Mocking the underdog: when did Kanan Gill and AIB turn cultural elitists?
Late 2013, Kanan Gill uploaded a video called Bangalore on Homosexuality.The premise was simple. It was a Jimmy Kimmel-styled street video of Gill walking around asking people what they thought of things.
It had been two weeks since the Supreme Court had overturned the judgment repealing Article 377.
Gill to man on street: I wanted to ask you what you thought about Section 377?
Gentleman: I'm new to this city...uhh (looks at car behind him)... I don't have much idea about this.
Gill keeps a straight face.
Before you clap your hands in celebration of his ludicrous answer, pause for a moment. You see, Gill could've asked the man what he thought of homosexuality instead. Or of being gay. He could've found a term that would certainly be understood. Except, he didn't. He was happier laughing at the guy for not knowing what 377 meant.
That series of videos - Gill going around Bangalore being friends with those less intelligent than himself - eventually became the making of Kanan Gill.
Despite displaying no imagination or comedic skill (and Gill has a wealth of both).
It also inadvertently spawned an entire genre of YouTubing:
[The City] on [Thing]
There's now Bangalore on Politics. Bangalore on Penis Size. Bengaluru on Corruption. Hyderabad on Kiss of Love. Hyderabad on Eve teasing. Chennai on Local Superheroes. Mumbai on Marijuana. Goa on Drugs. Delhi on Being Crazy.
Being Indian took that mantle forward once Gill moved onto better things. Two years on, they're still at it.
Comedy had begun punching down.
The Triumvirate of Cringe Pop
Together they formed the Triumvirate of Cringe Pop.
The members of this triumvirate have more in common than would appear prima facie. To begin with, all three are men. This isn't a coincidence. In the universe of so-bad-it's-good, there are a wide variety of videos, but close to no women in them.
Also, all three men are apparently delusional about their abilities. Bhim Niroula's dancing makes one wish one could unsee things. Taher Shah uses photographs of himself as a substitute for mood lighting. And Vennu Mallesh is a one-man Lynyrd Skynyrd, if Lynyrd Skynyrd was one air guitar.
But it's strange that these videos would gain this much traction. Because culturally, we're not new to absurdly megalomaniac entertainers with an unlikely sense of self. We've watched Himesh Reshammiya make movies where he plays International Superstar - Himesh Reshammiya. We've seen Mithun Chakrabarty's brain survive a transplant. We've witnessed the birth of the Rajnikanth Joke. Bizarre narcissism is not novel. And it can't be at the heart of this viraldom.
The curiosity of the Cringe Pop Triumvirate must lie elsewhere. And it does.
Unlike with HR, Rajnikanth and Mithun Chakrabarty, the bizarre narcissism here is performed in English. And in questionable English.
These videos are reducing audiences to their lowest possible denominator of cultural dominance. We can, once again, make fun of someone's language and lack thereof. And we don't have to be literature aficionados to do it.
Eye Chu Eye. Spectrum Eyes. Baby you are Ay-tractive. I am very anger. I know it's very danger.
In any other regional/national language, these videos may have been non-starters. (Taher Shah's Ankhon Hi Ankhon Mein, the Urdu version of Eye to Eye, hasn't shared the same degree of success). They've brought south Asian sensibilities to a global language. The result: a festival of self-validation.
Pat yourselves on the back guys, and laugh. At your worst, you're better than them.
AIB Joins the Party
AIB has always been known to bat for the little guy. At the Roast, they humanised Bollywood for the rest of us. In their sketches, they've poked fun at Alia Bhatt's privilege and luxury bags. They dedicated an entire episode of AIB on Air to stripping bare the privileges of golfers and Suhel Seth.
Because they understand the most important tenet of comedy and rhetoric - punch up. Never down. Satire, being the tool of the weak, must be exercised in one direction.
To make fun of the weaker, poorer, more ignorant or less informed isn't just vulgar. It's cruel.
As Joshi and Bhatt explain in a video:
"Always punch upwards. Never punch downwards. In writing comedy, you must always make fun of those who are screwing people over. Not of the people who are being screwed over."
And yet, over the course of their latest series of Honest videos, we're seeing nothing but repeated instances of cultural elitism.
In a recent series of advertisements masquerading as comedy sketches, AIB's made fun of the Middle Class Family Eating Butter Chicken at Punjabi Restaurant.
It's standard AIB fare - a healthy mix of meta-jokes and stereotypes. Till the waiter is called upon to list the dessert menu.
"Sir, we have chocolate fondant with Belgium chocolate ganache, Philadelphia cheesecake, key lime pie, Nutella macarons...
(family is flummoxed at gobbledygook)
... array mazaak kar raha hoon. Gulab Jamun hi launga!"
Followed by relieved laughter.
AIB is partaking in the same cultural one-upmanship as the rest of us. They're making fun of the middle-classicism that looks at a menu and doesn't know what a Nutella macaron is. A family that goes back to the gulab jamun, because they're not culturally equipped to handle anything else.
They're not even culturally ambitious.
For those who think of AIB as a vanguard of comedy culture, this deserves a second thought.
Edited by Payal Puri
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