HYDERABAD: The Top Gear on BBC, which featured host Jeremy Clarkson in an India special episode on Dec 28, 2011, ran into rough weather after the host not only took off his trousers in front of a host of dignitaries, but also teamed up with co-host Richard Hammond to drive around India in a Jaguar fitted with a toilet in its boot, because, as he jokingly said, “everyone who comes to India gets the trots.” The hosts also promoted Britain on the sides of railway coaches with one liners such as ‘British IT is good for your company’ and ‘Eat English muffins’. But the government, clearly not amused, took up the issue seeking an immediate apology from the BBC. Public response to the same though has been diametrically opposite, with the Twitterati and regular TV viewers least amused by the government’s move at playing big brother when not needed.
As for Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show aired on January 19 on the NBC in the USA, an illuminated picture of Sri Darbar Sahib was shown to the audience and announced as a possible summer home of Republican Party presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, a rich businessman-politician, who is under the scanner these days for amassing wealth and paying lesser taxes. Leno had previously targeted Sikhs in 2007 calling them ‘diaper heads’ and in 2010 had remarked that US President Barack Obama could not visit Sri Darbar Sahib because of the requirements to wear a turban. This latest depiction of Sri Darbar Sahib as the home of the rich, though, has received mixed reactions even from supporters of the humour game.
Says Sajith R, a techie, “Top Gear has always been about sarcastic and harmless humour coupled with great drives. We Indians laughed along when the joke was on Mexico and Albania (Top Gear called Albania a country of car thieves). Why so much fuss now?”.
Harika Bankadara, a student of Mass Communication at St Francis College also believes the issue is being driven out of proportion, first by the media, then by the media savvy online community and finally by the government. “An average Indian is not unduly concerned about such claims. He discusses it and forgets it. They are meant for pure entertainment,” she points out.
Arun John, a professor of Media Studies at St Francis College, hits the nail on the head. “This is Indian hypocrisy at its best. We don’t mind Danny Boyle showing India’s dark underbelly but we take offense when a TV show without any Indian cast in it, plays out innocent humour which is a regular element of the show. And don’t we Indians also call the foreigners firang and term their culture dirty and vulgar? Do they take offense at our rude comments?”
But Jay Leno seems to have crossed the red line even by the sensible standards of Hyderabadis. Darshan Singh, a resident of the city, strongly condemns the comment saying, “It is a Sikh holy place and should not be spoken of in a lighter tone. How can it become someone’s summer or winter home? It is a religious site and should be respected.”
Even Harika expressed her views on similar lines. “Every country has its own set of cultures and traditions, which should be respected. Hosts of such shows can pass jokes, but should never cross the line. Not everyone can take personal jibes lightly.”