I was first introduced to the digital presence of Tanmay Bhat in the winter of 2013. Fresh on the comedy scene in India, he featured in a two part series of a man who fell in love with an iPhone 5s and it kept its viewers guessing till the end— would Bhat be financially lucky enough to own one? Needless to say, Tanmay Bhat would own an iPhone and many more things in life, only this time, his most important relationship with the internet favourite AIB shattered. All India Bakchod, a company that became the definition of ‘woke’ culture swam in a pool of controversies for years. There were complaints, FIRs and far too many notices served to its four founders, namely, Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba, Ashish Shakya and Rohan Joshi. They pretty much grew accustomed to the workings of the law and its audience, until the fateful day when the company had its first brush with the #MeToo movement that had wrapped its fiery clutches around the country accusing many influential men and in some cases women too. A series of events that followed the first accusation, shut down a company that was once hailed for its forward thinking, breaking the shackles around a career in comedy and ironically played an instrumental role in producing content that resonated with feminists and alike, but how did a company once so revered in the digital space shut down in a matter of moments?
Where Did AIB Come From?
When the comedy circuit in India was still in its nascent stages, a collective of four men joined hands to turn their hobby into a vocation. Tanmay, Gursimran, Ashish and Rohan at one point helped comedian and actor Vir Das in writing scripts for his live stand up shows that he performed domestically and internationally. The former AIB figureheads were also writers for awards shows such as the Filmfare and for television shows on MTV and Channel V. They credit Vir Das for helping them maximise their learning and education in the realm of comedy at a time where there were very few comedic geniuses to learn from. Soon after, AIB took birth in the form of a podcast show on the wildly popular streaming site, SoundCloud. 2013 was the year that the first stepping stone was built for a company that would forge a path and possibly bring web series of sorts to India. In the years that soon followed, AIB collected various milestones. Videos started to trickle into their YouTube channel in 2014, the content that was churned varied from hitting the right note on nostalgia to entering the thoughts of people in circumstantial situations such as an honest Diwali, an honest air hostess serving customers, an honest relationship between a new bride and groom and more such honesty. AIB started to gain traction. Bollywood stars and big brands began approaching the company that could possibly make or break images for many. Everyone remembers the wildly popular video Alia Bhatt- Genius of the Year that catapulted everyone involved to a new level of stardom. It was an intelligent parody on her debut answer gone wrong in the rapid fire round on her mentor’s show, Koffee With Karan. AIB helped Alia change her image and mould the perception of her, held by a nation that constantly made memes targeting her intellect. The same year AIB met with one if its greatest controversies when they hosted a roast of Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor. Both the actors met with the playful jibes and insults head on in front of a large audience that comprised of many Bollywood big-wigs. It was understood that AIB has arrived on the scene with a bang loud enough to get brands such as Ola, Bacardi and Google to jump on their fun-filled fantasy bandwagon.
People Start To Notice
AIB’s content was still as viral as ever, each video that was released would garner views in minutes if not seconds. Everyone asked everyone if they watched their latest video. People resonated with what AIB put forward, yet there were some who could not ignore the glaring red flags that others seemed to have missed. Krupa Gohil a former employee at the organisation was hired by Tanmay Bhat for her knack of making fun memes. Like any other person, she was thrilled and excited to be working with the toast of the country. However, a couple of months into her job, as narrated to HuffPost India, Gohil felt that the foursome at AIB found feminism to be only a meme worthy narrative and she started to think that their ‘woke’ attitude towards feminism was perhaps a front and that disturbed her. Yet, she soldiered on. While Krupa had her reservations, there were two other people outside of AIB taking notice of a repeated pattern. Comedians Aayushi Jagad and Sumedh Nata released a video that spoke of AIB’s attitude towards women not being represented enough in their videos. In presenting their facts that makes sense, they also do not discredit certain powerful sketches directed and written by women at AIB. Who can forget Kangana Ranaut’s collaboration with the team on the now famous catchphrase and song ‘I Have Vagina Re’? However, their bone of contention was that gender less roles such as that of a news reporter, a police constable and others were played mainly by men. Women in their regular videos were reduced to backdrops. The video makes solid points that depicts the discrepancies in what AIB preached and what they showed. They boldly claim that AIB’s women sketches were meant for shares and to solidify its public hyper-feminist image.
The year 2018 saw an uprising in the country. Tanushree Dutta on her short return from the United States brought along with her the #MeToo movement that created a storm in the west. Her serious allegations against Nana Patekar revealed the dark underbelly of Bollywood that has been known for decades but never been spoken of. Videos that came out to support her allegations gave confidence to many other actresses and women in various walks of life to come forward and name their harasser on social media. Powerful men from Bollywood were named, politicians were shamed and countless other men were called out. #MeToo was empowering women as each day passed and beads of sweat started to form on many of the guilty perpetrators. On October 4th of 2018, Mahima Kukreja, an advertising professional and stand up comedian accused Utsav Chakraborty of sending her unsolicited dick pics. Her accused had worked with AIB as a freelancer on many videos that started to come to the fore. Her accusations got noticed and soon it turned into an avalanche on the company because Tanmay’s name was taken in the same sentence. It was revealed that Tanmay knew of these allegations beforehand but chose not to take any action against Chakraborty. It was only a matter of time before #AllIndiaBalatkaris started to trend on twitter. The onslaught of anger was intensely felt by AIB and a statement was released condemning Utsav only to be followed by another statement the next day, titled ‘We Are Sorry’. Bhat admitted to the knowledge of Chakraborty’s behaviour in the past and apologised for not taking an appropriate action. This led to his suspension from AIB. What strikes ironical is that All India Bakchod prided itself on having an ICC— Internal Complaint Committee— that is mandatory for a company to have under the prevention of sexual harassment act of 2013. Yet, the company’s founder failed a woman when she complained about Chakraborty’s behaviour. The final nail on the coffin was when the second founder of AIB, Gursimran Khamba was accused of emotionally abusing and making unwanted physical advances towards a woman in the past. The anonymous accusation was tweeted by a Twitter user called pedestrianpoet.
AIB Dies A Painful Death
Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhat were both suspended and inquiries were ordered into their roles in the accusation levied on them. The ripples of these serious allegations were felt on the company. Hotstar pulled the plug on their show, ‘On Air With AIB’, their first short film, ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’ which cost them 3 crores to make was dropped from the Mumbai Film Festival and every advertiser that ever worked with them distanced themselves. No one wanted to work with All India Bakchod. The company was dissolved and more than 40 employees were all laid off with a two months pay. AIB could not find the funds to return to its glory, the damage was done. Social media made them a formidable brand and it also axed them into pieces that could not be stitched together. After 7 months of silence, AIB released its statement on the 22nd May, 2019. The company for all its intent and purposes has been shut down, while Tanmay complied with the inquiry board, Gursimran Khamba did not. As soon as AIB released theirs’, Khamba had his statement published. He admitted to not going ahead with the investigation because he felt the inquiry board was not fair and he also announced that he was leaving the once famous group to start his own comedy consultancy. The other two founders of AIB, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya as of now have branched out on their own— laying everything to rest and throwing the last of dirt on its buried coffin.