On Wednesday, actor Tannishtha Chatterjee lashed out against a comedy show called Comedy Nights Bachao, which airs on Colors TV, after being at the receiving end of racist jokes about her skin colour.
Colors TV, on its part, responded with a post where they apologised for using offensive humour and cited some of their shows like Shakti and Udaan,which they claim are progressive in nature. They said they are “creating content that is meaningful and addresses pertinent social issues – skin colour bias being one of them.” The spokesperson for Colors TV also added that they would censor the offensive content before it is aired on Saturday.
— ColorsTV (@ColorsTV) September 28, 2016
Tannishtha was invited to the sets of Comedy Nights Bachao to promote her film Parched, along with director Leena Yadav and co-star Radhika Apte. While she had braced herself for some amount of humiliation since she was warned the show would be like a comedy roast, she did not imagine that the crux of the humour would revolve around her skin colour. She tried sitting through some of the jokes but soon enough her patience ran out and she walked off the sets of the show. The 35-year-old actor was appalled at the fact that the only thing the performers could insult about a dark-skinned actor was ““of course her dark skin.”
Tannishtha has equated the jibes targeting her skin colour with bullying and said that she did not expect such treatment on a TV show that is followed by viewers across the nation.
According to the actress, these jokes only help perpetuate archaic prejudices that stem from a caste bias.
The actress, who has been dubbed as the poster girl for Indian alternative cinema, expected the roast would be the opposite of a toast – that the comedians would ridicule her accomplishments instead of praising them. But, to her shock, they began by asking questions like, “Aap ko jamun bahut pasand hoga zaroor… kitna jamun khaya aapne bachpan se?” The implication was that she was dark skinned because she ate dark coloured fruits like jamun.
Her latest release Parched and last year’s breakout release Angry Indian Goddesses, both have fairly progressive plot lines and discuss issues of caste, race, gender and sexuality. Actor Ajay Devgan, who co-produced Parched along with his wife Kajol, told PTI, “We all have a sense of humour and we all accept jokes on self. The person who cracks the jokes has to draw a line. I think the mindset needs to change.”
Director Hansal Mehta, who made the critically acclaimed film Aligarh, responded to this incident by tweeting his own experiences related to skin-colour bias.
In 1994 one of my first short films was rejected by a TV channel not because the story was too dark but because the actors were too dark,
— Hansal Mehta (@mehtahansal) September 28, 2016
But @TannishthaC nothing to despair about. Indian television does not deserve you.
— Hansal Mehta (@mehtahansal) September 28, 2016
Comedian Krushna Abhishek, who hosts the show but was not present during Tannishtha’s roast, said, “ “I had asked Tannishtha, if she has seen the show, she said she doesn’t watch TV as such. So, she has no clue about the show. I took another example and asked her if she had seen AIB Roast? And she hadn’t seen that either. I told her that since it’s a roast, there will be some leg pulling but we don’t insult. Had we been insulting, the show won’t have come so far.”
In 2015, the AIB roast was pulled down from YouTube after several FIRs were filed against the comedy troupe for the offensive nature of the content. It also faced severe backlash from critics who were upset that comedian Ashish Shakya was the victim of “juvenile” jokes, which were made at the expense of his skin colour.
Here is the complete text of her FB post:
Something has shocked me out of my wits yesterday. I was invited as a guest to a popular comedy show called comedy night bachao to promote my latest release Parched with my director Leena yadav and my co-actor Radhika Apte. I was told that the flavor of the show is COMEDY and the purpose is to roast, humor, and offend. My perception of roast was formed by all the SNLs I watched over the years, and the commonly held perception that a roast is a celebratory humour at someone’s expense . It is a mock counter to a toast.
I was actually looking forward to be roasted.
And then this show began. And this was an entirely novel understanding of roast that equates itself with bullying. And to my utmost horror, I soon realized that the only quality they found worth roasting about in me was my skin tone. It began with “ aap ko jamun bahut pasand hoga zaroor… kitna jamun khaya aapne bachpan se?” And went on in that direction… the only thing they could roast about a dark-skinned actress was of course her dark skin. They could identify me only with that. I could not believe I was sitting in a nationally televised comedy show in 2016 in Mumbai amid such regressive( I cant call it humor), and blatantly racist content. Though I was feeling suffocated, I decided to give it another chance, and sat through another equally offensive segment. Nothing changed. I could not sit there anymore. I had to leave. When I told the organisers what I felt, they said , “But we told you it is a roast!”I explained to them the common perception of roast and how it is different from bully. That there is no humor value in a joke about some ones physical attributes especially one that stems from deep prejudices. I don’t think they got it. Some friends also told me don’t take it so seriously, it’s just a comedy. I think that’s what the show also thinks. It’s all fun and games! Except there is nothing funny about this. Precisely because -In a country where we still sell fair n lovely/handsome and show adverts, where people don’t get jobs because of their complexion, where every matrimonial advert demands a fair bride or groom and the color bias is so strong, in a society which has a deep-seated problem with dark skin, which also has deep roots in our caste system , in a country where dark skin is marginalized, making fun of it is not roast. Even considering that dark skin is a joke comes from that very deep prejudice. And I tried to explain why this is not personal and it is a larger issue about what our mindset is. And why cracking jokes about deep biases in our society is irresponsible. And that it is not a question about apologizing to me, but propagating this idea and continuing with this mindset in the name of comedy is what is hugely problematic, specially because it is a popular show on a nationalized Chanel. It has nothing to do with the show at a personal level. But it leads to a larger debate. Why does skin tone still lend itself to jokes? How is it funny to call someone dark? I don’t get it.. In a India of 2016 I still have to be apologetic about my skin tone? What is this white-skin hangover? Where does all our pride as a nation go away when it comes to the acceptance that most of us have a darker skin tone? Once I was asked “ Your surname is Chatterjee? Oh you are Brahmin.. What is your mothers surname? Maitra! Oh…. She is Brahmin too…” And then indirectly he hinted how is my skin tone still dark… ? This is so deep rooted and linked to our perceptions of caste, class and skin tone. Upper caste =Fair skin =touchable. Lower caste=dark skin=untouchable. Yes I have pronounced it. Probably most of us will not admit to our hatred for the dark skin also comes from our caste bias. I made a film called Parched. Why I am saying “I made” is because all of us who are a part of this film feel that this was not just a film for us. That its MY FILM. We wanted to express a lot of things about gender, body, skin , sexuality , caste etc through our stories. It has been a revelation that the journey just begins here as we realise through our promotional process that we are constantly subjected to exactly those issues from which this film was engendered. The list is long long and the biases are deep deep….The privilege that allows these are what we had hoped to challenge.