Critically acclaimed actress Tannishtha Chatterjee is aghast at the “regressive and blatantly racist” attack she experienced when she was invited as a guest to “Comedy Nights Bachao”. She says jokes about her dark skin tone were not funny at all.
Tannishtha shot for the episode on Tuesday. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, she wrote about the experience of being a guest on the comedy show that presents comedians ‘roasting’ their guests.
Being a fan of “Saturday Night Live” show, she was looking forward to be ‘roasted’ as her perception was that a roast is “a celebratory humour at someone’s expense” and “a mock counter to a toast”.
“This was an entirely novel understanding of roast that equates itself with bullying. And to my utmost horror, I soon realised that the only quality they found worth roasting about in me was my skin tone. It began with, ‘Aap ko jamun bahut pasand hoga zaroor…””
She pointed out that the only thing they could roast about a dark-skinned actress was “of course her dark skin”.
“I could not believe I was sitting in a nationally televised comedy show in 2016 in Mumbai amid such regressive (I can’t call it humour), and blatantly racist content,” added the actress, who has worked widely in the international field.
While Tannishtha sat through the show, feeling “suffocated”, she decided to give it another chance. But in vain. When she told the organisers what she felt, they said: “But we told you it is a roast!”
She says she tried to explain the common perception of roast and how it is different from bullying.
“That there is no humour value in a joke about someone’s physical attributes, especially one that stems from deep prejudices. I don’t think they got it. Some friends also told me don’t take it so seriously, it’s just a comedy. I think that’s what the show also thinks. It’s all fun and games! Except there is nothing funny about this.
“Precisely because in a country where we still sell Fair and lovely/handsome and show adverts, where people don’t get jobs because of their complexion, where every matrimonial advert demands a fair bride or groom and the colour bias is so strong, in a society which has a deep-seated problem with dark skin, which also has deep roots in our caste system, in a country where dark skin is marginalised, making fun of it is not roast.”
Even considering that dark skin is a joke comes from that very deep prejudice, said Tannishtha, who stressed that her anger “is not personal and it is a larger issue about what our mindset is”. She finds it “irresponsible” to crack jokes about deep biases in the society.
“It is not a question about apologising to me, but propagating this idea and continuing with this mindset in the name of comedy is what is hugely problematic, especially because it is a popular show on a nationalised channel,” she said, wondering why skin tone still lends itself to jokes.
“Where does all our pride as a nation go away when it comes to the acceptance that most of us have a darker skin tone’ Once I was asked ‘Your surname is Chatterjee’ Oh you are Brahmin… What is your mother’s surname’ Maitra! Oh. She is Brahmin too.’
“And then indirectly he hinted how is my skin tone still dark’ This is so deep rooted and linked to our perceptions of caste, class and skin tone. Upper caste = fair skin = touchable. Lower caste = dark skin = untouchable.”
With her latest release “Parched”, Tannishtha said the team wanted to express a lot of things about gender, body, skin, sexuality and caste.
“It has been a revelation that the journey just begins here as we realise through our promotional process that we are constantly subjected to exactly those issues from which this film was engendered.”