I went to Comedy Nights Bachao to be roasted, they shamed me for my skin colour

'Parched' actress Tannishtha Chatterjee's Facebook post goes viral.

 |  4-minute read |   28-09-2016
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Something has shocked me out of my wits yesterday. I was invited as a guest to a popular comedy show called Comedy Nights Bachao to promote my latest release Parched with my director Leena Yadav and my co-actor Radhika Apte. I was told that the flavour of the show is "COMEDY" and the purpose is to roast, humour, and offend.

My perception of roast was formed by all the SNLs I watched over the years, and the commonly held perception that a roast is a celebratory humour at someone's expense. It is a mock counter to a toast.

I was actually looking forward to be roasted.

And then this show began. And 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 me was my skin tone.

It began with "Aap ko jamun bahut pasand hoga zaroor… kitna jamun khaya aapne bachpan se?" And it went on in that direction… the only thing they could roast about a dark-skinned actress was, of course, her dark skin. They could identify me only with that.

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. Though I was feeling suffocated, I decided to give it another chance, and sat through another equally offensive segment.

Nothing changed. I could not sit there anymore. I had to leave. When I told the organisers what I felt, they said, "But we told you it is a roast!"

I explained to them the common perception of roast and how it is different from (being) bullied. 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 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 & 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.

parched_092816122205.jpg Tannishtha Chatterjee in a still from Parched.

Even considering that dark skin is a joke comes from that very deep prejudice. And I tried to explain why this is not personal and it is a larger issue about our mindset. And why cracking jokes about deep biases in our society is irresponsible. And that 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.

It has nothing to do with the show at a personal level. But it leads to a larger debate. Why does skin tone still lend itself to jokes? How is it funny to call someone dark? I don't get it... In a India of 2016 I still have to be apologetic about my skin tone? What is this white-skin hangover? 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 why my skin tone is still then so 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. Yes I have pronounced it. Probably most of us will not admit to our hatred for the dark skin also comes from our caste bias. I made a film called Parched.

Why I am saying "I made" is because all of us who are a part of this film feel that this was not just a film for us. That it's MY FILM. We wanted to express a lot of things about gender, body, skin, sexuality , caste etc through our stories.

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. The list is long, long and the biases are deep… The privilege that allows these are what we had hoped to challenge.

(A version of this post first appeared on the Tannishtha Chatterjee's Facebook page.)

Also read - How I came to love my dark skin

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