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LAST LAUGH

All the rage

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Scene 1 A Bengali boy exults over the lovely weather in his city. Twenty-two degrees, he thinks, is perfect for a romantic date. Hair spiking and dressing up follow. But Ma has other plans. “It’s very cold outside,” she tells her son. “Wear a monkey cap.” Glamour diminished twentyfold, the enraged, monkey cap-sporting son can only scream.

Scene 2 A music director wants to add spunk to his creations. A few Punjabi words, he figures, will do the trick and make the saang a super hit. He hangs around a few Punjabis to pick up some words. Later, at a dance party, while people groove away to the song, a Punjabi cries tears of rage, realising the words are cuss words.

These vignettes from the lives of a Bengali and a Punjabi are instances from a new thematic comic series that has sprung up online. Known as rage comics, the cartoonist/illustrator here makes gentle fun of his/her own community’s eccentricities. The comics have representative names such as Tam Brahm Rage, Mallu Rage, Sindhi Rage, Twaddi Rage (Punjabi) and Reggae Bong (Bengali). Most of them are in English, but some like Sindhi Rage, Mallu Rage and Reggae Bong often feature episodes in their mother tongue.

The first online rage comic is said to have appeared in a forum titled ‘/b/’ on an image-sharing website called 4-chan, sometime in 2008, according to online meme (a template using a stock image, video or characters) archive ‘Know Your Meme’. The cultural references here, though not many, are mostly American. Then there’s social news website Reddit, which has a dedicated forum for rage comics. One can find rage comics on profound subjects like dealing with drippy laundry or receiving gifts you hate.

“Using this meme to communicate is like cracking an insider joke. You learn as you go along,” says graphic designer and webcomic creator Saad Akhtar.

The humour is partly biting, frequently self-deprecatory but never offensive. Episodes often feature a clash of interests between parents and children, giving an insight into how Gen Next perceives ideas and lifestyles of its parents’ generation.

Take the Mallu Rage episode where two children planning to watch films and cricket on their brand-new LCD TV (which “Ungle from the Gelf” brought) have to give in to their parents’ demands of watching a music reality show on Asianet instead — a post that got a lot of commentadi.

The meme of rage comics typically uses four panels, where in the first three an unpleasant event, however small, occurs, and the last has an enraged character, screaming “FFFUUUUUUU”. The drawings are mostly crude; sometimes photographed images figure and stock characters like “rageguy” and “trollface” make repeated appearances. Thanks to online “ragemakers”, anyone can make these comics.

Columnist Santosh Desai feels the rage comic is a fascinating subculture and shows a greater comfort with cultural identities. “It plays with the notion of what’s modern and what’s traditional. The humour here is sophisticated and not reductive. Like regular jokes, these don’t close with a click, but are open-ended,” he says.

The desi rage comics began over a month ago when Chennai-based blogger Krish Ashok started Tam Brahm Rage on a blogging website, Tumblr. The blog showcases comics depicting humour and levity in the everyday situations of Tam Brahms. In one of the strips, ‘Maami’ pooh-poohs a girl’s academic achievements and instead, quizzes her on her missing “pottu” (bindi). Another one is about coming back home from a haircut and being asked to not touch anything in keeping with customs.

The trend soon caught on in other languages. Five other similar rage comics appeared, all on Tumblr, with one ‘Gujju Rage’ which has no entry yet but just a message that says, “I have just reserved this tumblr. If you are interested in taking this forward, please contact @nishitd.” Another Tumblr blog called R2I relates the experiences of an NRI in India.

Amit Rage appeared immediately after Tam Brahm Rage and got 10,000 hits in the very first week. Krish Ashok is said to have come up with the term ‘Amit’ where amit_123 is a South Indian generalisation for all North Indians who migrate to Madras to join IT companies. “It is intended as a limited-scope counterpoint to the term ‘Madraasi’. The bogus theory that justifies this term is of course: all North Indian men are named Amit,” explains Ashok on his blog.

“The agreed-upon definition of Amit is a clueless North Indian who assumes anything south of the Malabar hills to be Madras. When this ‘Amit’ visits South India for the first time, he experiences numerous culture shocks. This comic chronicles such instances,” says Abhishek Awasthi who created the Amit Rage blog. Like its other Indian cousins, this rage comic blog also functions on contributions by various readers. “The idea for an Amit Rage type of comic expression was always there. Tam Brahm Rage fuelled it and gave it form. While Tam Brahm Rage takes potshots at the idiosyncrasies of their own Tamil Brahmin community, Amit Rage plays on inter-community culture shocks,” says Awasthi.

Shantanu Adhicary, a Chennai-based engineer, says he’s more an ‘Amit’ than a Bengali, and has contributed to both Reggae Bong and Amit Rage. “I don’t know of many people who check out rage comics that belong outside of their community. I’d say it has a very niche audience. But these comics can help you identify with other cultures,” he says.

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