Comedy Nights Bachao is stupid, but so is Tannishtha Chatterjee's outrage
India's problem with dark skin is nothing new. The multitude of fairness products that occupy shelves in stores and ad time on screen stand testament to that. Today, the fairness issue has been stirred up by actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, when, after appearing on the show Comedy Nights Bachao to promote her film Parched, she felt she was the victim of racism.
After the show, the actress put up a lengthy Facebook post detailing her outrage over what happened. In it, she talks about how her skin colour was the only object of ridicule on the show, where celebrities go to promote their show and get roasted in return.
So far she's managed to stir up nation-wide outrage as well as elicit an apology from the TV channel that broadcasts the show.
Now, racism is unacceptable. However, I have more than a few problems with Tannishtha Chatterjee's outrage - all of which have to do with her willingness to participate on the show.
The concept of a roast
In her Facebook post, Chatterjee goes to great lengths to acknowledge that not only was the show a roast - a platform where people are made the butt of jokes, but also that she knows what a roast is.
According to Chatterjee, her idea of what roasts are "was formed by all the SNLs I watched over the years." What Chatterjee fails to mention is that SNL (Saturday Night Live, for the uninitiated) is not a roast platform. In fact, they don't even do roasts and, when celebrities do appear on the show and take part in self-deprecating sketches, that is not roasting.
To see an actual roast, all one has to do is search YouTube. The keyword 'roast' will throw up all the examples you need of this form of humour. It will also show you that roasting is a take-no-prisoners form of comedy. Nothing is off limits. Not your race, your weight, your alcoholism, drug problems or even a prevailing disease you're suffering from. And certainly not your skin.
In fact, the whole point of the roast is that it is a space where the harshest things can be said and the only thing that isn't allowed is taking offence. That anyone with Tannishta's level of exposure wouldn't know that, even after AIB's infamous roast, baffles me.
Yes, Comedy Nights Bachao is arguably the poorest form of roast comedy known to humanity, with jokes never rising beyond those of class and appearance, but it's still a roast. Sure, jokes about skin colour shouldn't still be funny, and, honestly, the ones on Comedy Nights Bachao really aren't. But they're exactly the sort of jokes anyone with even half a brain would expect from a roast show of this calibre.
Going on this particular show and expecting anything less is like showing up to a nudist beach and complaining about seeing a bared arse.
The hypocrisy of appearing on such a show
Promoting a film is probably a pain for any star. It's the unfortunate side effect of being an actor. You have to show up, fake smile, fake laugh and regurgitate memorised cliches for the cameras and/or scribes assembled. No one likes it and it's understandable that stars do it unthinkingly and unquestioningly.
That changes though, when your project has a social message. For example, you wouldn't do a film on the evils of fairness creams and then appear on a show whose principal sponsor is a fairness cream just for cheap promotion.
The same goes for Chatterjee and Parched. Not only does Parched have a social message, but its cast and crew have reminded us that it does at every chance.
Hell, even in her FB post Chatterjee invokes this quality of the movie: "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 [sic] MY FILM. We wanted to express a lot of things about gender, body, skin , sexuality , caste etc through our stories."
With that being the case, why on earth would the cast of Parched have signed up to do a promotional event with Comedy Nights Bachao? After all, if we are to ignore that this is an arena for roasting, the show is one where body shaming is rampant. Where references to class are common. Where skin colour is routinely ridiculed, women are objectified and caste jokes get slipped in effortlessly.
And that's just what I could glean from the 3-odd minute clips available on YouTube. The show is the literal anti-thesis to everything Chatterjee claims Parched was about.
Yet Chatterjee and her cast members agreed to be paraded on it. Why? Because social issues are only valuable to production houses when it helps to sell movie tickets. After that, they get thrown under the bus in favour of more lucrative things like promotion. And their stars? They go along with the same, unquestioningly.
Perhaps instead of pointing a finger at Colours TV for racism, maybe Tannishtha and the entire cast of Parched should fire their PR team for ever booking them on the show in the first place.
Yes racism in India exists, and Tannishtha Chatterjee has probably experienced it throughout her life. But this ordeal was not about racism, it was about a star who didn't do her research and an industry willing to do anything for cheap publicity.