When one sits to watch a show by the Indian comedian, Kapil Sharma, there is a certain fearful expectation, a nervousness that one will be witness to the kind of insensitive, misogynistic, below the belt jokes that leave a bad taste in the mouth. After all, he was the host of shows like, Comedy Nights with Kapil and The Kapil Sharma Show, where most of his jokes, and those of his fellow comedians, revolved around poking fun at trans-women, fat women, women he considered ugly, and so on. The jokes felt tired and repetitive and seemed to appeal to the lowest instincts in human nature. But the show was immensely popular and that was something to worry about. Because the more people laughed at his sexist jokes, the more sexism was normalised, made acceptable.
So, when Netflix released the show, Kapil Sharma: I’m Not Done Yet, the critical reaction was, “Why are you not done yet?” There were justifiable expectations of more of the same. However, upon watching the show, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised by the originality of his comedy, his personal story seamlessly woven through the jokes and a lack of crass one-liners. Kapil Sharma spoke straight from the heart and the material felt fresh and genuinely funny.
There is a little backstory to this Netflix special that has to be mentioned. Kapil Sharma has battled alcohol addiction. He has been accused of unprofessionalism on sets, coming drunk or not showing up altogether. He has battled depression and been in therapy for the same. In this Netflix stint he accepts his problems, talks about his therapy session, and as the title states, vows to reinvent himself. He believes he has a lot more to offer. He does. He says he is not done yet, and we agree.
The material on this Netflix special is autobiographical but the jokes are well placed and strewn across the show as he takes us from his childhood in Amritsar, to his struggles in Mumbai, to his first big break and his battles with alcohol and depression, ending with his determination to turn his life around after his marriage and the birth of his first child.
In fact, as he recounts, his father, who was in the police, also harboured dreams of theatre. One of the best lines from the show is not a joke, but an emotional statement that Kapil Sharma made upon discovering his father’s secret interest in theatre post his death. He realised only then why his father had supported his risky venture into Mumbai. To paraphrase, one’s dreams are not one’s own, they are our inheritance, passed down from generations.
There are many other thoughtful and self-reflective moments in the show. For instance, he is aware that while he himself has a middle-class background, his audience sometimes might not. He then struggles to come up with relatable content to bridge the class gap. The vignette he shares on doing stand-up in front of Harbhajan Singh and Neeta Ambani, and their not so enthusiastic response drives that point home.
Kapil Sharma delves into his personal struggles, the rags to riches story, the class divide in the country and touches upon his political views. Good comedy takes its roots from one’s personal lives and then strives to critique the larger socio-political world. Kapil Sharma has taken cautious steps in the direction of political comedy at a time when those in power in our country have become less tolerant of dissent and criticism.
However, this special was a carefully constructed show, perhaps too much so. The audience was hand-picked and consisted of his relatives, friends and colleagues from the comedy world. The only audience interaction he had was with his wife and brother. The next stand-up, one hopes, will be in front of a live audience made up of a cross-section of Indian society. Also, more audience interaction and spontaneous jokes will polish him further. Overall, the jokes were intelligently written. Hopefully, a sign that Kapil Sharma is indeed, not done yet.