Imagine ancient Rome, Shakespearean times, the Golden Age of Whodunit all mashed together, with a Hinglish twist, and you may get a real sense of what is happening in India today.
There is Scamasutra, the dominant narrative with its dramatic mix of guile, revenge, intrigue, political power play, leavened on occasions with dark threats of bloodshed. The crores that a lot of people are making by dint of their privileges and proximity to political power are dizzying. Like ancient Romans who gathered at The Coliseum to watch gladiatorial fights, we huddle in front of our television sets every evening to watch the dismembering of the latest venal soul who has been outed. There is a new personage and a new scandal every week. But the tagline remains the same. Those in the dock and their supporters unwaveringly maintain: “We are not the first, nor the only ones to be doing this.” The game goes on.
Scamasutra has underscored India’s unity in diversity. Scams have been spectacularly diverse in scope – from spectrum to coal to land to mines to toilet paper and now nutritional supplements for malnourished children below six. But there is an underlying unity of purpose: Nothing is too high or low to be ripped off.
But since this is India, nothing is unrelentingly bleak. Just as in Shakespearean plays, when clowns offered an emotional vacation from the more serious business of the main action, mirth pops up amid the most morbid settings.
Which brings me to the rejigged Kamasutra and the sub-plot offering comic relief. In the land which traditionally cherished Kama in all its variations comes the news that a criminal case has been registered against the director, producer, lyricist, singer and actors of the recently released slapstick romantic comedy Student of the Year (SOTY). The commotion is about the song ‘Radha’. Shrivision Social Empowerment and Welfare Association, an NGO, alleges that the song casts aspersions on the Radha of Indian mythology by portraying her as a “sexy” character. A case has been booked under section 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code which deals with hurting religious sentiments.
Since Karan Johar is its director and Gauri Khan, Shah Rukh Khan’s wife, is the producer, this story is not disappearing any time soon. Meanwhile, the song about Radha on the dance floor, who likes to party and move her body in an allegedly sexy manner, is going viral on social media. Given the national mood, whether the foot-tapping number is catastrophic or comic is anyone’s guess. It has the masala to stir a national debate in days to come. A note of caution: Those of us who are more amused than aghast at the song’s rendition of Hinglish at its most horrifying and at the repetitive collision between faith and the FIR better get used to being stoned along with the rest of the godless people.
Radha, the song, is only the latest of India in its annoyed avatar. Every day, somewhere in this land of a billion plus, someone is rushing to the police station or court because his/her sensibilities are hurt by what someone said. If it is a song that offends today, it was a tweet yesterday. Last week, Ravi Srinivasan, a man from Puducherry, was hauled out of home at the crack of dawn and booked under Section 66A of the new IT Act, because of a certain tweet about a certain Karti Chidambaram. Srinivasan, who had only 16 followers on Twitter (out of which five were his relatives) before his tryst with the cops, now has a following of more than 2,300. “Happy to see the support for an ordinary mango man from unknown corner of India. I have amassed more followers than …..” he chirpily tweeted. Karti Chidambaram, the son of the finance minister, remains annoyed.
Talking about the annoyed and the annoying, cartoonists have a special place. Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons were considered so annoying that a sedition charge was slapped against the man. The case has been dropped but in the true spirit of the truly annoying, Trivedi has made a style statement out of his pester power. He popped up in Bigg Boss 6, was evicted from the TV reality show and now talks of starting a school for activism. How annoying.
The author is a Delhi-based writer