In the last few days, social media is abuzz with messages insinuating that a leading TV entertainment channel censored jokes on Prime Minister Narendra Modi under pressure from government agencies. These messages, often accompanied with some media reports, provide no proof, not even unnamed “sources” citing any government censorship, but the tone of most of these reports nonchalantly suggest some kind of state pressure.
The person whose jokes are reported to have been censored is Shyam Rangeela, who participated in comedy reality show “The Great Indian Laughter Challenge” of Star Plus. Rangeela’s mimicry of Prime Minister Modi is widely popular. He was apparently invited to the show owing to that popularity.
However, he reportedly was asked not to mimic PM Modi – ironically something for which he is widely popular and it was that popularity that won him an invite to the show. As a result of his mimicry act being thrown out of the window, this extremely talented mimicry artist was eliminated from the show. A video clip of his act where he is seen mimicking Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, which allegedly was not aired by the TV channel, has already gone viral and is being circulated as ‘censored clip’ with claims of ‘attack on free speech’.
Unsurprisingly, half baked news reports, which claimed that Rangeela was asked to not do any mimicry of Modi but was told that he was free to make jokes on Rahul Gandhi, gave this entire incident a completely partisan colour. These news reports aimed to communicate the supposed dichotomy in political attitude. With BJP trampling upon freedom of expression by censoring mimicry of the Prime Minister and Congress graciously accepting jokes on Rahul Gandhi.
Congress’s allegiance to ‘free speech’ is already a widely discussed topic on social media with users putting forth dozens of examples where Congress has censored creative and literary work. Scientist and columnist Anand Ranganathan has already listed one hundred instances of censorship by Congress, with help from various Twitter users, and the list is not yet complete.
The media is meant to be non partisan and free, but this seems to be yet another example of half baked, incomplete facts being peddled as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. One of the publications that tried to give clean chit to Congress while besmirching BJP was The Wire, which came up with a following headline:
The agenda was more obvious in the Hindi report by The Wire, where the headline quoted Shyam Rangeela saying (in Hindi) ‘TV channel told me I can mimic Rahul Gandhi but not Narendra Modi’.
This politically partisan and dishonest headline by The Wire was spotted by many Twitter users who pointed out how the story by The Wire itself contradicts its headline. In the story, Rangeela clearly says that he was asked not to mimic Rahul Gandhi either:
I get that TheWire is desperate for donations, but the article contradicts its own clickbaity headlines.
Aise kaise traffic milega?
— FirecrackeRatty (@YearOfRat) October 26, 2017
To confirm the details of this story, I called up Shyam Rangeela and he expressed displeasure over the way The Wire had twisted his words and spread a fake news about Narendra Modi jokes being censored while Rahul Gandhi jokes being allowed.
Rangeela confirmed that The Wire was the first one from the mainstream media to approach him, but they twisted his words, which gave the entire story an anti-BJP and anti-Modi spin. Incidentally, The Wire is already in a fix over another story that tried to insinuate corruption by BJP President Amit Shah’s son and the website has now been summoned by a court for defamation.
“I had recorded my whole statement and given to The Wire, but they are using just one sentence here and there, and now the entire incident has become that if Star Plus did not air that clip, it was because of Modi government,” Shyam Rangeela told OpIndia.com (his statements are being translated into English).
Rangeela rues that due to this original spin by The Wire, now every media house is repeating it as a case of censorship, even though he had made no claims about government interference and clarified that the channel asked him to mimic neither Narendra Modi nor Rahul Gandhi.
He further rues that the channel took such a decision, even though he is known for mimicry.
“Initially I was told by them (TV channel) I can do mimicry of both Rahul and Modi, and later I was asked to mimic neither,” he shared his disappointment, “I was asked to do other stand-up acts and not do political mimicry, and I had no time to prepare. I tried some stand-up acts, but was eliminated from the show.”
Rangeela reiterated that he doesn’t believe there was any pressure from the government as his mimicry of Modi was already hugely viral and he never faced any hostility or hate from anyone, especially from Modi supporters. He also noted how PM Modi himself had appreciated how well some people mimic his voice.
“I personally know many Modi supporters and they never had any objections to me mimicking Modi,” he told OpIndia.com on phone, “Out of 100, there are barely 5 who might say don’t mimic Modi, but they have no idea what they are talking about and they are the ones who find everything wrong in anything in the world.”
(you can listen to my conversation with Shyam Rangeela below)
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017