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Stardom Interrupted: The Curious Case of Kapil Sharma

Tracing Kapil Sharma’s trajectory on his birthday. Should we write him off yet?

Updated
TV
7 min read
The rise, free fall and the comeback of Kapil Sharma.
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Kapil Sharma’s small-screen stardom was not only the stuff of entertainment but an aspirational tale offering a blueprint to beat the odds in a nepotistic world. It was the success story that every struggling outsider hankered after. Viewers parted with guffaws since they identified with this Son of Amritsar with an unpretentious sense of humour, as one of their own.

Born to a lower middle-class family, Sharma’s father was a head constable and his mother, a homemaker. He took up his first job in a telephone booth at the young age of 15. The funny man also performed in night jagratas to help support his family.

Kapil Sharma in his college days. 
Kapil Sharma in his college days. 
(Image Courtesy: Facebook)
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Kapil’s father passed away after battling cancer when he was still completing his college education. It was during this time that he honed his acting skills. Sharma received a sponsorship for his education after he started participating in youth festivals. This enabled him to pursue Commercial Arts. He had to give it up to teach theatre in order to gather funds for his father’s treatment. This is when he sharpened his ‘histrionics’, which led him to the auditions of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. Not only did he make it to those but also emerged as the winner of the reality comedy television series.

He then went on to participate in a reality series on television which included Comedy Circus, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Chhote Miyan, Ustaadon Ka Ustaad and several others as both host and stand-up comedian. He stormed into the stand-up comedy scene on TV in its nascent stage.

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It was now time to go big. He launched his own show Comedy Nights With Kapil in 2013 on Colors TV and became synonymous with Hindi stand-up comedy on the small screen. This money-spinner, a celebrity talk show and sketch comedy, in equal measure, clicked with the audience and lived up to its positioning as a show that could be watched with the family. It came as a disruption when saas-bahu sagas pervaded the television landscape. The show also became almost indispensable for celebrities as a publicity vehicle, with all of them vying for a piece of the prime time programming.

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A still from<i> Comedy Nights With Kapil</i>.
A still from Comedy Nights With Kapil.
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But it’s with this show that the lone wolf’s work family expanded. The show became the highest-rated non-fiction show on television because of its ensemble crop of comedians - namely, Sunil Grover, Ali Asgar and Kiku Sharda amongst others.

Despite teeming with characters that were played by men dressed as women, this show packed to the rafters with misogyny struck a chord with the audience. Sharma’s comedic timing was on point and the show’s milieu, relatable.

Such was his popularity by then that a film could ride on his shoulders. That’s when his film, Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon (2015) ensued. It emerged as a huge hit at the domestic box. (FYI - It is streaming on Netflix).

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A still from<i> Comedy Nights With Kapil</i>.
A still from Comedy Nights With Kapil.
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That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

In 2016, the clash with Colors TV led to the unceremonious ouster of the show. The channel even decided to drop the last episode and pull it off air at the last moment. The tiff began with Sharma feeling that their show was being sidelined for Comedy Nights Bachao.

He then migrated to Sony TV with The Kapil Sharma Show. Stars, loyal to brand Kapil Sharma followed suit and flocked the show. With much of the same cast donning newer identities, Sharma repeated the format. He assumed a grandeur that seemed to surpass the might of the channel. By then, the funny man with an earthy sense of humour had started getting big-headed. The victory in the collision of egos may have led to the start of his megalomania, in hindsight.

He was still the darling of small-screen comedy. Even during his tussle with municipal authorities, his viewers backed him. Sharma had a stirred a hornet’s nest with his claim that he was asked to pay a bribe of Rs 5 lakh by an employee of the BMC to ‘make his office.’

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2017 onwards, Sharma started losing his Midas touch. Then there were indications that all was not quite well on this ship. Tongues started wagging about the differences he had with his colleagues on the show. This rift affected the TRPs.

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Stardom Interrupted: The Curious Case of Kapil Sharma
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In March, 2017 the public altercation mid-air between him and Sunil Grover, where he reportedly physically assaulted him almost became the linchpin of Sharma’s steady decline. This led to many of his co-actors exiting the show, following in the footsteps of Grover. He lost his winning team. It was around the same time that his next excursion on big screen wrapped up its shoot - Firangi. He had then told The Indian Express.

I’m spending my own hard-earned money to produce a film I’m acting in and which I want to promote well. I’m pumping in my fee from hosting the TV shows and events into the film...I have been working for the last 10 years without a break and I needed medical help to combat anxiety, blood pressure and sugar problems and correct an unbalanced diet. I thought it was best to take a break before another problem that I couldn’t control cropped up. After ignoring my health all these years, I am focussing on it now.”

Later he went on to publicly accept his mistake, though he denied hurling a shoe at Grover.

“I admit I was completely wrong. I was grappling with 50 things and could not handle things well. My best wishes are always with Sunil...”
Kapil Sharma to The Indian Express
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Kapil Sharma in a still from <i>Firangi.</i>
Kapil Sharma in a still from Firangi.
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Kapil even had a fainting spell on the sets of his show when SRK and Anushka were there to promote Jab Harry Met Sejal. The grapevine was abuzz with talks of alcoholism, mental health issues, non-renewal of contracts and reports of Sharma cancelling several shoots at the last minute. There were reports of him making stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgn and Anil Kapoor wait for hours before finally calling off shoots.

Sony TV pulled the plug on The Kapil Sharma Show towards the end of 2017. It was replaced by Krushna Abhishek’s Drama Company.

After laying low, he resurfaced for the promotions of Firangi, which released in December 2017. The film that Sharma was deeply invested in faired very badly at the box office. Many critics referred to the ‘sluggish’ film as cut-price Lagaan.

Through it all, he had his viewers sympathy. They still believed he would rise like a phoenix.

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Promo of <i>Family Time With Kapil. </i>
Promo of Family Time With Kapil.
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The Return of TV’s Most-Loved Comedian

Then in February 2018, Sony TV announced the comeback of one of TV’s most-loved comedians. the promos of his new show even poked fun at everything that happened in his life in 2017. The funny man was back on his feet with his new show, Family Time with Kapil Sharma on air on March 25 2018.

In a departure from his earlier shows, this time he was not the solo host. But he may have returned too soon...returned without healing. Few episodes down, his show struggled to keep things funny. Reviews were merciless and only three episodes made it to air before it was cancelled in April.

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Kapil Sharma in a still from <i>Family Time With Kapil.</i>
Kapil Sharma in a still from Family Time With Kapil.

A year later, the comedian got a chance for a do over and returned with The Kapil Sharma Show on 29 December, shortly after marrying long-time girlfriend Ginni Chhatrath. According to a report by the Broadcast and Research Council (BARC), he got the last laugh as the show found its way into the top five shows of the first week of 2019.

The BARC report of the most watched programmes on TV in the first week of 2019.
The BARC report of the most watched programmes on TV in the first week of 2019.
(Photo courtesy: BARC India)
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Stardom is a tough beast to handle. Making it to the top is half the battle won. Holding on to it is a perilous journey. It’s here that the road is fraught with insecurity and vulnerability. Since fame is fickle, there is often a desperation to cling to it. Most stars are crushing under the weight of constant worry that they could lose their success at any minute—and, with it, their sense of personal value. They end up alienating people. The glare of the media intensifies the need to keep up appearances. ‘Keeping it together’ despite an internal crumbling is the norm.

On his birthday, let’s give him the gift of empathy. Like Ajay Devgn said on the first episode of Family Time With Kapil Sharma, “Uparwale ne itna talent diya hai Kapil, ki usse kabhi waste nahin karna hai, kyonki bahut kum logon ko aisa talent milta hai,” his fans are definitely not writing him off yet.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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