KARACHI: The hall in the Beach Luxury Hotel where a session on ‘Laughter, the best medicine’ was under way was bursting at the seams. There was a big number of young people who wanted to hear comedians Saad Haroon (Pakistan) and Sanjay Rajoura (India) respond to cultural critic Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s questions, but the middle-aged and the elderly were there in no small number either.
Paracha threw the first barb at the two comedians by saying that comedy was a dangerous weapon, and the hall had two top guns. Haroon said not laughter but antibiotic was the best medicine. On a serious note (which proved a rarity in the hour-long show), he said laughter evoked different emotions, including that of sadness. When Rajoura was asked to respond to the visa process he had to go through, he said in our region it was easy to drop bombs than to give visas.
Paracha pointed out that his satirical articles were often taken seriously by the readers. Haroon echoed the sentiment by telling the audience that his first video Burqa woman went viral and had hundreds of thousands hits; at the same time the comments posted by the viewers under the video indicated that they wanted to hit him hundreds of thousands times. Rajoura said no matter what video you put up, even if it was about children, it provoked a war-like situation. “We (in the subcontinent) do not have a sense of humour,” he said. On the question of Western and Indian audiences’ response to comedy, Rajoura said he was not there to entertain the audience; rather, the audience should entertain him. He reasoned if the audience had come to his performance after coughing up money, they had to laugh because they’d spent money.
One of the marked features of the session was the witty remarks that Haroon and Rajoura exchanged. For instance, at one point Rajoura was making fun of the film My Name is Khan and its tag line ‘I’m not a terrorist’, Haroon commented: “I’ve seen the film, he is a terrorist; he held us hostage for three hours.”
Rajoura said comedy had to affect people; if it wasn’t doing that comedians weren’t doing their job. He said: “Any society that gives [its people] the right to protest is an evolved society.”
Paracha said he wanted the audience to put questions to the two comedians early in the session. It opened a floodgate of queries. In response to the question about bad language, Haroon said it depended on the context of the joke. Rajoura said real humour was not manufactured. When the question was further pushed, Rajoura said: “We [India and Pakistan] were never tolerant.” Haroon agreed by saying race, religion etc gave us the reason to hate.
Poking fun at the tolerance issue, Rajoura said India was a tolerant society because it forgave Salman Khan after he ran over people and made Narendra Modi the prime minister of the country. Haroon was quick to snap back, “We forgive Adnan Sami Khan.”
Rajoura said if anyone didn’t like his jokes, he could go to hell (bhaad mein jaey). He said all of us needed to choose our politics otherwise politics would choose us. Referring to the incident when a woman objected to his remark about the Quaid-i-Azam the evening before, he said we needed to reexamine our heroes. When someone asked Haroon whether he’d done jokes on the army, he answered, “Every time I write a joke about the army, the plot thickens.” An audience member in the beginning of the session addressed Rajoura saying “give us Kashmir” to which he had replied “what will you give us in return”. Later on, when the floor was opened for audience participation, someone remarked that if he gave us Kashmir, he could take four fast bowlers from Pakistan. When the topic was stretched, Rajoura said: “Take Kashmir and give us Coke Studio.”
On where should comedians draw the line, Rajoura said there were certain things that must not be used in the wrong way. For example, he said you asked any Mohajir in Pakistan and he would tell you that he had left a lot of property in India, as if there were no poor Mohajirs. This made the audience laugh. But Rajoura clarified that they shouldn’t because they must understand the situation that compelled them to migrate.
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2016