By Nasima Islam
If we ask ourselves what is so disturbing about Indian mainstream Hindi comedy shows in general, there will be a lot of things we need to talk about. But the most nauseating feature apart from the overall low standard of its contents is perhaps its unabashed display and, therefore, celebration of uncensored patriarchy onscreen. Let’s take the example of the super-duper hit comedy show, “Comedy Nights With Kapil” (earlier appeared on Colours channel), whose present avatar on Sony is named, “The Kapil Sharma Show”. Although the name of the show and that of some of the characters have been changed a bit, the main theme remains the same. Far removed from any notion of humour, this show makes you laugh simply by flirting with the deep-rooted patriarchy within us.
How? Let us delve deep.
Roughly consisting of about ten members, this show tells the saga of a typical, not so educated, lower class Indian family, whose members always run short of money. Poverty is the source of (bad) humour here in the sense that almost all the poor people are badasses – a sort of “paidaayishi badmaash” (badass by birth) – and we are okay with it for reasons unknown. The stage direction of the program shows the family having a chaiwala, called Chandu, along with his gawon ki ganwar wife and a disturbingly rogue child, Khajur, a lecherous alcoholic dadi, a half-mad Dr. Gulathi, his over-sexy, seductress nurse (again a very disturbing patriarchal stereotype for the profession of nursing), a wannabe “chipku” female singer, a bhabhi-nanad duo of Rinku and Santosh, and obviously, the pater familia Mr. Kapil himself.
Now, to what extent is it justified to consolidate such a gross stereotypical portrait of Indian society is a matter of debate on multiple layers. But here I would like to speculate primarily into one concern and that is of gender relations and the presentation of highly prejudiced gender roles and traits within the framework of such a show, which has a colossus audience. In the show, at least three male characters, on a daily basis, play the roles of females. These characters are shown to be not only over-exposing their bodies as females but are the ones, who hit on the male guests of the show every two seconds. In that sense, they are not only adding to the already trending vogue of objectification of women, but also typecasting the ‘queer’ people. These males in the guise of females are shown to be overflowing with uncontrollable libido (for example, the character of Dadi, whose daily job was to give a forceful “shagun ki pappi” to the visiting guests on the show) and every now and then jumping on the males onstage. Thus, in an indirect way, the comedy show might seem to be overtly contributing to the offensive stereotype regarding people of alternative sexual preferences that they happen to be sexually promiscuous and keep on forcing themselves on people often in their hunt for partners.
The show has some morality lessons as well. Apart from the frequent endorsement of Mr. Modi’s Swachha Bharat Abhiyan and chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ or ‘Jai Hind’ in occasional bouts of seriousness, the cool host, Mr. Sharma, keeps chastising these males-as-females. On occasions they are humiliated by the host, who himself, interestingly, does not play the role of a female hitting on another male. Rather, he is presented as the only smart, rational, ‘good-looking’ character, who keeps flirting with celebrity heroines in a pretty swaggish cool way. A proper heterosexual hero, you see, who has just signed a bunch of Hindi commercial movies.
This very conscious (cautious!) division of charecterisations and role plays – irrational, unsmart, libidinally over-active males as females on one side and the Mr. Cool Dude, Kapil Sharma (interested in female guests only), circumventing them all on the other – is telling. However, Kapil’s making fun of these male actors playing as females sometimes by referring to their “andar ka purush” (inner man) and thus blurring the shadow line between real and reel is weirder. It might cause extreme humiliation to a person watching the show, who might not comply with socially-constructed categories of male or female. But caring a fig about these sensibilities, ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’ proves to be, at least in one way, the true representative of an Indian society. The microscopic silver screen representation of the macroscopic Bharatiya sanskar (Indian culture) makes sense unfortunately on this point only. As in real life we care a damn for and prove often to be very insensible towards people from alternative sexualities, so does this show. Again Kapil’s treatment of the female characters (playing as females) onstage also seems highly disturbing. He continually abuses them, calls them names, body-shames them unapologetically and sometimes even physically manhandles them. In the previous version of the show, that is “Comedy Nights With Kapil”, Kapil was even shown as cursing his wife for dowry and complaining how his in-laws tied him ‘dhokey se’ with this unattractive ‘bade honton wali’ (thick-lipped) lady, fetching mindless claps from the audience including the Laughing Buddha, Mr. Navjot Singh Siddhu, an ex-cricketer and a former MP from Amritsar.
While watching the show one day, I was compelled to think what is it that compels a huge mass of Indian audience go “lol” or “rofl” watching the women folk getting abused and made a butt of nonsensical jokes by a male onscreen. How does this not offend, rather entertain, us? Is it that prehistoric patriarchal, misogynist, stronghold on our psyche, which we are yet to do away with, that laughs unconsciously? Let us not forget humour, even the coarsest form of it, has a very peculiar ability to make things popular and normalised. It may prove to be endorsing certain things in a very certain way and help them get normativised. Therefore, it is surprising to know that a show like this, full of misogynist, patriarchal and heteronormative tropes, is one of India’s most-watched programs with huge TRP rating, which even boasts of a foreign viewership.
Perhaps, it’s time to introspect what kind of representation of Indian society comedy shows as such provide worldwide. It is disturbing to watch day after day such a show that encashes on our masculinist, misogynist, patriarchal discourse in the name of humour. I am afraid I may get tagged as the “feminist killjoy”. But I think, sometimes it’s alright to not laugh at everything that goes in the name of “comedy” and understand the politics behind the joke. Perhaps the time has come to stop, take a moment, and think before laughing things off.
Nasima Islam is pursuing MPhil at the Center for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS), Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
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