The Fault In Our Comedy Stars: The Kapil Sharma Show Needs To Change Its Sexist, Body-Shaming Brand Of Humour
I believe that making people laugh is one of the hardest jobs. Every time I try to write something, even if it’s a caption for my Instagram post, there’s some level of effort involved in being witty, sarcastic or simply funny. It’s why I hold meme-makers in such high regard. And why I have massive respect for Fleabag, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, Hera Pheri, all the American late night shows, and this old desi one called Movers & Shakers. But when it comes to India’s obsession with The Kapil Sharma Show, my heart aches. Because in case you’ve been distracted by Archana Puran Singh’s deliberately annoying laugh, the show thrives on humour that is body shaming, sexist, classist, crass and downright problematic.
The man who makes India laugh
I’ve witnessed Kapil Sharma’s journey from when he won The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, more than a decade ago. He went on to win some seasons of Comedy Circus, host a few other comedy shows and award shows, and finally start his own Comedy Nights With Kapil. After a stint in movies that didn’t do much for him (and I love that he can joke about it) and a controversial falling out with his co-performer Sunil Grover, Sharma returned on a brand new channel with The Kapil Sharma Show. The show is produced by Salman Khan. Its current season stars Kiku Sharda, Krushna Abhishek, Sumona Chakravarti, Bharti Singh, Chandan Prabhakar and Archana Puran Singh as the permanent guest who LOLs.
Credit where credit is due, I think Kapil Sharma is extremely talented, and has incredible comic timing. One of my favourite things about his humour is how instantaneous it is. It’s visible when he moves onto the unscripted territory, and I am sure there are chunks of that. Like, when he is roasting someone from the studio audience or getting cheeky with the celebrity guests…. In fact, I think the best parts of the show, and the real reason audiences like my own parents and relatives are drawn to The Kapil Sharma Show every weekend is the candidness of the guest interaction.
Recently, the cast of B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat were guests on the show. And it was nostalgia and wonder on a whole different level to watch them in their casual clothing, exchanging banter and spilling behind-the-scenes anecdotes about their fellow cast members. A similarly heartwarming feeling was experienced when the cast of Hum Log, the oldest television serial in India, dropped by and indulged in a similar walk down nostalgia lane, about a time when humour was simple and innocent. In another recent episode, Manoj Bajpayee and Anubhav Sinha talked about their arrival and consequent rise in Bollywood. What was common amongst all these episodes was that these were stories that fans loved to hear, because they were charming, evoking memories of the good old times, and rare. Something they wouldn’t get from any other source.
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The Fault In Our Comedy Stars
Now imagine all of this goodness punctured by Archana Puran Singh laughing in a rather unnecessary fashion at strategic intervals. Or the fat shaming of Kiku Sharda’s or Bharti Singh’s characters. Or the sexist jokes aimed at Sumona Chakravarti’s character, Bhuri, every single time she comes on stage. They’ve upgraded, because on a different version of the show, the jokes were about her lips being too full or her height being short. So yay. Oh and let’s not forget that Krushna Abhishek’s cross-dressing character Sapna comes up with jokes and wordplay that could’ve been done better by a fifth grader. Every time he tries to talk about the ‘massages’ that she offers at her Sapna Beauty Parlour, and stretches the joke to ridiculous lengths, I want jump into the TV and tell him, it’s not funny.
The only few times that the show makes me laugh is when Chandu or Sharda’s Baccha Yadav and Kapil Sharma engage in banter, and manage to roast each other with sharp remarks as opposed to nonsensical, juvenile insults. Even some of the jibes about Archana Puran Singh replacing Navjot Singh Siddhu are clever. But the rest, where she gets mocked for being ‘muscular’ and ‘manly’, or enjoying her food, are just crass and repetitive. We get it. She gets paid for sitting there and laughing. Can we make a different joke?
I’m also glad that thanks to COVID-19 safety protocols, there are no guests on the show. Because remember those scripted segments where they’d be called on stage to make utter fools of themselves by asking a Bollywood hero to pick them up and dance with them or propose to a Bollywood heroine? I remember my father watching all this and wondering, “Who are these people and why do they agree to do this public embarrassment?” And I could think of just one good reason.
What makes this whole thing worse is that you’ve got some of the biggest names in entertainment walk onto the show, sit on the couch, and laugh like these are the best joke they’ve heard. They’ll get inappropriately flirted with, will have the show’s cast crack the stupidest puns about their names, and all of that will be tolerated for the sake of their movie/show/thingy’s promotion. Their approval, even if it is for the sake of the cameras, makes the audience think this kind of humour must be enjoyed.
Can Indian comedy keep up with the changing times?
When Shaktimaan actor Mukesh Khanna, who essayed the role of Bhishma Pitaahmah on Mahabharat was asked why he didn’t join the rest of his castmates on The Kapil Sharma Show, he said it was because he didn’t like the show’s content. Turns out, he had some beef with Sharma over a sketch that Sharma nd Krushna Abhishek did some years back about Khanna’s Shaktimaan. The innuendo in the sketch didn’t sit well with Khanna, who believes it tarnished a pure character like Shaktimaan.
“The reason is that even though the Kapil Show is popular all over the country, I do not think there is a worse show than this. This show is full of fuhadpana, full of double meaning words, taking a turn towards vulgarity with every moment. In which the men wear women’s clothes, do cheap things and people laugh, holding their stomachs,” he wrote.
I don’t completely agree with Mukesh Khanna’s argument in its technicalities. A show with innuendos, men and women cross dressing or indulging in slapstick humour doesn’t automatically become a bad show. Have you seen SNL? Or the really silly games that are played on Jimmy Fallon sometimes? I mean, Ellen just spooks her guests by having people jump out of furniture, for crying out loud. Silliness can be funny. But what cannot be ignored is that all these sketches and jokes are feeding the already misogynistic and biased people of India more fodder to continue believing in those regressive ideas.
I’ve seen men complain that female comedians are not funny. Well, The Kapil Sharma Show is headlined by a guy, and probably written by men too. And I don’t find most of it funny; rather it is regressive and immature. There was a time when Johnny Lever or an Umer Sharif would bring the house down with their jokes of a husband complaining about his wife, or mocking someone’s physical traits. I get it, you’ve got to make content for your audience, but to think that the Indian audience cannot appreciate clever humour that is not classist, colourist, sexist or body-shaming is an insult to our intelligence. At least aspire to be better?