AIB Controversy: Who has the last laugh, India or the moral police?

Published: February 6, 2015

Censorship is just a euphemism for governments like ours to legitimise their ideological projects. PHOTO: REUTERS

Censorship is just a euphemism for governments like ours to legitimise their ideological projects. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM THE AIB ROAST KNOCKOUT Censorship is just a euphemism for governments like ours to legitimise their ideological projects. PHOTO: REUTERS

Although New Delhi’s legislative assembly elections are just round the corner and the city that has been the helm of power in the subcontinent for centuries will choose between its ‘aam aadmis’ and ‘khaas aadmis’, the fulcrum of debate instead is a comedy show uploaded to YouTube, a video-sharing website, that many Pakistanis wouldn’t know of, on January 28, 2015.

It is fascinating how one chooses to become a comedian in a part of the world where something funny is going on all the time. A few years back a group of witty comedians, comprising Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya, formed the AIB – an online comedy collective. While the Pakistani underground is still busy with White versus Brown themes, and more importantly its struggle against radical thought, AIB garnered an identity of its own in India.

Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi, one of the greatest humour writers from our part of the world, once wrote,

“The day we understand why we laugh, we won’t laugh again”.

That is perhaps what happened when a roast, conducted live by the group over a month back, was posted online. According to statistics tweeted by the group itself, within 24 hours it became the third most shared video in the USA, first in India and they became the number one subscriber gaining channel. Within three days the view count had clocked to seven million. The show, hosted by film director Karan Johar, consisted of insult comedy directed towards actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranvir Singh, in the presence of a 4,000-strong live audience and numerous Bollywood bigwigs.

Disclaimer: The language used in this video may not be suitable for viewers under the age of 18.

Whenever a form of art that threatens prevalent Indian truths surfaces, a plethora of orange-clad organisations – with funny names that rhyme with John Cena – resort to much hue and cry. While on the contrary, India is the same country that recently showered laurels upon a movie based on enforced disappearances and the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Indian-occupied Kashmir. As someone famously quipped, had a director announced to make a movie on the missing persons of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the cast and crew would have gone missing.

While the 4,000 attendees and famous personalities, who were the butt of jokes at the roast, were okay with the content, cases of public obscenity were registered against AIB by people who had little to do with the event. Apparently, India too has its own ‘Khudai faujdaar’ (God’s crusaders) who uphold the standards of morality and national pride. Bowing down to external pressure, the group announced to take the show down in less than a week. They also conducted a two-hour-long live chat session where they clarified their position and answered questions from fans. While most continue to emphasise the importance of consent and freedom of speech, others argue over the role-model position of Bollywood supremos.

Censorship is just a euphemism for governments like ours to legitimise their ideological projects. The question is whether Pakistan is also ready to laugh at itself? One wonders why leaders of banned outfits in our country enjoy extensive media coverage while ‘outfits’ that ‘disturb’ the mind, eye and faith of the beholder are condemned by the society. After hypocrisy, moral policing is one of our favourite national characteristics.

Famous political activist Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi once noted how the unnecessary exertion of holiness and subjective moral injunctions has paralysed the minds of our people.

The AIB literally knocked out purposeless societal standards of morality. In my opinion, the temporal setting of the show is what has brought the house down. The debate of gender discrimination and violence is still tugging at the heartstrings of millions while the roast effortlessly joked about every taboo there is.

Yet the message is loud and vivid – India is changing.

Ali Raj

Ali Raj

A sub-editor at The Express Tribune. He tweets @AnaariKiBandooq (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Diya Khanna

    FIR has been registered against the three…now who is laughing now??? there r number of ways of making ppl laugh..other than insulting ppl and using expletives..Recommend

  • Vish

    Thankfully none of them are going to be killed, irrespective of what rhymes with John Cena. Perks of living on the right side of the border.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Call me a prude – I dont approve of such language and innuendos . Make it a TV show and telecast it after 2200 and I wont complain .Recommend

  • kashmiriMuslim

    We indians will watch and make..and all FIR and everything is filed under personal discretion of may be a particular person has filed an fir….but it does not bother us..most of us are atheist and we want to live and laugh atleast in this phase of life…atleast we 25 lakhs software engineer in india want a laugh…Recommend

  • kamacho

    talking vulgar at the core to create crowd, and now blaming those who opposed it as moral policing? height of free sppeech, its like congress’s secularism. this is not art, in most sane word- misuse of freespech

  • Jor El

    There is no need to complain noe either. Its a closed door ticketed event with clear indications of foul language being used. N on the u-tube, its in the 18+ category. Sure, its not for children. Blame u-tube if <18 children manage to watch it, not the AIB.Recommend

  • Jor El

    u shudn’t have watched it or recommended others to watch it if u found it offensive.Recommend

  • Critical

    Had it been done in Pakistan…..There would be a mob frenzy and then JUSTICE WILL BE SERVED…..Then these authors would be busy searching from their holy books to justify this is not what their religion really meantRecommend

  • BlackJack

    In a country where justice is the same as mob violence I guess the difference between burning people alive and filing a case in a police station and waiting for legal recourse are pretty much the same thing. Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor are still in Mumbai, you know – they aren’t going anywhere. Where are the Pakistanis who are wanted for injuring public sentiments/ blasphemy etc – you can bet none of them are in Pakistan. A subtle but important difference that is unlikely to penetrate highly dense material. Also if you think this is even an issue in Delhi, then you know nothing about the city.Recommend

  • abhi

    I saw it before it got banned. Frankly speaking it was pretty disappointing despite having all the hype.Recommend

  • Midhat

    I don’t see the need to compare it with Pakistan. No ,matter how liberal and modernized we become, majority of our households are uncomfortable even watching romantic televised scenes with families. Without calling out anyone wrong let’s say that every society has its own cultural and traditional values, let it be like it, no need to imitate what we are not.
    And humor doesn’t need to be vulgar. I recently watched an old Play written by the Giant Anwer Maqsood, the way he makes us laugh at our own flaws was just superb and intelligent! and We have very talented intelligent humorist who can be funny and smart without obscenity and vulgarityRecommend

  • Rahul

    All those who are calling for the banning of AIB should remember that Manto was arrested and banned by the moral police throughout his career. Now his writings are regarded as literature.Recommend

  • Anoop

    Was it shown on TV?
    Youtube is filled with such language. AIB doesn’t stand out. It is entirely optional.Recommend

  • Anoop

    If the people who are being insulted have no problem, what is yours?Recommend

  • Anoop

    I am glad you said that. We need a laugh.

    While Comedy can be clean and funny, there shouldn’t be a limit. Nobody is calling for the harm of anyone.

    I really hope you are from Kashmir and an Athiest.Recommend

  • Anoop

    True that!
    FIR is being filed, but as long as people are resorting to the legal option and not taking becomig Judge and executioner themselves, its fine.Recommend

  • Dehati

    Who is Dawpeeka Padakonee? Who is Karoon Jowher? Why do we need
    to worry about these people? Are they coming this way? Across the border?
    Just don’t give them a visa. Or stop them at the airport.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    You have no reason to complain even now, Supriya ji.
    Don’t watch the video.
    Baat Khatam.
    (Btw, I don’t approve of foul language either)Recommend

  • Shaikh

    There was hardly anything funny to laugh about in that show. Being crude does’nt equal funny.Recommend

  • Zubin

    India has a moral police? Where? How? Who authorized it?Lord Modi?
    Shankar Jaikishan? Amit Shah? Advani? Anybody voted for this? Why?Recommend

  • Ayush

    Did anyone insult you? When the people who were “insulted” are not complaining, why does it bother busy bodies such as yourselves and other random strangers? Did anyone force you to watch the video on Youtube? Ridiculous.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    I just saw the video. Hadn’t bothered with it earlier in spite of all the hype around it. And I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Recommend

  • Nandita.

    The video isn’t such a big deal because there are some really witty lines in it and all these people were willing participants so who are we to judge?

  • ab1990

    I am surprised to see this obsession of pakistanis and pakistani media in india’s internal matters which dont even have any link to pakistan at all especially in incidents like these.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    I don’t like listening to expletives either but all the people who were the butt of all the jokes and were at the receiving end do NOT have a problem with it so what’s the big deal? All of them were willing participants so we really shouldn’t complain.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Then start censoring YT too.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Then start censoring YT too.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Start censoring YT.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Start censoring YT.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Why should Youtube be censored?
    If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. Close your eyes.
    But others might enjoy watching the stuff that you don’t approve of. Why should they suffer because of people like you?
    Stop your moral policing-you have no authority to decide what people should or shouldn’t watch. Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Dirty jokes with innuendos are circulated all over social media. I am a part of 15 odd whatsapp groups and filthy language/dirty jokes are all over the place.Such jokes show up on my facebook timeline too .. kya kya censor karoge? And why should it be censored at all? Let people decide what they want to listen to or watch.

  • Jor El

    No, u can’t censor it, u can only try to ban it but ppl will eventually find a proxy to overcome that too …Recommend

  • Zee

    Inferiority complex at its peak! ET and it’s bloggers seriously need a psychiatric. Every society has its own culture and you can’t compare apples with oranges!

    You liked it then see again and again and can recommend to your circle but why comparison with Pakistan? You want comedy in the disguise of vulgarity and obscenity than join AIB but if you seriously want genuine comedy than search for Anwar Maqsood and Moeen Akhtar and you will definitely learn what comedy is!

    The true legends! And India still couldn’t produce such a legend! Recommend

  • LS

    That was funny, I missed that on YT. Thanks for putting it here…Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Thank GOD these guys don’t live where I live. It would have been another “sad incident”, where “no religious parties” were involved and the act of a “local mullah” with no connection to the “Great Saudi Arabia”.Recommend

  • PBCD

    Turn off the tv.. the internet.. don’t even allow your kids outside.. in fear that they might catch something indian. Its hilarious what you are suggesting. We watch their movies, their soaps yet we complain about them.

    Go watch a terrorist blow a school or a shia mosque because that is what our media’s obsession is!Recommend

  • PBCD

    says you. I found it chock full of funny!Recommend

  • Prashant

    And go back to doordarshan times.Recommend

  • Arsha

    Everyone has a different level of tolerance to unsanitized speech. As long as crowds were not misled into thinking that it would be a family friendly event and as long as the participants knew the intent then what is the problem? There was no hate speech involved. There are enough movies world over with the worst kind of language and they are given a certain rating and that’s the end of the story….. Why a different standard here?
    Haven’t you heard the kind of boy talk that happens on streets, boys hostels etc…. Do we start banning that too?Recommend

  • kamacho

    if you feels that public sex is allowed, family friendly with a label at the beginning that ”you shouldn’t watch if” is that ok for you?
    its not about hate speech, but ”ok”eying of such nonsenses, vulgarity, it will create a generation that call their parents ”mofo” in their home
    arts should be appreciated, not these kind of nonsenses to make crowd. no one expecting all these celebrities stand up and shout against it there, they were smiling like monkeys there. but pathetic situation is that those who are clapping for it to show that they are modern, new generation or kinda blahs in funny way.Recommend