On 20 December 2014, comedian Rohan Joshi took the stage at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium in Worli, Mumbai, and faced an audience of nearly four thousand people. It was twenty minutes into the All India Backchod (AIB) Knockout, a two-hour long, no-holds barred roast—a comedic format in which the guests of honour, in this case Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, are subjected to jokes at their expense. The jokes weren’t restricted to the duo, though, and the night soon turned into a carnival of humour replete with jibes targeted at the rich and famous. Joshi, a part of the foursome that forms the comedy collective AIB, was one of the hosts of the evening.
What followed was unintentionally prophetic as it encapsulated the essence of the outrage directed at the show barely a month later. Joshi articulated what he thought was going on in the minds of the audience members, “Why are they saying in public what we say at parties?”
I couldn’t help but think of this line when I went to meet advocate Abha Singh at her office in Fort, Mumbai, nearly a week after she had lodged a complaint on behalf of Santosh Daundkar—an RTI activist who had exposed the Adarsh scam in Mumbai—against the fourteen people who were a part of the AIB Knockout. The accused included Jayantilal Shah, the president of the National Sports Club of India (NSCI); Ravinder Aggarwal, the secretary general of the NSCI; Karan Johar; Tanmay Bhat; Rohan Joshi; Gursimran Khamba; Ashish Shakya; Ranveer Singh; Arjun Kapoor; Aditi Mittal; Rajeev Masand; Deepika Padukone; and Alia Bhatt. Singh, a women’s rights activist, has been an integral part of several high profile cases such as those of the Palghar girls who were hauled up for a Facebook post on Bal Thackeray’s death and the Salman Khan hit-and-run case.
“They should have done it in their house,” Singh told me. “When you make it [the jokes] in a public place, it becomes the duty of the public, of the enlightened citizen, to see that such things don’t happen.”
Singh wasn’t a part of the audience that evening in December. In fact, she was oblivious to the existence of this event until it was uploaded on the internet. On 28 January, AIB uploaded an edited version of the closed-door, ticketed show on their YouTube channel. Before long, it exploded into the urban consciousness clocking eight million views within five days.