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Get well soon Kapil, but we don't need your Comedy Nights

As far as the audience is considered, Kapil Sharma has reinvented comedy on television and given them their two hours of laughter and a short vacation from everyday stress. If it comes at the cost of insensitive gags on pregnant ladies (for which an NGO filed a complaint against the popular host), so be it.

tv Updated: Jul 05, 2015 12:05 IST
Jyoti Sharma Bawa
Jyoti Sharma Bawa
Hindustan Times
Kapil Sharma,Comedy Nights With Kapil,Palak

1. When Saina Nehwal came as a guest on Comedy Nights with Kapil, one of the cross-dressing characters on the show, Palak, was dressed as Serena Williams. So, did she follow the tennis star's fabulous dressing sense or serve the forehand stroke she is deservedly famous for? No, instead Palak sported the derogatory and racist blackface - skin darkened and hugely exaggerated white lips.

2. Kapil Sharma, as a practice, ridicules his on-screen wife Sumona for her big lips, for not being beautiful enough, for not being 'wifely' enough. A generous amount of jeers are reserved for her family also, which Kapil happily throws at her.

In any other part of the world, for any other television audience, Kapil Sharma's show would have been met with protests at worst and a raised eyebrow at the least. In India, it has been greeted with guffaws and skyrocketing TRPs.

Read: Kapil Sharma unwell, Comedy Nights to go off air

As far as the audience is considered, he has reinvented comedy on television and given them their two hours of laughter and a short vacation from everyday stress. If it comes at the cost of insensitive gags on pregnant ladies (for which an NGO filed a complaint against the popular host), so be it. Kapil recently announced the show will go off air as he is unwell.

Not just the people who watch the show in the privacy of their living rooms, stars have also made a beeline to appear on the show. Before a Bollywood big-ticket film comes out, it is a de riguer that the star cast of the film appears on the show.

All big stars have made a beeline for Comedy Nights with Kapil, including the reclusive Rekha.

Does the inherent misogyny, racism and terrible attitude towards the domestic help - all permanent laughter tracks on the show - affect their decision? Not in the least. In fact, so sharp are the attacks on his wife, middle-aged bua (for still hoping she can get married) and daadi (for having a taste for tipple) - all in good humour, of course - that Kapil's statement at the end of the show to respect all women almost sounds ironical.

"I believe there are two kinds of comedy. One is where you speak for the powerless and the other one is where you speak for the powerful. The one where you speak for the powerful is really easy. I hate Comedy Nights with Kapil because the show makes fun of the old or handicapped and is misogynist in concept. I don't think the problem is with Kapil because I have seen his earlier comic gigs and I believe it is the pressure of keeping the show on the top of TRPs that makes him give in to cheap and easy gimmicks. I feel the show is 'wahiyaat'," says Masaan scriptwriter and stand-up comedian Varun Grover.

The servant is called 'do kaudi ka naukar' on the show and reminded time and again to remember his place. The gags on racism never run thin with South Indians (everybody south of Vindhyas that is), Sikhs, Biharis among people who have been made the brunt at various times.

"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. In case of shows like Comedy Nights, they are the easy game, who are not going to react if they are made fun of," explains Anjali Monteiro, professor and dean at School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

The 'innocent' joke soon turns into a jeer, can then turn into an insult and finally violence. In a world where comedy shows alternatively objectify or deride women, where rap artists ask girls "dass de sanu ki hai rate" and label them as "whores", roast where trading insults is an art form and rape survivors are forced to marry rapists in TV shows, that morphing is not hard to follow.

Poet and author Anupriya, writer of Ki Koi Aane ko Hai, terms it the culture of instant gratification. "We want everything immediately - a laugh a minute, a joke a minute. It doesn't matter if the content lacks soul or even basic decency. We have made trading in insults a sub-culture. From news shows to comedy shows, that's all you see on television these days. We don't look down upon sexist and racist jokes and dismiss them with a shrug."

Everything is taken in the spirit of fun, of giving the people a good time. "This is a family show which children are also watching. When they see their parents guffawing at such jokes, won't they consider it acceptable behavior?" asks Delhi-based author and poet Arunabh Saurabh.

This is not a call for censorship or a control on creative content. Instead, what we need is a good, hard look at ourselves and the sort of jokes we enjoy. Unless, of course, we want the joke to be on us as a society.

First Published: Jul 03, 2015 17:42 IST