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He’s not done yet — Why Kapil Sharma, the mass celebrity, deserved Netflix limelight

Kapil Sharma is an Indian Everyman on his Netflix show, singing praises for Shah Rukh Khan, talking about alcohol trouble, and his tweets to PM Narendra Modi.

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You may argue with me over the comedy quotient of the recently released Kapil Sharma: I’m Not Done Yet on Netflix, but nobody can deny that it was about time comedian Kapil Sharma got a spot on the OTT giant. Indian streaming platforms needed a break from the South Delhi/Mumbai boys. Sharma’s debut on the streaming platform will set an example for many other non-English-speaking comedians.

The comedian choreographs the whole show on the premise of him speaking with his therapist about his childhood, allowing him to introduce himself to new viewers and get a friendly laugh from his regular audience. He talks of his depression and drinking problem — the two Ds usually avoided by most Bollywood celebrities.

And that’s where Kapil Sharma shines — he is one of us, with self-deprecatory humour and humble beginnings. I’m Not Done Yet follows the same style of confessional comedy that most international comedians are now dabbling with — take, for instance, Hannah Gadsby, C.K. Louis or Bo Burnham. The laugh is awkward, the silences troubling, and yet the jokes reveal truths both about the comedian and the audience.

Kapil Sharma is a household name now. The fact that everyone from Shah Rukh Khan to Deepika Padukone ensures a pitstop at The Kapil Sharma Show while promoting any new song/film/OTT series, gives a fair idea of the influence he holds in the entertainment industry. The show has had 351 episodes so far. All the more reason for him to have his dedicated Netflix special and take it beyond the timed laughter and ‘boink’ sound to his jokes on set. And be brutally honest.


Also read: Thank god for Netflix and Vir Das. India’s craving comedy and satire, but TVs are a no-go


An Indian Everyman

Kapil Sharma has a massy appeal, and that means massy problems.

“Nobody asks Sachin to hit a six for them. But I’m asked to crack jokes all the time,” he said during a 2014 interview. An hour-long of self-deprecating jokes and observational comedy once/twice a week has enabled him to become a household name. As veteran comic Johnny Lever identified, Sharma’s strength lies in his ability to read his guests.

Unlike the often-opted route of trying out at open mics in the suburbs of Mumbai, Sharma’s dive into the comedy circuit was not as obvious. He started off with histrionics, a theatrical art form, during his college days, as he recalled in The Bassi Show, after his unsuccessful attempts of getting into the Indian  Army and Border Security Force (BSF).

“I do not know the exact definition of stand-up comedy. All I knew was you had to take the mic and make people laugh,” he said. When Anubhav Singh Bassi, a fellow comedian and host, asked him if he follows the template of ‘setup, punchline, premise’ (as taught to up-and-coming comics in the show Comicstaan), the 40-year-old comedian said he doesn’t believe in going by the book.

After winning The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in 2009, and winning several reality television shows, he catapulted into becoming, as often hailed by his fans, ‘the king of comedy’.

Having a person as ordinary as Kapil Sharma rule the television screens for years, witness a downfall, return to recreate his charm on the small screen and do a comedy special on Netflix speaks volumes about the diversity and inclusivity the Indian comic industry needs.

“Popularity is not only defined by people mentioning your name. Sometimes you don’t know that you are misusing your name,” Sharma said during his comedy special, while recounting how he, unknowingly, used his fame and ended up partying with Shah Rukh Khan.

Kapil Sharma is an Indian Everyman, singing praises for SRK, having trouble with alcohol (and also tweeting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi).


Also read: Flop Show — Jaspal Bhatti’s 1989 satire spared no one, and the common Indian loved it


A shot at redemption

However, critiquing Sharma’s OTT debut as a comedy show would be a fool’s errand. Barring a few moments that evoke a giggle or chuckle in between, the hour-long comedy special struggles to keep it funny.

Sharma touches upon some of his trademark jokes and anecdotes like husband-wife comedy and the fact that he and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh graduated from the same college in Amritsar, Punjab.

At the most, Sharma does a decent job of holding his own, a step away from his ensemble performances on his show with Archana Puran Singh nudging viewers to laugh along with her piercing laughter. He recalls his memories with his late father, who was a cop (a hat tip to one of Sharma’s most famous comic fictional character) and dedicates a song to him (in English) at the end. He also touches upon his struggle with depression and a lull in his career, triggered by few erratic tweets tagging PM Narendra Modi.

In the end, one realises that, perhaps, it was never about making people laugh. Through the art of storytelling, he navigates his loyal audience into confessions of his truth. Kapil Sharma had once said, “Once people start liking you, they listen to everything you say.” It is a charming monologue of a star comedian owning his truth while his audience applauds him for what he does best: telling a story.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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