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LOL: Laughing Out Loud
Notes to Self
Just in Jest
As India struggled against a swashbuckling Aussie side in the ongoing hockey World Cup, the only thing worth smiling about was a post on the blog Short Puts. It read, “Maybe our players think it’s like cricket. We get to bat in the second half.” And at its laconic best, all Short Puts needed was thirteen words to send up Asha Bhosle, when she decided to stand up for the rights of all Indians to live and work in Mumbai—“Asha Bhosle: Mumbai for all who work hard. Damn. I’m still left out.”
If these asides have got you giggling, the good news is that Short Puts is just one of a raft of websites devoted to making you secretly chuckle in your cramped workstation and laugh raucously in less confined spaces. And more often than not, it is the eternally bubbling pot of Indian current affairs that is keeping these humour-mongers busy. They respond to “breaking news” with the alacrity of the average TV channel, but instead of hyperbole and sensationalism, you get crackling satire. Needless to say, the media, cricketers, Bollywood and politics are all fair game.
So, when Pranab Mukherjee extolled the solar rickshaw in his budget speech, the website fakingnews.com was quick to post a mock-serious explanatory “quote” from the finance minister: “A rickshaw puller would need less muscular energy to drive a solar rickshaw. So the demand for muscular energy, which is derived from nutrition and food, goes down. This would mean less demand for food, which will bring down the rising food prices.” If Faking News is to be believed, N.D. Tiwari gave up his governor’s post to sell Tiwari’s Testosterone Tablets and Parliament was adjourned to discuss pregnancy rumours about Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
News with a Twist Rahul Roushan’s site Faking News gets 10,000 page views a day
In fact, Faking News goes where the mainstream media rarely can, and Rahul Roushan, the man behind the site, seems to have no fear of reprisals. “One can’t stop doing something just because of a possible risk. As Rocket Singh put it, ‘Risk toh Spiderman ko bhi lena padta hai’ (Even Spiderman has to take risks),” he says with a wink. Rahul, an iim-a graduate and independent management consultant in Delhi, first kicked off Faking News as a blog on what the pandits might call an inauspicious day for him and his ilk—September 15, 2008, the day Lehmann Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Even so, his blog has not just managed to blossom into a full-fledged website, it gets about 10,000 page views a day, more than many of its counterparts.
One of its most popular stories that has travelled far and wide on e-mail is that of 26-year-old Vaibhav Bedi—a wicked comment on the illusory world of lifestyle advertising. After seven years of spraying Axe deodorant everyday, with the nozzle exactly 15 cms from his body, as prescribed by the ad, no girl ever agreed to have coffee with Vaibhav. In a last-ditch attempt, he tried to lure his maid with the much-touted “Axe effect”, but even she chased him with a broom. Armed with all his used and unused Axe cans, Vaibhav reached Delhi’s Karkardooma court, wanting to sue Axe for mental suffering and public humiliation. Some lawyers mistook him for a deodorant vendor, but he finally found a patient ear in Ram ‘Jhoothmalani’....
Funny Sonny Anand Ramachandran’s site Son of Bosey pokes the self-righteous
Says Rahul, “The web has made satire popular with a new generation, and, immodestly, I will take some of the credit for it.” His gloat, however, comes with the disclaimer that it should be taken lightly. Being taken too seriously is perhaps the biggest problem faced by the country’s online satirists. Anand Ramachandran, who runs a humour site, Son of Bosey, and also writes satirical pieces for portals such as Cricinfo, Dreamcricket and Yahoo, says, “We hate it when anyone pokes fun at our holy cows, and we mostly don’t understand subtlety or satire. I often get angry e-mails from people who haven’t even realised my blog posts are fake!”
Anand’s revenge is to mercilessly make fun of the self-righteous. A “news report” on his site announces that “political correctness activists” now want to replace the term ‘politically incorrect’ with ‘politically differently correct’. It quotes a “political correctness activist” as wondering aloud, “Who are we to judge something and label it as ‘incorrect’?” Likewise, Arnab Goswami decides to call Pakistan “a Different India”, Ajmal Kasab insists he’s “differently innocent” and Ajit Agarkar is hailed as the next Kapil Dev since he is “the talented but differently consistent cricketer who was often accused of blooming differently under pressure”. Anand makes his point—and you won’t be indifferent.
“We hate it when our holy cows are laughed at and we mostly don’t understand subtlety or satire,” says Anand.
Another compulsory net stop for satire-seekers is freelance writer Sohail Rizwan’s movie spoofing site, The Vigil Idiot (thevigilidiot.com), which gets an average of 35,000 hits and 1 lakh page views a month. Fans cannot wait for Friday, the day new movies are released, and nor can Sohail, for this is when he gets into action. After watching the new releases, he swiftly turns them into comic strips populated by stick figures, using the movie’s characters but putting his own zany dialogues into their mouths. For instance, in Vigil Idiot’s take on My Name is Khan, Kajol tearfully tells Shahrukh, “If I’d married a Khanna, my son would still be alive!”
Says Sohail, “It’s the openness of the internet that has given us access to and made us aware of some of the most talented and smartest writers in the country.” When you ask this bratpack to name those “smart” writers, almost all of them refer to Krish Ahok, whose blog Doing Jalsa and Showing Jilpa pokes fun at everything from Hindu mythology to advertising to his own profession (IT). In one post, an employee takes the day off by telling his boss he has to donate a kidney, but gets caught when the boss reads his Twitter update: “Awesome kidney beans and falafel at Cedars. Beats the crap at office canteen.”
Ashok says, “Whatever sanitised humour makes it to mainstream media by way of film or TV is often completely lame to the point of being quadriplegic. The internet, and blogs specifically, have the advantage of not having to care about mass audience.” So, will new media inevitably win more votes because the mainstream is so straitjacketed? Does the mainstream not have a sense of humour? New York-based journalist Anirudh Bhattacharya, one of India’s earliest online satirists (he kicked off the online humour magazine Jaal over a decade ago), has the answer pat, “It’s unfair to say there is no humour in the mainstream media in India. But most of it is unintentional. Our purpose is to provide intentional humour.”