Monday, March 20, 2023
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Saloni Gaur’s Nazma Aapi isn’t Islamophobic. We need better terms for things we don’t like

Comedian Saloni Gaur was criticised as Islamophobic after her latest Nazma Aapi video on Sonia Gandhi and the Arnab Goswami attack.

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Comedian Saloni Gaur’s latest video of Nazma Aapi giving the entire Arnab Goswami-attack fuss her own twist is being dubbed as Islamophobic. A tweet said that the video wasn’t only stereotyping Muslim women but “shifting the entire perception of muslim women from iconic fighters of Shaheen Bagh to an illiterate, abusive and savage women who needs lessons on decency (sic)”. 

If anything, the author of the tweet was trivialising the immense courage that women of Shaheen Bagh displayed, which led to similar protests across India, by mistakenly thinking a video by the latest kid on the block could take away the tremendous impact the anti-CAA-NRC protests had and its lasting impression.

Illiterate, abusive and savage women — that’s what the Twitter user says Saloni Gaur has reduced the Shaheen Bagh protesters to.

Might I point out just how riddled with class privilege the tweet is by equating inarticulate, poorer woman with ‘savages’? Saloni Gaur’s Nazma Aapi is very effective in her articulation. Must everyone speak, walk, talk a certain way to be classified with the ‘gentry’, in rarefied Urdu of the Raqs Collective, or be accused of lacking ‘decency’? The tweet’s take is very Churchillian, minus the wit of the late British PM.

But it is becoming a lazy and tired criticism these days – accusations of Islamophobia, even though it is a very real thing. But we need to come up with better terms for things we don’t like.

More importantly, Gaur’s acts are normalising and mainstreaming poorer Muslim women. The women that you took for granted didn’t have a voice, far less a witty one.

Also read: Tanmay Bhat, Kaneez Surka to Vir Das: How stand-up comics are helping fund Covid-19 fight

Laughter and prejudice 

A lot of funny characters’ appeal lie in their relatability — they are people we know in our everyday lives. This is what comedians do, they take certain stereotypes and blow them out of proportion — which is precisely what makes us laugh.

Many could argue the extremely frugal Monisha from Sarabhai vs Sarabhai is a prejudiced take on middle-class women and Maya Sarabhai is a potshot at the elites. They could also argue that Daya (from Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah) and Hansa (from Khichdi) are stereotype-dripping portrayals of Gujarati women.

Guess what, they would all be right.

And yet, we have to see if these characters were out here to offend the people they’re moulded from, or are they just imaginations based on certain truths.

Hell, Lily Singh made an entire career out of stereotyping brown parents. Hasan Minhaj, too, makes fun of NRI families. The entire appeal of Subtle Curry Traits, the immensely popular Facebook page, lies in the jokes it makes on its own community — and its various idiosyncrasies.

Nazma Aapi isn’t Gaur’s only character based on stereotypes, her ‘nukkad natak’-obsessed ‘DU ki didi’, DD news broadcaster in ‘Dhan ki baat’ and ‘Sasu ma’ also liberally poke fun at the cliches. And that’s precisely where the appeal of her comedy lies.

I’ll tell you where it does get demeaning and offensive — men running around dressed as loud, horny women who make unscrupulous advances at the men in the room, like in Kapil Sharma’s show that only runs on sexist jokes. Where women are ridiculed beyond belief, paraded as the butt of jokes, kicked by the host and on top of it, played by men.

Because well, women can’t be funny, can they?

Also read: Comedy to life hacks: 5 women YouTube stars Indians can’t get enough of

The Muslim identity 

One has to remember here, Saloni Gaur never makes fun of the Muslim community. She just speaks to us as a Muslim woman.

Many would argue that Nazma Aapi — a seemingly poor, annoying but witty Muslim woman who is forever concerned with what ‘Afridi ke Abbu’ is up to — reduces the community to unappetising cliches.

But Saloni Gaur’s character is so much more than that. In fact, some could argue, Nazma Aapi catapulted to social media stardom because of her quick, sharp, witty takes on political developments in India.

Nazma Aapi bluntly puts forth her take on Modi’s CAA and uproar that followed the recital of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge, among other issues, with cutting-edge sharpness delivered with ease. In one video she says, “Modi says he doesn’t sleep at all which is why he came up with plans like CAA”. In her latest video she says, it’s Sonia Gandhi’s bad luck that she got such a son and such gangs who reveal themselves to Arnab Goswami’s security as soon as they are caught.

Only a comedian can pick such heavy topics and capture their essence, while perfectly highlighting the problems surrounding their characters.

For Saloni Gaur to do this at the age of 20 is commendable, and for all the gaps that she does have in her videos — the over generalisations, the portrayals that many term regressive and the irritating delivery — might just mature with age.

Views are personal.

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  1. Nice article. We have to cut Saloni some slack. She tried several caricatures characters before Nazma Aapi went viral. She has created several more since. It’s all in good fun especially as they are fictional characters. I think the only person who has a right to be hurt or offended should be Kangna Run Out as these are jokes being cracked on behalf of or at the expense of a public figure without her consent. And yet, here we are, offended on behalf of someone who doesnt exist!

    Take a chill pill folks.

  2. Sorry, this article makes very little sense.
    You compare her to Hasan and Lilly Singh and why this comparison is wrong is explained itself in the next sentence itself. They are making fun of their own community.
    I don’t understand why we Indians still think cultural appropriation is normal. It is dangerous especially when a dominant culture appropriates from a disadvantaged culture in a society. .

  3. Lily Singh made an entire career out of stereotyping brown parents. Hasan Minhaj, too, makes fun of NRI families. The entire appeal of Subtle Curry Traits, the immensely popular Facebook page, lies in the jokes it makes on its own community — and its various idiosyncrasies.

    Lily Singh – Brown girl with Brown parents.
    Hassan Minhaj – NRI
    OWN community. Not some other community that you don’t belong to. See the problem now?

  4. While videos of Zeenat and Nazma Aapi might make you laugh, you cannot overlook the gross cultural appropriation.

    In short: Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own.
    A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.

    Kjerstin Johnson has written that, when this is done, the imitator, “who does not experience that oppression is able to ‘play’, temporarily, an ‘exotic’ other, without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures.”

    While Saloni and Dolly can change their clothes and get back to their own lives, there are Muslim women who are at the receiving end of a lot of political and social situations that they comment on and make jokes about.

    In times like these, when people already have a lot of misconceptions about Muslims, the portrayal of Muslim women as this uneducated, vulgar, and savage lot goes a long way into ruining the image of the community further.

    Last year’s protests have helped clear up the image of Muslim women and has lifted them from the earlier helpless and oppressed perception that people had of them.
    Muslim women led the protests all across the country and they won people over with their words, their confidence, and their resilience.

    Characters such as Nazma Aapi and Zeenat is exactly the sort of image that Muslim women have been trying to change and this is misrepresentation at best and islamophobia at worst.

    What’s more worrying is how people are rallying to support these characters.
    When a person from a minority community tells you that what you’re doing is cultural appropriation and that it is offensive, if you honestly have their best interests at heart, the best thing to do would be to apologise and to take a step back and reflect.
    The constant arguments show that you don’t have to like a person or respect their identity to feel entitled to take from them.
    When Muslim women have to fight for acceptance with the same style of behaviour that a these women can be admired for, what message does that send to Muslim women and girls?
    When you apply that make up, wear those clothes, you might feel like you’re telling their stories, but you’re not. By taking over the stories of these marginalised women, you take away the space which was meant for them. We don’t hear their actual stories, instead, we get twisted versions made funny to cater to a special sort of an audience.
    You are pretending to belong to a culture that you don’t, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so.
    The stereotypes that a lot of us have spent years fighting against.
    So, thank you very much.

    It’s certainly not harmful or disrespectful to misrepresent people’s culture and spread the toxic myths that harm them. 🙂

    • I do not see the character of Najma Appi as “uneducated, vulgar, and savage”. I see her as innately intelligent housewife who understands Indian/ World politics in her own way and comments wittingly. For what it counts, she demolishes the sterotypes about poor. uneducated muslim women rather than perpetuating them.

  5. Artist make caricatures of eminent personalities,no body object rather enjoyed the creativity of the artist,poet made satire in their poems nobody object, similarly we should appreciate the creativity of Saloni,she is gifted with so much of talent,let’s enjoy without thinking negative ,there is no need to be serious always ,we must take it easy and appreciate the creativity ,she intelligently portrait the serious issues in a lighter way and we should also take it lightly

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