If a Snapchat video makes it to national news, it must mean everything else about your country is absolutely perfect.
Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar earned their pedestals by doing work that will outlive them, outlive us, and undoubtedly outlive a joke on Snapchat.
Growing up in Calcutta in prehistoric pre-mobile times, I remember occasional local news pieces about various stuffy individuals who had gathered together in jowl-quivering self-righteousness to defend Tagore, usually because some young upstarts had dared to reinterpret His material.
Many years later, versions of his work that would have made the Bengal Bard’s beard fall off are being celebrated at international film festivals, rock bands are doing versions of his songs for low-budget sex comedies, and somehow, miraculously, absolutely no damage has been done to his legacy.
A few days ago, comedian Tanmay Bhat started using a face-swapping filter on Snapchat for a series of perishable 10-second videos that I, for one, found hilarious. The comedian personified legends, adopting Lata Mangeshkar’s face to recreate Marathi versions of top-40 pop songs, and Sachin Tendulkar’s face to fictionally trash-talk Vinod Kambli. The comedy was always in the irreverence, rather than at odds with it.
Four days ago, Bhat used the face-swap filter to put Mangeshkar and Tendulkar in conversation. In a format couched by its obvious absurdity, he mouth-pieced the two as flinging deliberately undignified insults at one another.
I should say: Snapchat is the first medium that I’m legitimately too old to get, because the material you create on it disappears on its own after some time. That is how seriously Snapchat is meant to be taken – it is disposable even digitally. It’s where you go to say things that are too frivolous and low-brow for solemn institutions like… well, Twitter.
So if a Snapchat video makes it to national news, it must mean everything else about your country and your world is absolutely perfect.
When films are actively censored by a “certification” board, producers and publishers in every other publicly distributed entertainment and culture medium are self-censoring themselves into oblivion, and individuals on social media are facing every kind of harassment, have we replaced India’s rich culture of public debate with a toxic culture of bullying instead?
This is not the road we should be on. And if you’re among those swapping threats for jokes, you’re an embarrassment. To yourselves, and to your icons.