When Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma was launched in June of 2013 on Colours, it was heralded as a game changer for Hindi television, a breath of fresh air for an entertainment platform that was gagging with stale saas-bahu soaps.
To have a comic stand on stage with an ensemble of other comediens/comediennes in front of a live audience was, by Indian standards, breaking new ground. Viewers tired of the reign of weepy soap operas and naagins (Indian television’s current supernatural fascination), found a reason to return to their TV sets.
Many hoped that Comedy Nights would become India’s flagship comedy-sketch show like the American Saturday Night Live (SNL). Only, the brand of Kapil Sharma’s comedy was not even remotely close to anything cerebral like SNL.
That is because the main ingredients of all Kapil Sharma Show’s episodes have been sexual innuendos, expletives and obscenities. He chooses to debase fellow artistes, flirt with the guests and make fun of the audience, all in the name of harmless humour.
Women are blatantly objectified. They are praised or derided on the basis of their physical appearances alone. Take his on-screen wife Sumona for instance. Jokes about her big lips and for supposedly not being beautiful enough is a running gag throughout the show. From Ali Asgar aka ‘Dadi’ to Sunil Grover aka ‘Gutthi’, men dressed as women are the main hooks of the show who provide laughs through exaggerated portrayals of femininity.
The show thrives on stereotypes of racism with regular mentions of ‘gori ladkiyaan’ besides references to people as ‘Zambia ke bhikari’ (beggars from Zambia) and ‘Afriki bhaloo’ (African bear).
There is constant derogation of lower classes. “Do takke ka naukar (worthless servant) is an echoing refrain. The domestic help is asked to know his/her place,” as quoted in a 2016 report in The Hindu. This is ironical considering that the show is set in a lower middle-class household.
In any other part of the world, Kapil Sharma’s show would have met with raised eyebrows at the very least and protests at worst.
But if TRP ratings in India are anything to go by, Kapil Sharma’s brand of humour captured everyone’s imagination and found a place in Indian family living-rooms. His sexist and racist jokes echoed with the masses, and the country embraced his jokes as their own. From phrases like ‘ittu sa tha tu’ to ‘babaji ka thullu’, his jokes have found their way into the middle of an average daily conversation. As TRPs went up, celebrities flocked to Comedy Nights to promote movies.
Bollywood stars have chosen to ignore the ugly sexism and crassness served in the show and have happily allowed themselves to be felt up by garish cross-dressed ‘dadis’, all in a desperate attempt to convince audiences to watch their films.
Everything is, of course, in good humour, in the attempt to give people a good time. But what is forgotten in the process is that the show is aimed at primetime family viewing. By airing at 9:30pm, SonyTV has ensured that this becomes entertainment for the entire family.
Kapil Sharma’s show’s successful run for over three years have spawned others with the same flavour of humour, maybe with a different seasoning. Take for instance, Krushna Abhishek and Bharti Singh’s Comedy Nights Bachao loosely based on the comedy genre of Roast. From Shah Rukh Khan to Salman Khan, Randeep Hooda to Adil Hussain, most A-list celebrities were happy to make an appearance on ‘Bachao’ to promote their movie/show and in return agreed to get roasted.
Clearly today’s stand-ups seem to think that ridicule and abuse is amusing in its own right. But their jokes not only ridicule gender but offend common sense.
In 2014, Comedy Nights With Kapil got a show cause notice from Maharashtra Women’s Commission for a rather crude and insensitive joke about potholes and pregnant women. One would think this action would make people sit up and take notice of how offensive the show can be. But the show continued airing, and Kapil fans told the dissenters – “don’t get so easily offended. It’s a joke”.
With TRPs for The Kapil Sharma Show having nosedived since his fight with co-actor Sunil Grover on a flight where he got physically violent with him, garnering the show a lot of bad press.
The Kapil Sharma Show has been renewed for a third year. After relying on the same ingredients of sexism and racism to recycle and regurgitate the same old jokes that are no longer funny, what surprises will this new run hold? Will this be another year of lewd, slapstick humour? Another year of Navjot Sidhu’s incessant and often unnecessary guffawing? Another year of cheap old wine in a new bottle? Will Kapil Sharma try to reinvent himself and his image?