December 2017: At United Against Sexual Violence, we introduce you to allies who actively use their privileged positions to help create a fair, free world. Rohan Joshi, one of the founders of All India Bakchod (AIB) talks about the feminist agenda of the comedy sketch group.
One weekend in Bengaluru, a few months ago, my bestie and I sat laughing at the many hilarious All India Bakchod videos that have populated the internet for a few years now. The cherry on top of the (very funny) cake is the straightforwardly feminist content—from the first viral video parody where Kalki Koechlin and Juhi Pande school women on how not to get raped, to Kangana Ranaut’s vagina anthem which took social media by storm earlier this year.
It's obvious they try. The refreshing candidness with which this comedy platform tackles socially relevant issues, especially in the all-influential Hindi film industry, is welcome and necessary. The world of comedy has long been mired in misogynistic attitudes (what with Bill Cosby and Louis CK leading the march of sexual offenders into hell), and only those who are members of this community can tackle this misogyny, from within.
In this volatile time, with gender politics at the forefront of global conversation, AIB has also been accused on not trying hard enough—that the content not labelled as 'feminist' seems exempt from feminist guidelines and can verge on the sexist; that women rarely feature in the content not labelled 'feminist'; that they focus only on women's problems.
That said, it is obvious they try. As Andrea Gibson says, "It is impossible to be routinely and actively engaged in the betterment of our hurting planet without at some point messing up.... So to be artists and activists right now requires our acceptance that we will likely at some point fail." I speak to Rohan (29) about the process of trying...
So, you’re feminists. What are the things that have informed your feminist sensibilities—as individuals and as a group?
I can’t speak for the group, but in my case, a lifetime of being raised by strong women who brooked no bullshit and called me out on all sorts of terrible, gendered behaviour definitely helped. And for the rest, there’s just the conversation right now, and the things you learn from shutting up and listening to people sometimes.
AIB has been putting out a lot of feminism-positive content lately. What has the reaction been like?
From what we can tell, pretty positive. While you have the occasional #NotAllMen ranter show up, for the most part what we see in young people at least is an acknowledgement that certain gender biases and stereotypes need to change, an acknowledgment of a need for a conversation or a reckoning of some sort even.
What is the process of writing a feminist joke? How does one disassociate from one’s patriarchal conditioning when writing?
We never self censor while writing. The process is usually, a joke is pitched, no matter how offensive it may sound, following which it’s stress tested to see whether saying this harms the conversation or reinforces damaging stereotypes or cultures, and then it’s kept or dropped. Sometimes the process can be more nuanced. For example, what happens when we’re writing a character who’s *supposed* to be a sexist pig?
AIB is one of the most openly feminist creators of content. How does that translate into your workspace? How does feminist thought translate into feminist action?
We work hard to make our workplace inclusive and diverse, and more importantly then ensure that everyone is comfortable within that diverse open space, and nobody feels threatened.
As an artist and a performer, what is the need to account for one’s privilege?
Massive. I think in 2017 there’s no excuse for not being aware of your privilege, and how it’s helped you in comparison. I’m not suggesting there’s a duty on artistes to go out and acknowledge it every single day in every single performance, but when working with material where that privilege can come into play, it’s massively important to be sensitive. Like, I’m always aware that I’m a Hindu Brahmin Cisgender Heterosexual Able-Bodied English Speaking Wealthy South Bombay Man. And that string of adjectives is terrifying when you think about it.
What does it mean to be an ally? Does it mean content must be created along the lines of the ideology of allyship?
I think what it means to be an ally is to support the conversation and participate at every turn, while being careful to not centre yourself in it, and being aware that you’re here for someone else, whatever that group may be, and sometimes that just means shutting up and listening. Occasionally, content must be created along the ideology of allyship also, but the thing we never tire of telling people is, we’re comedians first. So some jokes just… are. With no higher purpose, allyship, ideals, or goals.
People in India have very strong opinions about women’s bodily autonomy and sexual freedom. What are your thoughts about these opinions?
A person’s body is theirs, their choices are theirs, their life is theirs. Anyone who wants to traffic in restrictions and conservatism in this regard can go fuck themselves.
This interview appeared on Pass the Mic, the blog of Why Indian Men Rape in December 2017.