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Another comic roast raises a storm

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MUMBAI: Comic Roasts can backfire. Ask the AIB guys. And now you can ask the cast of Comedy Nights Bachao. In an episode that is yet to be telecast, the cast of the Krushna Abhishek-Bharati Singh-led show on Colors resorted to some leg-pulling of an actress during a film promotion on it. The leg-pulling was around the tanned actress’ skin colour. And, it got her goose. So much so, that it has become an issue with women’s organisations getting behind the actress and the channel and the artistes having to issue an apology.

‘Parched’ actress Tannishtha Chatterjee was the butt of the skin tone joke during a show to be aired on Colors. “She had no clue about ‘Comedy Nights Bachao’, says the show’s host Krushna Abhishek who has now apologised for the ‘racist’ comments. Both, Krushna and Colors have since apologised to Tannishtha after she expressed disappointment with how her skin tone was made fun of on “Comedy Nights Bachao.” Comedian Krushna defended the programme that he co-hosts, after Tannishtha rued its “blatant and regressive racist” ways of finding humour in her “dark skin tone”.

Issues with colorism and race are not new in India. The degradation of dark color and the privileges of whiteness in a post-colonial era is endless. And, jokes on a popular show only help to reinforce the stereotype that dark skin is a subject of ridicule.

Krushna was not present on the sets of the show when Tannishtha was “roasted” on the show. She was accompanied there by her ‘Parched’ team members -- director Leena Yadav and actress Radhika Apte. Soon after shooting for the show,Tannishtha took to social media to criticise the format for its racist attack.

The creative professionals on the Colors shows believed that calling someone ‘kaali kalooti’ or asking if eating jamuns (blackberries) as a kid is the reason why she is dark-skinned is amusing.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) has slammed the comedy show for allegedly making fun of the skin tone of the actress, and said it is exploring avenues to initiate action on the "unfortunate episode".

After sitting through two segments of the show, the National Award-winning actress walked out of the shoot when jokes like ‘kaali kalooti, baingan looti’ didn’t stop. In the post, Tannishtha wrote, “…in a country where we still sell Fair and 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 colour 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 marginalised — making fun of it is not a roast. Even considering that dark skin is a joke comes from that very deep prejudice".

An apologetic Krushna later reacted: “If she (Tannishtha) feels offended by something, I apologise from our side. We never want to hurt anyone deliberately. “Comedy Nights Bachao” is of a roast format. Roast doesn’t mean that we say just anything to anyone… I had asked Tannishtha, if she has seen the show, she said she doesn’t watch TV as such. So, she has no clue about the show. So, I took another example and asked her if she had seen AIB Roast? And she hadn’t seen that either. I told her that since it’s a roast, there will be some leg-pulling, but we don’t insult. Had we been insulting, the show won’t have come so far.”

The actress has said that she had some idea of a roast through “Saturday Night Live” show, and that with “Comedy Nights Bachao”, she was anticipating to be ‘roasted’ as her perception was that a roast is “a celebratory humour at someone’s expense” and “a mock counter to a toast”.

Pointing out that the only thing they could roast about a dark-skinned actress was “of course her dark skin”, she said in a Facebook post: “This was an entirely novel understanding of roast that equates itself with bullying. And to my utmost horror, I soon realised that the only quality they found worth roasting about in me was my skin tone. It began with, ‘Aap ko jamun bahut pasand hoga zaroor…?'”

Krushna said there are actors who take roasts sportingly. “When Varun Dhawan came for ‘Dilwale’, Varun himself came up to me and said that he is very excited and looking forward to the roast. Even Shah Rukh Khan chose to come to our show for ‘Fan’. “I don’t know what hurt Tannishtha, because I wasn’t performing then. But I apologise if it has hurt her, though it wasn’t a deliberate attempt,” he added.

A PTI report quoted NCW chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam as saying it was "deplorable" and "pathetic" that the TV show "stooped to such a low level to garner TRPs".

"This was wrong on so many levels, in gender construct and social construct and it sets a very bad precedent. It is in bad taste and condemnable. In the name of freedom of expression, one should not and cannot allow perpetuation of social prejudice," Kumaramangalam told PTI, adding NCW has taken cognisance of the incident and is “consulting lawyers” to determine a “course of action.”

The NCW proposes to issue a letter to the apex authority on monitoring of the broadcast media content to bring to their notice the episode, according to the wire news service report.

This is not the first time comedians and TV shows have come under scrutiny for content that has been described as objectionable by some.

Meanwhile, a media report from Karnataka said that a High Court judge made some critical comments on film, TV and print media content.

Justice Gowda, who has given time to the Central government till 4 October 2016 to respond to a petition, was reported as observing on a case regarding a film content, “In the midst of news, some objectionable contents are introduced on television. Even newspapers carry advertisements about jewellery and lingerie, which are sometimes indecent.”

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