'Kapil Sharma may be finally able to crack jokes on things he couldn't on TV': stand-up comedians open on his new Netflix special

“Netflix is struggling to penetrate into small towns in India. They need a lot more relatable Indian content to attract new subscribers. Kapil Sharma is the king of that, so they are riding on his popularity and his brand image.'

Chintan Girish Modi January 27, 2022 08:00:49 IST
'Kapil Sharma may be finally able to crack jokes on things he couldn't on TV': stand-up comedians open on his new Netflix special

Still from Kapil Sharma: I'm Not Done Yet

Kapil Sharma has come a long way since his days on The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and Comedy Circus, both shows that won him a place in the hearts of television viewers. He has proven his mettle as a comedian again and again, with shows like Comedy Nights with Kapil, Family Time with Kapil, and The Kapil Sharma Show. Even those who cringe and criticise his brand of comedy recognise that he knows how to please his audience. 

Director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba’s recently announced biopic Funkaar, which aims to capture Sharma’s story on the big screen, will take a while to get made. In the meanwhile, Sharma’s Netflix special, titled I’m Not Done Yet, is all set to drop on the OTT platform this week. The recent trailer gives the impression that audiences will get to see Sharma in a new avatar as he transitions to the digital medium. Sharma says, “This is not for TV, bro!” 

He mentions that the artist in him was hungry to do something different, and the opportunity with Netflix was exciting because it reaches viewers in 190 countries. He digs into his personal life to take digs at himself. His wife, Ginni Chatrath, is part of the studio audience. 

Comedian, writer, and actor Aditi Mittal, who has done two Netflix specials – Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say and Girl Meets Mic – and performed in several countries, says, “I am quite excited to see what Kapil Sharma will be talking about in this special now that he does not have the confines and constraints of primetime television. The trailer looked like fun.”

In an excerpt from the upcoming Netflix special, which Sharma posted on his Instagram account, he opens up about his remarks on Twitter that led to a backlash from political parties, calls for his arrest, and threats to shut down The Kapil Sharma Show. Apparently, he made a trip to the Maldives to recover from the damage that his drunk tweets had caused. This trip ended up costing him Rs 9 lakh, more than what he spent on his education.

Stand-up comic and filmmaker Kashyap Swaroop, who was part of Comedy Central’s Sterling Reserve Comedy Project (Season 2), says, “Kapil Sharma is a great storyteller but until recently, he would rarely crack an anti-establishment joke. This is likely to change with his Netflix special. I guess he realises that this audience is different from television, which has a lot of protocols. Television can get restrictive, and it is difficult to be experimental.”

Kapil Sharma may be finally able to crack jokes on things he couldnt on TV standup comedians open on his new Netflix special

Still from Kapil Sharma: I'm Not Done Yet

In a recent interview with stand-up comedian and YouTuber Anubhav Singh Bassi, who has done shows for Amazon Prime Video India and ZEE5, Sharma says, “General Entertainment Channel par hum thode bandhe hote hain. Aap kai baatein nahin kar sakte ho. Kisi ko hurt karne wali koi baat nahin hai. Apna hee mazaak udaaya hai. Koi case nahin, koi giraftari nahin.” (Our hands are tied on a general entertainment channel. There are things one cannot say. The content is not offensive. I have made fun of myself. No scope for cases or arrests.)

Stand-up comic, improv artist, and writer Navin Noronha, who co-hosts the Keeping it Queer podcast, says, “Kapil Sharma has always been an accessible comic in the Indian context.” Swaroop backs up this view, saying that even if Sharma cracks jokes seen as "low-hanging fruit," audiences remember him as “the guy who makes them laugh.” Swaroop says, “Sharma has to find the most accessible way of speaking to his audience in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.”

Noronha adds that when Sharma won The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, “he was young and a unique voice.” He remarks, “Over time, there has been a surge of comics who speak out to the system, and are not worried about their image.

I am glad he's finally doing a Netflix special. Maybe he'll finally be able to say things he couldn't for all these years on television.”

Ritushree Panigrahi, a stand-up comic who works as a diversity and inclusion professional in the corporate sector, believes that Sharma’s strength is “family-oriented comedy” rather than political humour. As a transwoman, she finds his work problematic because his jokes “capitalise on transphobia and misogyny” but she also acknowledges that Sharma has great comic timing, is able to build a rapport with his audience, and knows where the money is.

Swaroop is being humble, self-deprecatory, and honest when he says that stand-up comics like himself who perform at live gigs never know if there will be five people or a hundred at their show, unlike Sharma who has built a large following on the strength of his storytelling. Swaroop hopes that Sharma “will now break the rules” but is also a bit skeptical because he wonders how the star will keep up with two images – one for television, the other for Netflix.

Swaroop is of the opinion that the audience for stand-up comedy and primetime television live in “two separate cultural bubbles.” According to him, primetime shows are produced by senior television executives whereas stand-up comedy is produced mostly by digital natives. He says, “Stand-up comics make stuff for millennials and Gen-Z who do not really watch TV. They perform at clubs, and put out their work on Instagram, OTT, and YouTube.”

Panigrahi points out two other crucial differences. Stand-up comics usually write their own jokes unlike comedians on primetime television, who have a team of writers. When the writing is taken care of, the comedian has to focus mainly on the delivery apart from giving the occasional input. Stand-up comics who perform live do not have the chance to do retakes.

She says, “Netflix is struggling to penetrate into small towns in India. They need a lot more relatable Indian content to attract new subscribers. Kapil Sharma is the king of that, so they are riding on his popularity and his brand image. There is a lot weighing on his shoulders." At the same time, she hopes that Sharma will step outside his comfort zone, and take some risks.

Noronha adds, “Enough has been written about how cross dressing is used as a punchline in Kapil Sharma's shows or how women are relegated to side roles. In that regard, I am now curious to see if he is ready to evolve, and tackle these topics in his future shows.” 

Kapil Sharma: I'm Not Done Yet will premiere on Netflix India on 28 January.

Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist, and book reviewer.

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