumbai, who will have to be put up in a hotel and he too has to fly back at his expense. Add this and other expenses up and it comes up to say `6 lakhs. Even if he comes out clean, who is going to pay him back those six lakhs?” Anuvab asked.

 

Another interesting perspective on the case was that of Sunil Pal, who said that Kiku had actually spoofed the film MSG (Messenger of God) in which Gurmeet Ram Rahim had starred, and not the Dera chief himself. “Since the imitation that Kiku did was of a character from a movie that guruji played the lead in, I don’t think that (his act) could have been illegal in any way. A comedian’s job is to make fun of culture and movies and film characters,” Sunil argued.

Raju Srivastava also feels that the grounds of hurting “religious sentiments” cannot be applied to Kiku’s act. “Babaji is not bhagwan and he has said this himself on several occasions. So how can mimicking him be against any religion?”

 

Raju goes on to add that he has mimicked the leading political figures of the day — often while they were seated in the audience — and never faced a backlash: “I have performed my mimicry in front of the very people I was mimicking — Lalu Prasad Yadav, Atalji, Advaniji and more. I have even mimicked Baba Ramdev in his presence. They all just had a good laugh, they didn’t take offense. I have also performed twice in front of Gurmeet Ram Rahimji himself and he also found my act funny. So it depends on how the audience takes it.”

 

And that is where the problem comes in. With such a varied audience, comedians like Sunil Pal feel that “it has become so easy to be offensive and also to get offended”. This is where context needs to be taken into account, opines stand-up comic Papa CJ. “For example, I would never crack a Hitler joke in Israel, because that would be stupid. Look at what happened with Charlie Hebdo. I am not saying that what happened was right, but am I surprised? Not at all. If you’re going to make naked cartoons of the Prophet, you have to keep in mind that you’re trying to provoke.  Also, AIB Roast — when it was live, no one made a noise. But when it went up online, all hell broke lose. As a comedian you have to decide: Is the point that you’re trying to make more important than your safety? That is just the way the world is. I am not saying it’s right, but that’s how it is,” CJ says.

 

Kapil Sharma: I appeal to Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh ji ‘Insaan’ to come in front of the media with regard to this matter and present a beautiful example of kindness by defending an actor, who only spreads happiness through his acting. Let’s work for peace and happiness together. (on Twitter)

Gaurav Gera: I was part of the show where Kiku mimicked the Dera Sacha Sauda chief Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim in one of his acts. Even though I did not see his performance, I can tell you it’s not his fault. He was only mouthing lines given to him by the channel. How can he be blamed? We do so many gags on politicians and actors, what if they also start getting offended? The whole thing is pretty scary. What happened to Kiku is very unfair. What’s the point in blowing a small matter out of proportion? Don’t Baba’s followers have better things to do?

 

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