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#BringBackBLF is more important than you think

If you follow the Indian comedy scene you might have noticed a hashtag called #BringBackBLF popping up last week. For those wondering what it means, BLF stands for the ‘Better Life Foundation’, an Indian mockumentary web series released on YouTube in 2016. Following the lives of employees at the Better Life Foundation NGO, the series featured lead and cameo appearances from the biggest names in Indian comedy today, including Naveen Richard, Sumukhi Suresh, Kanan Gill, and Kenny Sebastian, among others. 

The cast of BLF: Sumukhi Suresh, Sindhu Murthy, Naveen Richard, Utsav Chakraborty, Kumar Varun, and Kanan Gill
[The cast of BLF: Sumukhi Suresh, Sindhu Murthy, Naveen Richard, Utsav Chakraborty, Kumar Varun, and Kanan Gill] via IMDb
Upon release, the five-episode show was met with positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, resulting in an equally acclaimed second season picked up by the streaming service now known as DisneyPlus Hotstar.

Clearly inspired by iconic workplace mockumentary shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, BLF was praised for its subtle and self-aware tackling of a myriad of issues in Indian society – like the language gulf between those who do and do not know Hindi, mentalities towards the differently-abled and the infamous world of Indian bureaucracy. I could go on and on about the Michael Scott-esque lead character Neil Menon or his far more competent program head Sumukhi Chawla (think Leslie Knope with Rosa Diaz’s sunshiney attitude), but let’s get to the point. 

In 2018, a short time after BLF’s season 2 was released, Hotstar took it off of its platform. The move was seen by many as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the news that one of the actors, Utsav Chakraborty, was accused of sexual misconduct. That was the year that the #MeToo movement swept through India, bringing many such instances to light and empowering survivors to tell their stories. However, Hotstar’s action also called into question its authenticity and whether it was just ‘hollow appeasement’ to appear part of the movement. #BringBackBLF was trending on Twitter, and the show creators spoke up about their opinions as well. 

Director Debbie Rao writes the name of the show on the slate
[Director Debbie Rao behind the scenes of BLF 2] via Naveen Richard
Why bring this up two years later, you may ask? Thanks to the efforts of college student Nishant Manoj, #BringBackBLF has caught the attention of the show creators a second time, and better late than never – we need to discuss the implications of Hotstar’s decision to take it down.

Objectively, it does seem as if the removal aimed to display solidarity to the victims of criminal behavior from the stars of their content. However, Vikas Bahl’s Masaan remains up on Hotstar, and Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara (understandably) received 95 million views in the first 24 hours on the same platform, despite both directors being accused in the #MeToo movement as well.

Yes,Kevin Spacey was rightly fired from House of Cards, but they were allowed to finish without him. What is more, none of the previous seasons got wantonly removed from their platform. Neither did the numerous films associated with Harvey Weinstein. Production simply went on without their accused members, and that is a choice that the BLF team was robbed of.

The show also featured a large number of women in the crew, including the director Debbie Rao, executive producer, and female leads. What is more, because of their contract, the creators do not own rights to the show that they built. This means they do not have permission to re-upload their hard work on any other platform either. 

Crew and creators of BLF behind the scenes
[Crew and creators of BLF behind the scenes] via Naveen Richard
I don’t know about you, but I was reminded about a similar spat that Taylor Swift had with Big Machine Records about owning her own content. Taylor came out on top eventually (as queens do), but what happens when you aren’t worth upwards of 300 million dollars?

Ultimately, I don’t know if DisneyPlus Hotstar will ever acknowledge or make amends for their actions. They’re a multimillion-dollar company with bigger fish to fry, so they’ll probably stop at blocking the person who restarted the hashtag (they did) and leave it at that.

Whatever happens though, hopefully, #BringBackBLF serves as a reminder about the danger of knee jerk reactions – however well-intentioned – and the importance of support for creators who have poured their hearts into their work.

Gender Inequality

Agrima Joshua is one of many whose voice has been silenced in India

Trigger warnings for mentions of rape and sexual harassment threats.

Agrima Joshua is Indian, a woman, and a stand-up comedian. So of course, her material is open for policing, and her body is a means of control for the Indian patriarchy. Having expressed a slightly offensive joke against a famous Hindu King in one of her stand-ups, Joshua started receiving rape threats from offended Indian parties.

It all started with a different stand up comedian, but it came down to a common thread – religion. On June 30th, Kenny Sebastian, a successful Indian comic, responded to one of his trolls, who had repeatedly attacked him on religious grounds (Sebastian is a Christian). Agrima Joshua, responded in support of her friend and fellow comedian, but her tweet resulted in Joshua being targeted instead. A 16 month old comedy stand-up of hers was dug up, and she was claimed to be “deliberately offensive to” Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, a celebrated Marathi king from the 17th century.

In her video, Agrima jokes about a statue of the revered Indian hero being put up in Maharashtra. She mentions a Reddit thread where various followers of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj spoke about how the statue was the best thing for India. The statue, according to them, would have lasers and a GPS, which obviously was joke. She tried to relate India’s current scenario with the building of a statue, but no where did I find she was being offensive to the historical figure in general. Yes, the jokes might have been a little crass for my taste, but at the end, they were jokes. But her jokes ended up costing her so much because Indians hate opinionated women.

Comedy is subjective, and offensive, because it is comedy.

She started receiving so much hate and rape threats, with verbal sexual abuse being meted out to her. One of the perpetrators had the audacity to threat rape by describing in disgusting detail how he would physically mutilate her body. Others destroyed her stand-up venues and harassed, slut-shamed and trolled her online.

She apologized for having hurt the sentiments of the people who were offended by tweeting out “My heartfelt apologies to followers of the great leader, who I sincerely respect”. But the harassment did not stop.

She was continuously targeted, and for the next couple of days outrage spread like wildfire. Thankfully, the harassers and abusers who used the most unthinkable words and threatened to rape her were arrested, but is that what it has come to? We women can face any amount of harassment for talking and joking about political issues that are literally shaking our country?

Freedom of speech is an invalid concept in India, and artists face persecution everyday for expressing dissent.

Joshua continued to receive verbal abuse despite tweeting out her apology and deleting her video from YouTube. She is also facing legal consequences too, as a result of insulting a much beloved historical figure. This is the true face of our country, a country where marital rape is legal but expressing opinions isn’t.

Comedy is subjective, and offensive, because it is comedy. Yes, I can agree with her jokes being offensive to a particular section of the society but did that entail her to receive rape threats and graphic details of how she would be genitally mutilated? It pains me to explain how she was threatened, because I know I am not safe in my country. Dissent isn’t tolerated, opinions aren’t tolerated. Such is the gravity of the situation that other comedians are apologizing for their jokes as well.  Aadar Malik, another comedian, took to twitter to apologize for his “offensive comedy”. But, unfortunately apologies are failing to suffice. Comedians – especially women- are threatened with abuse and death any second of the day.

Journalism is supposed to be objective, unfortunately I can’t be today. In the twenty first century, apparently to ‘teach a woman a lesson’ immediately reckons one physically claiming our body. Our bodies are for everyone to claim, and do whatever you want with them. Every day that I wake up, I am disgusted to face the reality of how normalized rape culture is. Freedom of speech is an invalid concept in India, and artists face persecution everyday for expressing dissent.

You can’t claim to destroy a woman’s vagina and think that is normal. You can’t get away with this.

I am appalled by the nature of hate women can receive for having the ability to joke or speak up about important issues. I am not here trying to explain or to justify Agrima’s comments. I am here for the sake of my kind that is oppressed every goddamn day. I am here because she received verbal abuse that sickened me to my core. You can’t claim to destroy a woman’s vagina and think that is normal. You can’t get away with this.

I am glad the people who abused her verbally were arrested, but that’s not enough. This is the reality that we live in, this rape culture that we partake in has become so normalized, it is hard to breathe.

In support of Agrima, comedians such as Vir Das, Kusha Kapila, Srishti Dixit, Mallika Dua and other female comics came up with satiric videos about how dissent and ‘offensive comments’ are highly politically ground-breaking in India when our whole country is in shambles. No, this normalization of rape culture is not going to be tolerated. Our bodies are not yours to abuse, and the fact that I have to goddamn spell this out is offensive to me. Agrima is one of many whose voice has been silenced, who has been coerced into apologizing about her stand up by disgusting people. It is enough, that is what it is. It is just enough.

The Internet TV Shows BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

Top 9 Desi YouTube channels that you absolutely can’t miss out on

YouTube is a black hole we all gladly get sucked into. Time flies when you scroll through the videos, and a new amazing channel is sometimes the best thing you could ever find. And new finds is what I have in store for you today! I’m alllll for diversity so here’s a list of some amazing Indian youtube channels you should definitely check out, whether you are Indian or not.

P.S – I’ve tried to stick to the channels where the major language is English and, if not, uses subtitles.

1.  The Viral Fever
[Image Description : The wallpaper of the web series Permanent Roommates produced by The Viral Fever] Via Amino Apps
The Viral Fever, or TVF is that channel that started it all. One of the earliest IndianYouTube channels, it also pioneered the culture of web series in India. All of their videos are super fun, but their web series are the best out of the lot.

From the iconic Permanent Roommates to the hilarious Bachelors, their content is so refreshing and amazing.

2. Kenny Sebastian
[Image Description : A still from a stand up comedy video from Kenny Sebastian’s Youtube channel] Via Scroll
Unproblematic Desi men are a rare find, and Kenny is one of the very few. The stand up comedian focuses his content around every day desi things, and he’s relatable and his sense of humor is super clean. While his stand-ups are great, his best videos are his Chai Time comedy, which are almost like intimate, casual conversations among friends.

3. Buzzfeed India
[Image Description : A still from a video from Buzzfeed India Youtube channel] Via Youtube
Well, by Buzzfeed India, I mean Srishti, lol. All the people at the channel are great, but Srishti is the best part of the channel, hands down.

Their videos range from experiments to vlogs to satire, and their epic video, If Real Life Was Like Bigg Boss, is a must watch!

4. Film Companion
[Image Description : A still from a video from the Youtube channel Film Companion] Via Youth Ki Awaaz
Film Companion is a Desi movie lover’s heaven. From dissections to analysis to extremely candid interviews that give you a whole new perception of movie stars and filmmakers, this channel is inclusive, and dares to question the stereotypes of the Indian movie industry.

Their Tape Cast series was exceptionally creative and enlightening.

5. Kanan Gill
[Image Description : Kanan Gill is doing stand up comedy] Via DNA India
Let’s get this straight first: I have a huge crush on Kanan Gill. So does a lot of his audience, and you can’t ignore his uncanny resemblance to Andy Samberg. That being said, Kanan’s best videos are undoubtedly his satirical reviews of Bollywood movies, which don’t even spare iconic classics like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

6. Filtercopy
[Image Description : A still from a Filtercopy video] Via
Filtercopy’s tagline should be relatable. If you’re South Asian, it’s guaranteed that you’ll nod along to every video. They talk about everything from middle class problems, love, friendship, family to every day things of millennial life.

Their amazing regular cast gets some exciting guests very often who spice up the content even more.

7. SNG Comedy
[Image Description : A still from a SNG Comedy video] Via Twitter
SNG Comedy is home to a variety of comedy videos. Run by a group of stand up comedians who are all brilliant in their own unique way, their weekly podcast series The Big Question is the highlight of the channel. They also have some fun sketches, my ultimate favorite being Bollywood Couples Therapy.

8. Unerase Poetry
[Image Description : A girl is reciting poetry at an Unerase Poetry show] Via Youtube
Found by the 16 year old poet Simar Singh, this bold and candid show of beautiful and evocative poetry is a must watch. Every video is honest, hard-hitting, and makes you think.

The best out of the lot are definitely Aranya Johar’s A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender and Beauty and Simar Singh’s own Legal Rapist is gut-wrenching.

9. All India Bakchod
[Image Description : A still from a AIB satire video] Via Youtube
The people behind AIB are experts at satire. From Bollywood to real-life social issues, they deal with it all with comedy as the weapon, and they don’t refrain from calling out the problems. Their honest series are the highlight, and the podcasts and sketches deserve a special mention.

Do make sure to check out these amazing channels and content! Though it’s better not to start watching them before the days of your finals.