Pranks unloaded: From fiction to mundanity

Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh
Dictionary meaning of prank goes something like, ‘a trick that is intended to be funny but not to cause harm or damage’. Prank may be understood as One Act One scene play with a plot to build up a few seconds or minutes story, if we go by the dramatic format, since it is akin to a performed play, both video and audio formats. Pranks may be generally categorised as thoroughly light humoured musical ones and harsh annoying ones. The surface structure of prank is loaded with various deep structures of human behaviour, social, political and racial underpinnings. Pranks and then reactions to them will reveal the whole generality of people within a particular region or society.These will differ from place to place; the ones done in the US may differ from what are done in India or Pakistan or Latin American countries. This is what triggered this article.
All of us or most of us have played pranks on someone known to us or to strangers. But had they been done before the internet boom they might not have been recorded and shared in the social media for wider viewership. But today any interested and intending celebrity (like once famous phrase in the recent past in Manipur - intending candidate) is on it and are watched by millions, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram); Larry Page, Sergey Brin and  Sundar Pichai (Google, YouTube) etc.
When we were students, we used to play pranks on our friends and even on our teachers, especially on April Fool's day. We would attach certain hanging papers with funny words or picture on them, behind those poor ‘victims’ who were blissfully oblivious of them being made ‘Fools’. The sheer joy of looking at their normal behaviour was beyond our mundane world. And the riotous joy was even more multiplied by the sudden reactions when they found out that they were being tricked and fooled. Then all those chasings and playful fights made our day.
Pranks shown on mass media like Television are a little old. As far as this village bumpkin is concerned, I was introduced to this genre only in the 2000s when I first saw ‘Just for Laughs Gags’ (or simply ‘Just for Laughs’), a Canadian TV Reality show, on a TV set somewhere, certainly not at my home. They were hilarious, to say the least. Actors enacting as police officers intimidating drivers on parking lots or traffic points, visitors in parks etc. and those pranked reacting seriously to the charges made against them looked really real. The moment of truth exposed by the actors and the reactions from the people being pranked were even more enjoyable. What is really heart warming is the gentle reactions from those pranked. Not much slanging and physical violence. That, I think, is the reflection of how they behave in Canadian society which is the revelation of the deep structure.
The modus-operandi of such prank videos is the use of hidden cameras and to extract the best out of the strangers. Today if you are really into this genre you will find numerous people and groups uploading their creations for us, mainly on Facebook and YouTube in all languages, including Manipuri. You will find not just videos but also audios flooding the social media. The audios are mainly phone calls by the pranksters to the unsuspecting people. I came across one such only recently and it served me well when I was in trouble.
My story goes like this. I have been telling bedtime stories to both of my children for the last thirteen years. I, in a way, became one of the most gifted and interesting story tellers of all time (LOL). I began the job with my daughter and when she was done, my son started taking the esteemed position of that demanding audience. As the year passed by my creativity started waning along with my fame of being the greatest story teller and thus my stories started becoming monotonous – my village, village people, fields, western mountains, Loktak lake, princes, princesses, cows, buffaloes, horses, monkeys, squirrels, moon (thamacha), sun and anything in the universe. The same was felt by my children, to my utter embarrassment, that too at the dead of the night. Then one day, when my story chest was exhausted, incidentally I found someone called RJ Praveen of Red FM 93.5 Kolkata, on YouTube, now pranking in both audio and video formats. I told myself this was it and he came as a saviour for an arid me. I found him, still is, to be very hilarious, witty and charismatic. What entices me about him is his sheer ability to take various avatars and yet maintain civility – old man, vegetable seller, sales man, office executive, labourer, Saif Ali Khan, Amitabh Bachhan, Nana Patekar, Javed Akhtar and many more. To my great relief my children liked and loved him. Today, my place is being taken by him, and sometimes by Kapil Sharma, as bed time story teller till we stop him before we all sleep.
If we still talk about RJs, there is also RJ Naved of Radio Mirchi 98.3 of Delhi. He is out rightly a dangerous and rustic prankster, though not as charming as RJ Praveen. Both the RJs call their ‘victims’ in the same language. What is interesting here is not what the pranksters put to the receivers but what and how the latter respond to the callers. Comparison between people of Kolkata and Delhi. From the various audio and video pranks of both the RJs, it came to my humble mind that when piercingly provoked, Kolkata denizens are gentler in their response with not so loud shouting and with lesser number of beeps whereas Delhi receivers, O my God, belt out all those baddest expletives on the earth which need continuous beeps. I am not concluding with a generalization that Kolkata people are gentler than Delhi ones.
Since I am into this zone, I have been watching prank videos of many countries, both silent and talkies, like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, US, UK, Latin American countries etc. They are sometimes ingenious in themes and executions. There have been borrowings of themes and modes of execution from each other though. That Bush man prank and also those Arab man terrorist bomb pranks are utterly scary. Apart from them many Pakistani pranksters are enjoying wide viewership and becoming a sort of celebrities not just in Pakistan but in Manipur too, me being the evidence. Pakistani prankster ‘Humanitarian’ is a favourite for me. What strikes me as a surprise, since I am not well acquainted with their society, is the gentleness in their behaviour and language. Till today I have not come across any swear word or serious physical violence, except for some mild slapping here and there, from those being pranked, no matter how badly they have been pushed against the wall and irritated.
One thing that can be construed from all these pranks is the commonality in the graph of climax and anti-climax, and fiction and fact.The pranksters usually start with good natured approach and slowly build up the tempo with comparatively harsh and uncomfortable words as baits to hook the strangers into their traps and then try to provoke them with extremity so that they finally react in disgust. The climax comes when the pranked reacts with his/her ultimate act. When this climax comes the pranksters hold back to avoid any further damage to both and reveal the real motive behind those unexpected uncivil behaviours. That is when they point out that they are pulling pranks (audio phone calls) or just shooting prank videos showing the hidden cameras. This is the moment when the drama ends and fiction crumbles into the mundanity. This is the moment of sudden anti climax when all those negative extremity evaporate turning into the extremity of laughter, hugs, civility and camaraderie. What a sudden fall from tip to toe. What can be construed from this is that those actions are not at all fictions but real incidents for those pranked, before the secret is revealed. But for the pranksters they are all fictions and drama from the beginning to the end. Those pranked, especially in audios sometimes become star-struck when the prankster introduces himself/herself. That often happens with RJ Praveen. ‘Hi, this is RJ Praveen pulling a prank on you, making you Murga of the day.’ ...‘O, RJ Praveen, my Goaad! Am I dreaming?’
Cliff-hanger stories, climax and sudden anti climax. Happy healthy pranking, lest you end up behind those bars with no bar to boost you up.