One Cat Against the World
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
In 2015, after their attempt at a celebrity roast attracted a lot of controversy, Indian comedy group All India Bakchod issued a nonpology that began by turning a quote commonly misattributed to Voltaire on its head:
“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to death my right to get offended. How dare you? Baahar mil ['let's take it outside'].” – Desi ['indigenous'] Voltaire
The clue to this juxtaposition of high and low culture – or, more correctly, of pretensions to high culture and the explosion of those pretensions – lies in the word bakchod [Hindi: 'dumbfuck', a portmanteau of bakwaas 'nonsense' and chod 'fuck']. AIB didn't emerge from a vacuum, but their only predecessor who actively embraced the word (and a lot of other everyday profanity) in the name of social commentary is... a cat.
Bakchod Billi, India's official (!) version of Grumpy Cat, began life in 2013 when three twenty-something Indian men got the owners' permission to use the cat's image for memes (and spawned a lot of possibly illegal spinoffs, such as the Pakistani version Manhoos ['wretched'] Billi). However, to reduce BC Billi, as it is presumably known in polite society, to a mere imitation is misleading: instead, imagine a character that looks like Grumpy Cat, thinks like Garfield (that other, original grumpy cat), talks like Samuel L. Jackson, (sometimes) behaves like Dolan, and functions as a Shakespearean fool.
Like most satirical memes, BC Billi is very topical (even political at times), and this, along with linguistic and cultural barriers, makes it very difficult to explain its appeal to anyone who isn't Indian and/or doesn't know Hindi. Part of it could be the fact all the characters are essentially humans (or, specifically, North Indians, who make up most of their fan base) who just happen to look like cats. The titular main character is trapped in an unhappy marriage (he says the best anniversary present is a divorce, and his wife tries to poison him at least once) and has two teenage sons who prove that the child is indeed the father of the man: the elder one wants to "go to America and become a plumber or a pizza delivery guy.” Then again, like most Indian parents, the father constantly compares his children to the neighbours': on hearing that his son has a fever, he sneers "You and your lower-class illnesses; Mr. Sharma's son has cancer." He seems to be unemployed, and spends most of his time snarking about his life, the state of his nation, and the state of the world.
If that was all, this character would be an absurdly exaggerated and yet highly relatable look into the average Indian's psyche, but there are two things that make him universal: his inability to come to terms with modern life, and his excessive swearing. (Speaking of Samuel L. Jackson, replacing the sheer variety of bowdlerised Hindi expletives with Jackson's favourite in English doesn't quite do the memes justice in translation.) Our hero notes at one point that “without bad language, over half of India would have died of high blood pressure by now,” and he certainly needs a lot of it. He goes to a coffee shop and complains "How do I order when I can’t pronounce these fucking words?” In an ironic twist for the ages, he asks a genie for “a job and a big vehicle full of girls" and is promptly turned into a bus conductor. If Life won't play a joke on him, he'll play one on himself.
– Doctor, I seem to be forgetting things and swearing constantly – Since when have you had these symptoms? – What symptoms, motherfucker?
He's also politically incorrect enough to be an equal-opportunity offender: nothing, and no one, is sacred. In fact, this article exists because I happened to think of this outrageous gem:
– Fill this bag with [obscene amount of money] – Why should I? – I have swine flu, motherfucker, give me the money before I sneeze on you [later] – I’ve won the fucking lottery
And then there's this hilarious send-up of everything marriage means in India, as told by two fathers-in-law-to-be:
– My son wants your daughter's hand – Why? – Because his hands are tired – No, I can’t leave my daughter in your son’s 'dirty hands' – Never mind, motherfucker, you’ll get a surprise in 9 months – You took my joke to heart, in-law, what would you like for the dowry?
– Dear, your son now wants a motorcycle from his in-laws – Tell the motherfucker to quit with his demands, he’s getting such a hot wife, if I was in his place I’d have married her on the spot– – THE FUCK WAS THAT?! – Nothing, dear, I meant dowry is illegal...
While the creators seem to have forsaken their main character – and it's hard to tell how much of their content is original, though using cats as a medium is a stroke of genius – BC Billi remains one of the sharpest, and most underrated, critics of Indian society. Not bad for a meme.
Words of bakchodi:
– Those who blocked me yesterday Google me today
– Lovers then used to look for fidelity; lovers today look for a room – A condom’s expiry date can be someone’s manufacturing date too – We Indians have a solution to every problem as long as it’s someone else’s problem – Don’t leave today’s work for tomorrow – leave it forever