Kapil Sharma not done yet: His show on Netflix presents a mellower version of his comedy show

Comedian Kapil Sharma oozes a mellow wisdom when he talks about Hindu-Muslim unity and the need to go back to innocence of childhood. It’s not easy these days to seek out and claim your spine

Kapil Sharma not done yet: His show on Netflix presents a mellower version of his comedy show

Namrata Joshi

Last fortnight, Netflix cofounder, president and co-CEO Reed Hastings was reported to have said in an investor call that the lack of success in the Indian market was “frustrating”. The news report was enough to set the social media on fire with opinions flying thick and fast on Netflix’s inability to crack the Indian market and speculation running rife that the streaming platform was doing everything wrong when it comes to its programming and strategy in the country.

Ironically, my Netflix viewing the following week turned out to be just right.

I started off with Elizabeth and Gulistan Mirzaei’s beautiful observational film, Three Songs for Benazir, shortlisted for Documentary Short Subject Oscar.

Young Shaista’s love for his new bride Benazir thrives in the camp for the displaced in Kabul, under a watchful surveillance balloon (of America or another foreign country, claims Shaista) floating in the sky above. Their love is both candid and coy, offers hope and heals despite the ravages in war-torn Afghanistan. It keeps Shaista going even as he tries desperately to balance his dream of becoming the first from his tribe to join the army with the responsibilities of the family.

It’s the succour when all that the future seems to offer is being bombed by foreigners or killed by Taliban. What can I do with you Afghanistan? Shaista says exasperated. And a while later we see him attacking the eggplant dish cooked by Benazir with relish, jokingly calling it a “suicide attack on food”. Humour is the other tool that helps survive.

The bigger surprise, and for a lot many more viewers than just yours truly, has been Kapil Sharma’s new show on Netflix, I Am Not Done Yet. I have been that typical stiff neck who watched snatches of The Kapil Sharma Show and decided to turn away from it forever. He might be sharp with his comic timing and quick-witted but I have found his brand of humour ranging from juvenile and asinine to downright sexist and crass.

I didn’t have much of an inkling of his offscreen escapades either. Like the fact that in 2016 he had tweeted to PM Narendra Modi complaining about the BMC: “I am paying Rs 15 cr income tax from last 5-year n still i have to pay 5 lacs bribe to BMC office for making my office @ narendramodi.” And followed it up with another tweet: “Ye hain aapke achche din (Are these the promised good days)?”

Sharma takes the controversy back to the personal, admits it was a drunk tweet. He claims that the outrage and abuse he received as a result had forced him to run away for a while to Maldives for which he had to fork out Rs. 9 lakh, more of a monetary burden than the total cost of his entire education.

Whether this is exaggerated or said in jest is not the point. What’s striking is the unlikely things Sharma manages to focus on—fake news and trolling and personal problems like alcoholism, depression and the untimely loss of his father, just when he was turning a friend for his children, from the role of the stentorian dad that he always played for them. Sharma is candid and sincere, talks about the personal issues in a light-hearted banter but doesn’t make a joke out of them.

Yes, there is the sprinkling of the trademark wife jokes but there’s something more on display—turning the personal into political and the political into personal. There is an attempt, however muffled and tangential, to speak truth to power. The sharpest of barbs are directed at the high and mighty be it Vijay Mallya and Nita Ambani or the PM. Sharma’s impersonation of Modi may not be as pitch perfect as the one regularly done these days by the mimicry artiste and comedian ShyamRangeela but the terror of the suddenness of Modi’s 8p.m. announcements is well captured, nonetheless.

From one PM he moves on to another, former PM Dr Manmohan Singh, and does so bristling with more pointed darts. He describes Singh as the one who didn’t use to speak much because “Bolne ki zimmedari kisi aur ne li hai (someone else has claimed the responsibility to talk)”. We certainly don’t need to be told who.

It’s interesting to see how he stands up for, proclaims his affection for and applauds and celebrates public figures, like Dr Singh and Shahrukh Khan (and also briefly Rahul Gandhi) who are viciously mocked and ridiculed or deliberately targeted and attacked by the establishment and its orderlies.

In the current vitiated atmosphere, he manages to talk about Hindu-Muslim unity, asserting that whichever God one may pray to, there’s the urgency for each of us to go back to the innocence of childhood, the state in life when these differences usually don’t exist. It’s more of a mellow wisdom than the nimbleness that we associate a sharp-tongued Sharma with.

In fact, it’s tough to imagine that all of this could be coming from the same Sharma who had been enlisted to plug Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on his show. This new and improved Sharma comes some weeks after he had taken a jibe at Akshay Kumar, PM’s official publicist in Bollywood, in his The Kapil Sharma Show. When Kumar tried to pull his leg there for asking silly questions, Sharma smartly put him on the backfoot by reminding the superstar of his own ludicrous 2019 pre-election interview with the PM, the only memorable bit of which was about the frivolity of eating mangoes.

It’s not easy these days in the world of entertainment to seek out and claim your spine in this manner. Moreso, when the majority has decided to prostrate and genuflect. One doesn’t even know for sure if the spine has sprouted true and well. Or if this turn of image will go down well with the fans and the powers that be. That only time can tell. And it is for this reason alone that one hopes that Kapil Sharma and his show are truly not done yet.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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