Stupid is trending


Stupid is trending

It is cool to be stupid. That was one of the blaring messages in Indian popular culture last year. Many writers wrote about the new lows for Indian media in 2016 or what, a news and media critique platform, called “the year journalists turned mobsters, passed off doctored footage as news and war mongering as reporting”.

Most such laments—rather justified—were about the insincerity towards fact, the arrogance of opinion instead of the vigour of reportage, the waning popularity of in-depth analysis in print versus the instant gratification burps of social media.

But not much came up about the poverty of humour in popular media, the defeat of satire on television, the underuse of irony in fashion or the staggering rise of “non-seriousness”—the new farce in India.

There is in our lives a conspicuous absence of stuff that doesn’t just make you laugh but leads to “aha” moments of realization, the point when fun becomes cathartic.

Film director Karan Johar’s show Koffee with Karan that launched its fifth season in November on Star World leads this roaring business of non-seriousness.

From what it once used to be—an entertaining show with celebrities prodded by Johar, who is privy to the hot and sour happenings in the lives of his famous friends—it has become banal in the way it encourages buffoonery and fake attempts at humour.

If anything is worse than lack of humour, it is faux candidness, and this show has both in ample amounts. It is neither confessional nor genuinely sentimental. The footage that shows Johar in his dressing room faking pre-shoot nervousness, the antics of the hyper Ranveer Singh, the ho-ha-hum of Salman Khan, Brothers and Co., the I-am-such-a-victim-of-her-cleverness (with reference to his wife Twinkle Khanna) demeanour of Akshay Kumar, or the irritating giggles of some female stars has made Karan’s Koffee really tepid.

The few brainy quips—like on last Sunday’s show by Shahid Kapoor or by Aamir Khan in an earlier episode—get easily drowned under starry idiocy.

This despite the overdressed and over-eager Johar’s attempts to nudge thoughts on sex, infidelity, competition, rumour and same sex attractions—all great precursors otherwise for satire and irony.

Johar’s show though is just one example of the farce that surrounds us.

“Dumbing down,” as some may call this process, dominates content in “lifestyle” supplements of many mainstream newspapers where every second story is labelled “exclusive”.

Ditto for television, both news and fiction. All India Bakchod, the radical comedy group, came up last year, with the lifeless idea of the deaths of Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar, two incredibly popular Indian icons, as satire.

Not offensive, but not funny either. Then there is the weekly humour of well-known TV comedian Kapil Sharma. The appeal of his jokes is dependent on the laughter of celebrities on his show. The celebrities generate laughter as a part of the deal, which involves the promotion of their next release. The audience laughs on cue, not as an actual response to what’s going on. The situation is formulaic.

The trolling of Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi, the newborn son of Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan, last month added to this non-serious proclivity, as did manic movie star Ranveer Singh’s yoga-cartwheels “competition” with yoga guru Baba Ramdev at an India Today magazine event, the video of which went viral on social media.

“Viral” is of course a symptomatic word of our non-serious times. Every day something goes viral on social media. Whether it was the photographs of cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s wedding in Goa (uff, the ostentatious clothes), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s controversial arrest, cricket fans hitting out at Anushka Sharma for distracting boyfriend Virat Kohli’s attention from the sport, or Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s death—they all went “viral”.

The degrees of impact that separate and distinguish these events in real life get blurred once something goes viral—because they all follow the same hurried, harried cycle. It endangers the quality of genuine satire in social life, in writing, art and cinema and makes performing monkeys out of celebrities. The vocabulary that comes out of this haze is a whir of “amazing”, “cool”, “hot”, “great” or “blessed”—the last the newest entrant to unfunny.

And while non-seriousness may be—in the era of US president elect Donald Trump, the poster boy of non-seriousness—an ailment of our times, the choice of what to heave and hype about distinguishes one society from another. That’s where I think India’s version of instant gratification through non-seriousness is peculiar. It is incessant, excessive, obsessed with movie star worship at the top level and dangerously coiled with bigotry, intolerance and moral policing at other levels. That’s why the only way Johar can talk about homosexuality is through non-serious (but neither funny nor serious) repartees with heterosexual male actors, and the only reason why we get away with haranguing a cricketer like Mohammed Kaif for doing the yogic suryanamaskar, which is ostensibly a “Hindu” exercise.