I am thankful that some enlightened lawyers took offence to Vir Das’ latest show on Netflix titled Hasmukh — I would have definitely given the show a miss otherwise. And it would have been tragic because Hasmukh is engaging, dark and one of those shows that arouse the desi pride in me that says — ‘We made this show. We are finally making good television.’
I had been avoiding the show assuming it would have to do something with lawyers.
Spoiler alert — it absolutely doesn’t.
A noir comedy, the show is the story of a comedian who can’t gain the confidence to perform on stage without killing someone right before it. Vir Das acts poignantly as the abused, shy, under-confident but full of rage Hasmukh who wants to make it as a stand-up comedian.
Advocates Abhishek Bhardwaj and Hardik Vashisht sent a legal notice to the show makers over what they said was “false, inauthentic and defamatory” content against the legal profession, demanded an unconditional apology, and that Netflix immediately take it down.
All the drama was because of three unimpressive, forgettable lines from episode four of the show titled ‘Bambai mein Bambu’, where it’s alleged that lawyers were referred to as ‘thieves, scoundrels, goons and rapists,’ which has apparently brought “great disrepute” to the profession.
Here’s the dialogue:
“Aisa pehla shehar dekha hai humne jahan chor bhi bade ameer hote hain. Lekin yahan unka naam chor nahin ‘vakeel’ hota hai. Aapke vakeel sabse bade kamine aur chor hote hain. Ye kanoon ke thekedaar jo kabhi nahin honge giraftaar, kyunki ye kalam ke saath karte hain balatkaar. Are bhaiya, log kehte hain ki kanoon andha hota hai, main kehta hoon kanoon ganda hota hai, kyunki har vakeel ke haath mein chota sa itna danda hota hai.”
First, artists create a world for all of us to read, watch and feel, and enjoy freedom over their narrative. Second, Vir Das must have produced a hard-hitting show for the lawyer community to assume that three lines can bring their profession down. Third, that’s the show’s format — of exaggerating some of the evil with an adverse impact on the society — and that evil is taken care of by Das in the show in his own twisted way. Here, the dialogue was in the context of an immoral lawyer named Shastri he meets in Mumbai.
Setting a wonderful precedent, the Delhi High Court refused to order an interim stay on the show’s streaming, and dismissed the plea that accused the show of maligning advocates.
Silly boycott calls
This is not the first time that a piece of art has offended people and it certainly won’t be the last.
Rajput Karni Sena, a Hindu caste group in Rajasthan, had threatened to chop off actor Deepika Padukone’s nose and assaulted director Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Jaipur because their film Padmaavat was “objectionable” to them.
In fact, offence-takers are quick to ask the supporting public to boycott the movie or show not because of the plot, but for its actors’ political inclinations as well, for example the boycott calls for Deepika Padukone’s Chapaak.
Comedy group All India Bakchod had to remove its roast of actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh from YouTube (everyone still watched it, by the way) in 2015 because the government had warned of an enquiry. The show had expletives, yes, but does it mean it should be banned? Absolutely not, AIB knockout was the toddler cousin of its Western counterparts, which are brilliantly dark.
Comedian Kiku Sharda was sent to 14-day judicial custody in 2016 for imitating self-styled godman Ram Rahim Singh — a convicted rapist.
Vir Das perfectly captures this predicament of comedians in his statement of thanks to the Delhi HC by saying, ‘Offence is taken, not given.’
A statement of thanks to the High Court. For this judgement. For my art-form. pic.twitter.com/jXy6TVYpmW
— Vir Das (@thevirdas) May 6, 2020
Spot the difference
Indians love to be moral police officers when they can follow a simple rule: If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.
But does that mean there should be no filter and nothing should be taken down?
Some could argue that feminists made it a point to get rid of the highly triggering line on marital rape from Kartik Aaryan’s monologue in Pati Patni Aur Woh.
Here’s the difference: Das, through his dialogue, isn’t justifying a social evil or propagating problematic things such as rape culture like Kartik Aryan’s ill-conceived monologue did. Neither was AIB, at least not in their ‘pretentious’ woke content on screen.
For now, we can be thankful that sanity prevailed in Vir Das’ case. On that note, go watch Hasmukh right now.
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