LJP workers stage a demonstration against All India Bakchod (AIB) co-founder/creator Tanmay Bhat in Patna on 31 May 2016. (Photo: IANS/Altered by The Quint)
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Comedy of Errors: Legal Case Against Tanmay Bhat Won’t Hold Up

A couple of days ago, a Snapchat video, titled “Sachin vs Lata Civil War”, spread like wildfire. Interestingly, it received responses from everyone except those who were actually ‘ridiculed’. The video showcases comedian Tanmay Bhat using Snapchat’s face-swap feature and the ‘face-swapped’ Bharat Ratna recipients are seen arguing about who is a better cricket player, Virat Kohli or Sachin Tendulkar.

The video received strong criticism from Bollywood and social media users. Shiv Sena leader Neelam Gorhe requested Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to take action against people with ‘deranged mentality’. This news made it to the prime time of every single media channel as they debated the content and the veracity of the episode.

Does a Case Against Tanmay Hold Ground?

If one were to consider the Law of Torts, this is not a case of defamation, as the statement (as it appears in the video) does not harm the reputation of either Lata Mangeshkar or Sachin Tendulkar, and neither of them have come up with the intention of filing a suit in the first place. So those objecting to the contents of the video need to bring some extremely strong arguments if this reaches the court – which probably won’t as it does not merit a criminal case.

Even if we charge the comedian of public nuisance, which is a non-cognisable offence under the Indian Penal Code, the necessary ingredients of it are not fulfilled and the maximum punishment he can get is a mere fine of Rs 200.

Though it cannot be said that the comedian is right in what he did, there is no wrong either, subjectively. He could/should have been sensible while choosing his words, but he has all the right not to do so. The two sides of the coin have to be respected as this is the only scale available to weigh the case, especially when no harm has been done to either Sachin or Lata, and nor have they acknowledged the video.

Snapshot
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Timeline

  • May 26: 28-year-old comedian and founder of AIB, Tanmay Bhat posts a Snapchat video on Facebook titled, “Sachin vs Lata Civil War”.
  • May 28-29: Bollywood celebs including Anupam Kher, Celina Jaitly and Riteish Deshmukh criticise Tanmay for taking a dig on national icons.
  • May 30: Shiv Sena and BJP demand stringent action against Tanmay Bhat for mocking Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar.
  • Raj Thackeray’s MNS files an FIR against Tanmay Bhat, party issues a diktat that the comedian shouldn’t be allowed to perform in Maharashtra.
  • News reports suggest Mumbai’s Cyber Cell division has requested Google and YouTube to block the video.
Nationalist Congress Party women activists protest against comedian and founder of All India Bakchod (AIB) Tanmay Bhat  in Mumbai, May 30, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Nationalist Congress Party women activists protest against comedian and founder of All India Bakchod (AIB) Tanmay Bhat in Mumbai, May 30, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Limits of Humour

The present case does not represent an alarming situation, as this is not the first time a comedian has been held accountable for the remarks made under the pretext of comedy. There have been various instances in the past, in India as well as abroad, where comedians/stand-up artists have been subjected to such reactions on statements made by them against those of repute.

The Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, though it is not an absolute right and is curtailed by reasonable restrictions. However, not everything is bound to be offensive and given heed to just because the controversy involves individuals who are high-profile and have strong fan followings. As a country, we need to be more tolerant in our approach and the media needs to be sensible while reporting such matters.

Another Instance of Media Trial

Though the thin line that exists between what is offensive and what is not has never been defined and has always been decided on the merits of each case, it does not mean that every case is to be mandatorily put to test. The media today has a great responsibility to ensure that every individual’s freedom is respected and that a nation’s interests are well guarded.

We need to understand that every case does not necessarily be subjected to a trial by media. The comedian is being hated, shamed and even receiving threats of bodily harm, and these are being highlighted by almost every TV news channel because Bhat may have used not-so-polite sentences which could have been ignored. All he has said is that “it was all in good humour.”

While it’s all a matter of perspective, it also depends on how much damage statements such as Bhat used tend to make. From a legal perspective, no injury seems to have been caused to the reputation and stature of our esteemed Bharat Ratna awardees.

(The writer is a lawyer and partner, TMT Law Practice)

Also read:

Now Guys, Imagine If Somebody Were to Roast Tanmay’s Tan

Tanmay Bhat Wasn’t Funny, But It’s Not Your Business to File FIRs

Jokes and Social Commentary: Comedians Who Stirred Controversy