#Art + Culture

Tanmay Bhat Returns To India’s Mainstream Comic Scene. Not Everyone Is Happy About It

Tanmay Bhatt
Back in October 2018 when the #MeToo flood hit India, Tanmay Bhat, then one of the country’s best-known comedians, found himself in the midst of a controversy unfolding right at his doorstep. It had prompted massive uproar against Bhat, and from him, a step down from his role at the comedy group he co-founded and a relative retreat from public life.

Now three years later, Bhat returns full-fledged to the screen as one of the comics on Netflix show Comedy Premium League that comprises roasts, sketches, stand-up content and a bunch of other popular names from India’s comedy circuit. This is familiar territory for Bhat, especially with his perceived status as one of the more ‘senior’ entertainers in the lot.

Amid the stream of mixed reviews the show is receiving, there runs a strong current of criticism on social media for Bhat that has nothing to with the quality of comedy.

Social media users, especially on Twitter, made their thoughts amply clear about Bhat’s presence on the show despite the aberration on his past record.

A quick recap of the #MeToo case: 

In 2018, allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against comedian Utsav Chakraborty, who was a frequent collaborator of Bhat’s collective All India Bakchod (AIB), also comprising members Rohan Joshi, Gursimran Khamba and Ashish Shakya.

Writer and comic Mahima Kukreja on Twitter was the first to accuse Chakraborty of sending her pictures of his genitalia. Soon after, Chakraborty offered explanation via tweets saying the situation needed “an incredible amount of context” and refuted allegations.

A year later, in another thread, Chakraborty questioned “all the malicious insinuations and abject falsehoods” put on him and questioned the authenticity of the screenshots, as allegedly received by Kukreja from women accusing him that she had posted.

Chakraborty messaged SheThePeople last year saying, “There’s an hourlong phone call where Kukreja’s basically threatening me to not release screenshots. Three women apologised. On record. To me. Not out of the goodness of their heart, but because they were caught.”

In all this, fingers pointed at Bhat as well, alleging he continued to work with Chakraborty despite knowledge of the complaints against him. In a statement, AIB had said, “Tanmay confronted Utsav in a personal capacity- which led to Utsav calling the victim, leading to further harassment. At the time, the accuser did not wish to pursue any further legal action… we continued working with Utsav in a freelance capacity for a little longer. That’s on us. We made a big mistake. We should have cut all ties immediately.” Read here.

Bhat apologised, stepped down from his CEO post, and AIB was declared ‘dead.’

Tanmay Bhat Returns To Our Screens: Here’s How Netizens Are Reacting

The stand-up comedy scene in India, though not new, has in recent times been populated with youth artists and therefore, amassed an audience in a similar demographic. The case of #MeToo surrounding AIB, inarguably the industry’s most successful comedy group act in the past decade, was among the first to significantly explode on the scene and therefore, still evokes sharp memories.

Bhat’s involvement in the controversy and his gradual comeback to life as a public figure draws polarised opinions.

At one end, there is an audience that says he is entitled to a second chance in the comedy scene, claiming his role in the #MeToo case was hardly consequential since he wasn’t the one accused of harassment. On the other, a section of the audience opposes his return, that too a grand one backed by a streaming giant, calling him a harassment ‘enabler’ and citing it as an instance of how easily men of power and prestige appear to escape accountability.

Here’s the kind of reaction Twitter users gave to Bhat’s return:

In 2019, Bhat addressing events from the past one year said he was “mentally checked out” and was suffering from clinical depression. “I feel almost paralysed and unable to participate socially, online or even offline,” he claimed in an Instagram video. “But at some point I just got to get up and start fixing this stuff.”

The recently released OTT show is not the first proper social media appearance Bhat has made since the 2018 controversy, since he is consistent with online vlogs and reaction videos on his YouTube channel.

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