Kapil Sharma is touted as the man who saved comedy on Indian TV. He is also the man who redefined family entertainment on telly.
If Kapil is the saviour he is said to be, wonder why nurses in Punjab are on the warpath?
The nurses and nursing students recently held a demonstration in Amritsar, denouncing the show and its host for objectifying the profession. They believe Rochelle Rao’s hypersexualised nurse on the show panders to the lowest common denominator. For instance, she is called a ‘darling’ and participates in a song routine with the doctor.
The portrayal is nothing new, films and TV shows has been objectifying nurses for a long time. At best, they are doctors’ handmaidens who are there to clean up the mess, or, at worst, object of crude sexual fantasy like in The Kapil Sharma Show.
A report that came out in the US in 2009 said shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy and House portrayed nurses in a negative light. The authors hoped in our political correct times, the stereotypical depiction would change; they would be appalled if they saw Kapil’s show. All of us should be too.
According to estimates, India has about 20 to 25 lakh registered nurses out of which close to 15 lakh are employed in Gulf, Middle East, US, UK or Australia. Facing stress, minimum salaries with practically no employee benefits and harsh working conditions, they head to greener pastures abroad.
In most cases, exploitative recruitment agencies ensure those remain pipe dreams. As in the case of 46 nurses captured by IS in Iraq, mostly the nurses choose salary over safety because their needy families in India are dependent on remittances.
But with the protest against The Kapil Sharma Show, this otherwise silent profession has had enough: They want it to off air, and they want damages.
Only in case of the comedian’s show, misogyny is the great leveller. It doesn’t just objectify nurses, it objectifies all women.
Women on the show can be neatly divided into two categories – ‘the items’ and ‘the uglies’. All Bollywood leading ladies and Rochelle Rao belong to the first category. The fat nurse – played by a male actor Kiku Sharda – is made fun of and belongs to the ‘ugly’ category with another woman who is considered too short.
On the show, irrespective of their category, colour or profession, all women are a sum of their physical appearance. A lot like the Indian society.
Does Kapil mirror most Indian men or do they take inspiration from him? It is hard to say. However, it does prove that this is how dominant consciousness works in India, reiterating stereotypes and laughing at those not considered ‘equals’.
“The idea of what is gender-sensitive is not widespread in our society. The dominant attitude we have in life over everyone we see as ‘inferior’ or ‘the other’ spills over to popular culture. Whoever is different is considered inferior. Those are the easy game who are not going to react if they are made fun of,” Anjali Monteiro, professor at School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, had earlier told HT.
The show also proves India has a lot of patience when it comes to misogyny and is more than happy to treat it as a joke.
As Kiku Sharda said while defending the show , “It is all (The Kapil Sharma Show) in good humour. I don’t think anyone should take it personally. We are not trying to make fun of any profession. Every character is part of some profession, and if people from every profession start objecting and protesting, then there will be no end.”
However, the actor needs to remember that humour is a powerful vehicle when it comes to sending a signal to the society. Even as India struggles with gender violence, we consume a show that makes fun of women on regular basis. The audience is not laughing with the women on the show, it is laughing at them.
Bollywood leading ladies are hugged, the supposedly ugly ones are shown their place by comparing them with the pretty women and they are all relegated to the feminist hell where your looks are all that matter. If the woman is employed, with a man holding a dominant position over her (like a doctor-nurse relationship), god help her.
And what is most disturbing is how the women – those in the cast or those who come in as guest – often participate in the denigration. Everything is considered fair game in the name of humour.
The Kapil Sharma Show is not great entertainment; it is symptomatic of gender and class discrimination that thrives in India. Next time you laugh hard at its ‘innocent humour’, remember the joke is on us.
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