Kapil Sharma-Sunil Grover row: Will 'Dr Mashoor Gulati' find solo success on his second attempt?
On screen, they played off each other's comedy skills like ying to yang, but Sunil Grover and Kapil Sharma's off screen equation, from 2013 to 2017, has been far less ideal
Will Sunil Grover get his own show on Sony TV? Will his former castmates from The Kapil Sharma Show be part of this new as well? Will he be seen in his popular Dr Mashoor Gulati avatar?
Recent news reports suggest that some or all of the above mentioned possibilities may just become reality over the coming weeks.
One news article suggests that Grover had a 'closed door meeting' with Sony executives to finalise the plans for this new show. Another has Grover stating that nothing has been decided, and he is keeping options open at the moment.
That his reason for opting out of The Kapil Sharma show was not so he could get his own show.
The conjecture may seem excessive, but isn't really.
Going as far back as 2013-14, Sunil Grover and his equation with Kapil Sharma have grabbed headlines.
The reason isn't difficult to understand. Kapil Sharma's rise to the top has been well-documented: From a participant on season three of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in 2007 to December 2016, when he zoomed to the 11th spot on Forbes' richest celebrities list for India — it's been quite a journey.
His appearances on Sony's Comedy Circus were so successful that Colors approached him to create his own show. Loosely based on the format of Kumars at Number 42, his Comedy Nights With Kapil proved to be a ratings behemoth for the channel, and much press was devoted to figuring out Sharma's success formula.
And while his genuine gift for humour was definitely a major factor (he was widely hailed as the funniest man on TV) in his show being a hit, there was also his able supporting cast, among whom was another gifted comedian — Sunil Grover, or as his onscreen character of a demure belle was called — Gutthi.
On screen, Sharma and Grover were like ying to yang, playing off each other's strengths and creating hit, accessible comedy.
'Gutthi' — a character Grover said he created as an amalgamation of the girls he knew in college — was among the five most popular characters on Hindi television in 2013.
But off screen, it seems things weren't hunky dory.
Grover quit Comedy Nights With Kapil in late 2013, apparently because the channel refused to renegotiate his fee. Grover might have felt his contribution to Comedy Nights deserved to be acknowledged — he admitted in an interview at the time that he "wanted to earn more money" — or he may have wanted to test if his stardom could survive without Sharma's support.
Whatever the reason may be, the experiment ended badly for Grover. He got a new show on Star Plus called Mad In India, along with actor-comedian Manish Paul (Baba Ramdev was among the first guests), got a legal notice from his previous channel Colors (over the rights to the character Gutthi; Grover finally created a similar one called Chutki for Mad In India), suffered low TRPs and had his show pulled off air — all in the span of a few months in the first half of 2014.
Speculation immediately began afresh — would Sharma 'take back' Grover?
The longed-for reconciliation did happen, and Grover was once again part of Comedy Nights With Kapil, joking about the failure of his own show. It seemed the Comedy Nights family was a big, happy one one again.
But for Sharma himself, the going wasn't smooth.
Ratings for Comedy Nights, while still very high, were not close to the peak it had enjoyed in its first run. To balance the need to keep the content fresh and on point, along with Sharma's forays at establishing a career as a Bollywood leading man (Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon in 2015; and a YRF film called Bank Chor that later fell through due to scheduling conflicts), the frequency of Comedy Nights was brought down from twice to once per week. Meanwhile, the Krushna Abhishek and Bharti Singh-headed Comedy Nights Bachao (initiated by Colors to fill in the slot that had been left vacant due to the reduced frequency of Sharma's show) was rising up the ratings charts, posing the first serious competition to Sharma and his show.
By December 2015, Sharma announced his next innings, and moved from Colors to Sony TV.
His new show was branded simply, The Kapil Sharma Show.
While his team — including Grover — stood by Sharma's decision to shift channels, the word in the TV industry was the parting with Colors was acrimonious.
Colors CEO Raj Nayak also stated in an interview that the parting was a long time coming. "The success of the show meant that we had a person who suddenly became a star and found it difficult to manage his success. He started renegotiating and asking for more money which we gave, but the more important and worrying thing was that he violated his contract by hosting shows on competitive channels in spite of having an exclusive contract with Colors for TV, which we felt was not ethical," Nayak was quoted as saying.
Colors had reportedly hiked Sharma's fee from Rs 70 lakh per episode when Comedy Nights with Kapil started, to Rs 1.25 crore in 2015, at the time that he shifted to Sony.
Whatever the circumstances, The Kapil Sharma Show was now on Sony, and pulling in the ratings for the channel. Sure, there were rumblings that the content was no longer as catchy as before, but with every Bollywood celebrity worth his/her salt flocking to the sets for film promotions and special visits, who was complaining?
Sharma's 'brand value' took the first major beating in September 2016, when the comedian angrily dashed off a tweet tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which he alleged that he had been asked to pay a Rs 5 lakh bribe to civic officials in Mumbai for regularising his office space. "I am paying Rs 15 crore in income tax for the past five years and still have to pay a Rs 5 lakh bribe. Kya yeh hai aapke achhe din?" Sharma wrote.
In the veritable tweet-storm that ensued, Sharma was hailed as an anti-corruption crusader and was promised by Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that his plaint would be looked into.
Then, things started to go south.
It emerged that Sharma's office space was an illegal construction. Further, he had also made unauthorised additions to his residential properties in Mumbai. He was accused of flouting Coastal Regulatory Zone building norms and destroying protected mangroves near his Versova home. Political parties protested against Sharma for refusing to name the civic officials who had allegedly asked for the bribe, and said they would boycott his show.
Sharma weathered the storm.
Forbes India in its December 2016 report pointed out that he had moved from the 27th position on its 2016 richest celebrities list the previous year to his current 11th rank. (In 2012, Sharma had debuted on the Forbes list in the 97th position.) He was the only TV personality on the list for miles.
But the March 2017 incident seems to have sullied the goodwill he enjoys further.
Here's recap of what transpired:
Sharma and the cast of The Kapil Sharma Show, including Ali Asgar and Sunil Grover, were in the business class section of a flight to India, from Melbourne. As per reports, Sharma was inebriated and was enraged when he found out that his colleagues were served their dinner and had started to eat, without waiting for him. He abused verbally and then physically attacked Grover. Slaps and a shoe were reportedly aimed at Grover by Sharma.
The fall-out of that incident was a foregone conclusion: Grover withdrew from The Kapil Sharma Show. So did Asgar.
Sharma and Grover exchanged messages on social media — Sharma insisted that the fight was 'a family matter' and would be resolved by the team; Grover said he had been hurt deeply by the incident, and while he respected Kapil, Kapil needed to learn to respect other people too.
In the weeks since, there have been several attempts to mediate between Sharma and Grover: channel executives reportedly tried to get Grover back by working in a'no-interaction' clause between him and Sharma (a tad difficult since Sharma is the producer of the show); fellow comedians like Sunil Pal have also urged the duo to work out their differences.
At the same time, ratings for The Kapil Sharma Show have declined — at the end of March 2017, it dropped off the top-10 rankings released by BARC, although it has since made a re-entry in the ninth spot as of the first week of April 2017.
Reports stated that Sharma has been given an ultimatum by Sony — pull up his socks in one month and get the show ratings back on track, or else (face the ax?)...
And now, with the buzz around Grover's possible solo show gaining traction — one wonders whether the changed circumstances would help him avoid a Mad In India-like fiasco.
For one, Grover is riding a sympathy wave. Two, unlike the Mad In India situation, continuing with Sony would ensure that he would have access to the characters he enacted on The Kapil Sharma Show — which means Dr Mashoor Gulati would merely need to pick up the threads from where he left off. Three, he has the support of his other cast members like Asgar as well this time. And with Sharma's current troubles, Grover is in a far stronger position than he was in 2013, when he attempted to first strike out on his own.
Whether or not Grover will manage to pull off solo stardom on the small screen remains to be seen.
But for now, it's advantage Sunil Grover.
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