Humour on Indian Television: Full of Racism and Sexism

One of the most critically acclaimed films released last week in India, Parched stars a bunch of artistically and intellectually competent actors. Tannishtha Chatterje being one of them along with her team went to promote their film on Comedy Nights Bachao where the actress was bullied in the name of roasting. She was told before the show began that their show is based on popular comedy style that’s called roasting but the anchors crossed the line hardly understanding the difference between bullying and roasting. Tannishtha writes:

Something has shocked me out of my wits yesterday. I was invited as a guest to a popular comedy show called Comedy Nights Bachao to promote my latest release Parched with my director, Leena Yadav and my co-actor Radhika Apte. I was told that the flavor of the show is COMEDY and the purpose is to roast, humor, and offend. My perception of roast was formed by all the SNLs I watched over the years, and the commonly held perception that a roast is a celebratory humour at someone’s expense . It is a mock counter to a toast.
I was actually looking forward to be roasted.
And then this show began. And this was an entirely novel understanding of roast that equates itself with bullying. And to my utmost horror, I soon realized that the only quality they found worth roasting about in me was my skin tone.

Skin colour has been a taboo in our country since time immemorial. We have slammed, ignored, disgusted at the look of dark women. Patriarchy finds its place here as well because a dark, tall and handsome man is a perfect fit whereas a dark woman is a disgrace.
Our own ethics are so hypocrite that we can’t confront the double standards the society abides by. We worship dark skinned goddesses but we fail to embrace a trait as natural as someone’s skin colour.
Comedy nights bachao and the hosts of the show have always taken support of highly offensive material to not only bully Tanishtha but any star that has appeared on the show.
It is essential to question who gives these people the authority to disgrace someone’s individuality in the name of low level humour. But unfortunately millions of people laugh everyday sitting comfortably in their living rooms without questioning the dearth of their nonsense jokes.

Tanishtha Chatterjee tried taking a second chance at a point in the show and thought it might get better but when things worsened she left the show in between. The show producers told her that’s how the content of the show is. She writes further about the incident:

I could not believe I was sitting in a nationally televised comedy show in 2016 in Mumbai amid such regressive( I cant call it humor), and blatantly racist content. Though I was feeling suffocated, I decided to give it another chance, and sat through another equally offensive segment. Nothing changed. I could not sit there anymore. I had to leave. When I told the organisers what I felt, they said , “But we told you it is a roast!”I explained to them the common perception of roast and how it is different from bully. That there is no humor value in a joke about some ones physical attributes especially one that stems from deep prejudices. I don’t think they got it. Some friends also told me don’t take it so seriously, it’s just a comedy. I think that’s what the show also thinks. It’s all fun and games! Except there is nothing funny about this. Precisely because -In a country where we still sell fair n lovely/handsome and show adverts, where people don’t get jobs because of their complexion, where every matrimonial advert demands a fair bride or groom and the color bias is so strong, in a society which has a deep-seated problem with dark skin, which also has deep roots in our caste system , in a country where dark skin is marginalized, making fun of it is not roast. Even considering that dark skin is a joke comes from that very deep prejudice. And I tried to explain why this is not personal and it is a larger issue about what our mindset is. And why cracking jokes about deep biases in our society is irresponsible. And that it is not a question about apologizing to me, but propagating this idea and continuing with this mindset in the name of comedy is what is hugely problematic, specially because it is a popular show on a nationalized channel.
Poorly scripted television shows with no authenticity of their content have ruptured the consciousness of this country almost incurably. We laugh on jokes that make fun of our own people and values, believe in anything and everything these shows have to offer without reflecting on the genuineness of its image of the society.

Tanishtha questions the white skin hangover with utmost brutality.
Why are dark skinned women treated as burdens and untouchable?
Why is fair skin such a taboo when most of our women have dark complexion?
Why does it become a label for a woman’s individuality in the first place?
Why do families fight the prejudices of the society to get their dark skinned daughter married?
Why have we maintained an unneeded silence on something that shouldn’t be an issue at all?

Her experience questions the intricate prejudices we have unconsciously accepted. Our image of beauty is blotted but no we can’t stop bragging about white skin. The level to which these comedy shows fall to and people find it entertaining is a grave issue.

Tanishtha Chatterjee shares another incident where someone was surprised that even when her parents are Brahmins how could she be dark skinned. She writes:

Once I was asked “ Your surname is Chatterjee? Oh you are Brahmin.. What is your mothers surname? Maitra! Oh…. She is Brahmin too…” And then indirectly he hinted how is my skin tone still dark… ? This is so deep rooted and linked to our perceptions of caste, class and skin tone. Upper caste =Fair skin =touchable. Lower caste=dark skin=untouchable. Yes I have pronounced it. Probably most of us will not admit to our hatred for the dark skin also comes from our caste bias.

It’s so unfortunate, these artists who are making films to fight these hidden prejudices of our society have to face the same during the promotional events of the film. It’s even more unfortunate that not many people might watch Parched but they won’t forget to watch the same comedy show next weekend. She writes:

I made a film called Parched. Why I am saying “I made” is because all of us who are a part of this film feel that this was not just a film for us. That its MY FILM. We wanted to express a lot of things about gender, body, skin , sexuality , caste etc through our stories. It has been a revelation that the journey just begins here as we realise through our promotional process that we are constantly subjected to exactly those issues from which this film was engendered. The list is long long and the biases are deep deep….The privilege that allows these are what we had hoped to challenge.
No denying the fact that these biases are deep rooted and mediums to challenge them are limited. Choices we make as people, the kinds of films we watch, the content we accept, the music we listen to talks a lot about our personalities. The kind of TRPs these shows collect every weekend is a reflection of our belief system. Whose responsibility is it anyway to understand and propagate that it’s not funny to laugh at the cost of someone’s individuality?

Though, after her Facebook post Colors channel apologised for offending the actress on the show. Colors channel tweeted:

Dear @TannishthaC
It is rather unfortunate that what you had expected to be a fun and novel experience turned out to be traumatic for you.
— COLORS (@ColorsTV) September 28, 2016

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