EARLY a month ago, stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and five others were arrested for allegedly passing ‘indecent remarks’ about Hindu deities. The MP High Court has now refused Faruqui’s bail plea although the Indore police is yet to provide evidence to back up the allegation.
Stand-up comic Balraj says, “Comic Kiku Sharda was booked for mimicking a baba, a cartoonist in Bengal was held for making Mamta Banarjee’s cartoon. See, our job is not just to crack a joke or make people laugh; we also make people aware.”
Comedian Rehman Khan, who has been a part of TV shows, says, “I’ve worked under rules and restrictions from my time in TV where even saying Delhi or Pakistan was a big no, but things are way more difficult now. I had to do comedy on the back-foot. Maybe because I am a Muslim, maybe because I am a comic? It’s a tough time for us. Since I also do political satire, I do it with sarcasm; I can’t be direct.”
Balraj thinks freedom of speech is being stifled and not just by the system, but by those who have fake accounts and no identity. “Everyone is ready to target us. Without evidence they go about ruining our reputation,” he says.
Weighing his words, actor-comic Paritosh Tripathi shares his point of view, “Humour is humour till it doesn’t pinch.” When it comes to creative liberty, Tripathi thinks there is no reason to worry. “If things were difficult for us, then wouldn’t all comics be behind bars? They wouldn’t be doing open mics, events and becoming a rage.”
On the contrary, Rehmaan says comics are in a real dilemma as of now, “If we will not be allowed to express our opinion, then that can be rather dangerous for the society.”
Comedian Rajeev Nigam, who is best known for featuring in the Great Indian Laughter Challenge, says, “Without any evidence if Munawar’s plea is being rejected and four other boys are facing trouble, should I say anymore?”
Perhaps playing it safe is the way ahead; says comedian Harry Verma, “I am self-centered when it comes to comedy and most of my stand-up revolves around my own life and miseries, so I have not changed any premise of a joke after this incident happened.”
And Manpreet Singh is an artiste who will touch upon topics that his listeners want to hear. He says, “Every comic has his or her own writing style. An FIR against one doesn’t mean I have to reflect on my body of work or be unnecessarily worried.”