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King of Comedy

He is a joke-a-line. His show is the highest rated non-fiction show on Indian television where Shah Rukh Khan appeared twice to promote his film. What makes Kapil Sharma India’s funniest man? Somya Lakhani finds out

Every time he comes on stage,an obvious question pops up: where does he get his sense of humour from? Many a families have spent their weekend dinners in front of TV sets,wondering the same about the funny man who has suddenly become the country’s favourite. Last weekend,to the respite of many,he finally had an answer,“Side mein National Market hai,wahan 700 gram humour milta hai Rs 250 mein. Din mein teen baar paani se pijeye.”

We are talking about Kapil Sharma. Bestowing the “funniest man” crown on him is no exaggeration. Raw,crass,honest,quick-witted and whimsical are synonymous with his name. From being rejected as a stand-up comic in 2007 to hosting Comedy Nights with Kapil,India’s highest-rated non-fiction show,on Colors — Sharma has come a long way. “This is who I am in real life too. This is how I talk,this is how everybody in my family talks. And if people think it’s funny,then it must be,” says the 32-year-old.

The show that has been tickling everyone’s funny bone since June is loosely-based on the popular British show,The Kumar’s at No.42. Bitto,played by Sharma,and his quirky family — comprising a nagging wife (Sumona Chakravarti),a flirtatious dadi (Ali Asgar),an unmarried gambler bua (Upasana Singh) and Sunil Grover and Naseem Vicky as recurring cast — host various Bollywood biggies,in front of a live interactive audience,apart from poking fun at each other. It started with yesteryear star Dharmendra and since then Shah Rukh Khan,Deepika Padukone,Ajay Devgn,Priyanka Chopra,Vidya Balan,Irrfan,Parineeti Chopra,Juhi Chawla and Shahid Kapoor have been stumped by his near perfect one-liners.

“Shah Rukh Khan appeared on the show twice. Farah Khan messaged me mujhe kab bulaoge show pe? And Lataji (Mangeshkar) tweeted about my singing. I am so humbled by the acceptance,” he says.

Since Sharma won the third season of Star One’s The Great Indian Laughter Challenge (TGILC) in 2007,he has only been associated with comedy and the fact that he has a serious side to him almost sounds like a joke. “As a child,I wanted to be a singer. When I was in college,I was introduced to theatre and for years I only did serious roles. I didn’t even know what comedy was,” says Sharma.

It’s not just on-screen that Sharma takes over the responsibility of making people laugh. A few minutes with him reveal that everything he says on the idiot box is not scripted. He thinks on his feet and sometimes doesn’t even realise the gravity of his words till they’ve left his mouth. As he gets talking about the time spent in Hindu College,Amristar,he says,“Only two celebrities came out of that college – our dear Prime Minister and I. One,who talks a lot and the other who doesn’t say a word.”

Sharma was so impacted by stand-up comic Gurpreet Ghuggi that he auditioned for Punjabi show Haste Hasaate Raho,a regional version of TGILC in 2005. After being rejected from the regional rounds of TGILC in 2007,he auditioned from Delhi and developed memorable characters such as Inspector Sher Singh on the show. “Kapil’s humour has a Punjabi,plebian nature and his ability to get into characters is what sets him apart. While I personally do not subscribe to this kind of humour,I fought for his case on TGILC. He has the making of a great stand-up comic which is why he definitely deserves his own show,” says actor Shekhar Suman,who was one of the judge’s of TGILC.

Probe Sharma about the background of the characters he brings in his performances,and he says,“I have interacted with all kinds of people — the lower middle-class,the middle-class,the super rich,the elite and the common man on the street — and seen all kinds of traits in people. Some are attention-seeking,while others boast. I observe their mannerisms and body language to form my own fictional characters,” he says. To explain it better,he quickly adds,“Ambani ka beta kabhi acha comedian nahi ban sakta kyunki usne woh sab nahi dekha jo maine

dekha hai.”

Sharma’s eye for detail is his strength. So,Sher Singh as the arrogant inspector who looks down upon everybody has probably been derived from the various police officials he met while growing up,since his father was in the police force in Amristar. “Through comedy he explores the fault lines that exist in society. Kapil captures the difference between the classes. Sheher ke comedians iPad ke jokes karte hain,but Kapil reaches the masses,” observes Delhi-based stand-up comic Sanjay Rajoura.

Delhi-based English stand-up comic Neeti Palta says,“He’s extremely honest and upfront – two characteristics that are so important for a comedian He has a point of view. It’s not just random comedy.” To this Rajoura adds,“He is the most relatable stand-up comic. He speaks the language of the nation,doesn’t use any sex-related jokes like his snobbish English stand-up contemporaries and is still very,

very popular.”

It was during a meeting with Colors to discuss dance-reality show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa,which he hosts on weekends that Sharma spoke about the concept of a show which had been taking shape in his head for a while. “Over time I realised that I wanted to be part of a show that would bring together my love for short skits,my ability to talk back to the audience and fun-filled interviews with these Bollywood guests,” says Sharma. His only condition was that he wanted to produce the show too. “I have always worked within certain parameters and formats. This time I wanted no interference and also wanted to show the audience all that I am capable of,” says Sharma.

Once he got the nod from the channel,Sharma picked up his cast and began work on what is being touted as the next big milestone for Indian comedy on television. Asgar’s character of a hyperactive,dancing,libidinous dadi and her interactions with her grandson Bitto is gaining popularity too. “In Bollywood,the role of a grandmother is limited to that of a woman waiting for her family to fulfil her last wish. Kapil wanted to change that and I just couldn’t say no to him. With due respect to all shows,Comedy Nights with Kapil is the change that was desperately needed. All formats reach a saturation level and this show is a breath of fresh air,” says Asgar,who compares Sharma’s humour to that of legends such as IS Johar and Omar Sharif. “Poker-straight face and cynical remarks – what else does it remind you of?” asks Asgar.

Suman,who too tasted success with comedy years ago with his sharp wit on Movers & Shakers,believes that gaining popularity is not tough but sustaining oneself in the industry and still keeping the art alive is. So the big question is whether Sharma can sustain his wit and position on TV? ,“This show can go on for five years and still be successful,because I keep trying to bring newness on the show. Also,each celebrity has a different personality that they bring with them so you can’t get bored,” says Sharma. It is this reliance on Bollywood names that Rajoura believes Sharma should be cautious about. “Bollywood ruins everything. If he keeps Bollywood away,he won’t survive and if he keeps Bollywood too close,his humour won’t survive,” he says.

Most of his contemporaries — from the rural-influenced humour of Raju Srivastava to self-deprecating jokes by Bharti Singh to Naveen Prabhakar of “Pehchaan kaun?” fame — have seen similar success. But it didn’t last and most of them peaked. According to Navjot Singh Sidhu,who has seen Sharma’s growth since 2007,the reason Sharma will last is because he is not over-exposed. “People want to see more of him but he sticks to one show-one channel unlike say Raju Srivastava,who was quite popular but he was all over TV. Sharma is versatile and spontaneous,” he says.

Apart from two back-to-back shows on Saturdays and Sundays,Sharma is making up his mind about future projects. Though he refuses to divulge details,he shares a dream — one that he has been working towards since he was a child growing up in Amritsar. “I will release my own Sufi and Punjabi music album in 2014. Universal,the music label,is interested but I have no time to record,” he says. Till then,it’s weekends with Kapil.

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