Bollywood's First Celebrity Roast Slapped With Obscenity Probe

Ranveer Singh, director Karan Johar and Arjun Kapoor in the "AIB Knockout"

The comedy collective that created the show says it was inspired by the Comedy Central roasts of Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump.

Bollywood's first attempt at a Hollywood-style celebrity roast has kicked off a controversy in India.

Produced by edgy Mumbai-based comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB), the online show, titled AIB Knockout, roasted actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, co-stars of 2014 hit drama Gunday. It was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 28 and attracted over eight million views in less than five days. But despite its instant popularity, the profanity-heavy roast format may have proved too risque for Indian public consumption. After a wave of public outcry over its perceived indecency and an order for a government probe, the show was pulled from ABI's YouTube channel on Tuesday.

The program is very much of the Bollywood establishment, however. It is a recording of a glitzy event that took place in Mumbai last December and was attended a bevy of Bollywood stars, such as actress Deepika Padukone and director Anurag Kashyap. It was hosted by Karan Johar, one of Bollywood's most influential filmmakers

The outcry may have stemmed, in part, from the family-friendly image of those involved. Given India's highly conservative TV and film censorship system, most viewers had likely never seen Johar — who is known for a string of family-friendly hits — actually say a swear word. The video did carry a disclaimer stating that it was intended for viewers above the age of 18.

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The removal of the video has sparked a debate about the limits of freedom of speech in the country, with local press reporting that some organizations — including a Mumbai-based Christian group — have filed police complaints for alleged obscenity. Vinod Tawde, culture minister of the state of Maharashtra, was quoted Monday in the Indian Express newspaper stating, “I called a meeting of the department officials on Monday and asked them to verify these complaints. After receiving feedback from them about the contents being abusive, I ordered a probe."

One of the most vocal criticisms came from a member of India's Censor Board, filmmaker Ashok Pandit. He supported the government's probe, slamming the event in a tweet as “a porn show on stage.”

“Not your cup of tea ... then don't drink it!,” Johar fired back from his own Twitter account.

A sample of some of the printable jokes includes this one by AIB roast panelist and female comedian Aditi Mittal, who said to Kapoor: “You’re so dumb, the first time you saw a dildo, you went looking for the plastic man it fell off of … And speaking of dildos, Ranveer is here.” The roast climaxes with Johar, Singh and Kapoor singing a raunchy reworking of the title track from the 1998 hit movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, with the Hindi word for penis substituting some lyrics.

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Since the video went viral, online chatter has been divided over whether India is ready for a contemporary, bawdy brand of comedy. In recent years, a local comedy scene has indeed taken root in the country, with YouTube the chosen platform for those who want to push boundaries. Comedy channels such as The Viral Fever have attracted a huge following, thanks in part to the participation of major celebs such as Shah Rukh Khan.

Voicing his support for the nascent scene, director Anand Gandhi (Ship of Theseus) tweeted: “I hope our humor gets sharper, our dissent more rigorous, our satire more offensive — and till we arrive there, we stand by AIB Knockout!” 

In a video of extras (also pulled) that accompanied AIB Knockout, the AIB founders explain that their idea for the show was inspired by the Hollywood roasts of Charlie SheenDonald Trump and others.