Laughter is a weapon

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Rape is not funny. The toughest part of writing about rape, of repeating the same gruesome story with different characters, of parroting data and statistics is this — outrage is boring, unoriginal and causes selective deafness. This week, the boys at All India Bakchod (AIB), a comic collective known for its biting wit, did something greater comics have quailed at: they made a rape joke, and got 1,269,268 people to listen.

It’s Your Fault is a four-minute video satirising victim blame that stars Kalki Koechlin, Juhi Pande, a cop with thickly accented English and several hands representing patriarchy. It has received unprecedented attention from the global media in the aftermath of the 16 December gangrape. Through Kalki’s lobotomised smile and refrain, “Ladies, it’s all your fault”, the script pokes fun at the absurdity of “things that cause rape” — clothing, chowmein, cellphones, working late — as well as a quick recap of “ways to prevent rape”, such as calling your attackers bhaiyya, or getting married (my favourite line: “Fun Fact: if he’s your husband, it’s not rape!”). The mixed response to the video has been predictable, veering from “Shut up, this won’t stop rape” to “This is awesome. Please translate it into Hindi/Urdu/Swahili”. Assumptions that the AIB is “preaching to the choir” or the already converted, is to assume that their audience, an English-speaking, satire-appreciating, hip crowd, is incapable of rape and would never be part of rape culture. Eerily similar to the fallacy of victim blaming, there is a ‘certain kind’ of person that rapes, and someone who appreciates AIB’s humour could never be that person.

The victim-blaming tropes and their deconstruction are not new. The past year, in particular, has seen an upsurge of survivor-positive multimedia campaigns and slogans (Google ‘Freedom Without Fear’ or ‘Fearless’ for more ammunition). In that sense, AIB breaks no new ground. What it does do is combine a sharp script with a popular Bollywood face, thus talking to an audience that would, arguably, glaze over an angry editorial. The last time AIB cast a Bollywood actor, Alia Bhatt, in their video, their numbers climbed from an average of 50,000 views to a whopping two lakh hits. In a recent interview, Koechlin described her fan demographic as between 12 and 30 years of age. If AIB’s newest video is making teenagers across the country dissect rape culture, here’s a slow clap and a standing ovation for its decision to cast celebrities.

What makes It’s Your Fault remarkable though is not the famous women starring in it, but the men who wrote it — a young, cool and privileged tribe of male comics, who felt outraged enough to try and dismantle rape culture using satire. It suggests that ‘feminists’ might actually be able to take a joke, and, even more outrageously, they might even be men. In a conversation with this reporter, Rohan Joshi, a member of AIB admitted that comedy could sometimes be an “all-boys club” — greenrooms and backstage areas filled with men who don’t believe in holding their tongues. (The number of female comics in the country is on an upswing, he admitted, four now as opposed to none). Good comics are rare, and female comics rarer.

Subject to the same law of attracting eyeballs, it came as no surprise when a popular news anchor interviewed Koechlin and Pande the night the video went viral, instead of those who wrote it. While Koechlin pointed out that the anchor’s praise should be directed at AIB, the gushing continued. It is not unusual for celebrities to endorse causes. Nor does it defy any taboos for women to discuss rape (which is considered a “women’s issue” by default).

If the boys at AIB want to do something radically cool — engage with the dialogues surrounding gender — they should consider starring in their own survivor-positive video rather than getting pretty women to spout their lines. Satire is a powerful weapon, but becoming a warrior isn’t its only reward. In a culture where the only representation of funny boys seems to be the asinine trio in Grand Masti, the boys at AIB might just become our newest pinup stars.

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