Happy new Year" says the familiar voice at the other end, my first year-end greeting, considering New Year’s is tomorrow night. It’s a bit surreal, coming from India’s most celebrated comedian, Kapil Sharma, who’s taking a much-needed hiatus with his family, away from his hectic shooting schedule in Mumbai, in his farmhouse in Lonavala. Despite his mile-a-minute, trademark rapid speech — lots of Punjabi-accented Hindi — that brings to mind the jovial, at times deadpan humour of his TV persona, Kapil sounds relaxed, and with reason.
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He’s just wrapped up his 54-minute stand-up special with Netflix, I’m Not Done Yet, that kicks off on January 28. Presented in typical stand-up fashion — the lone guy on stage with a mic — the comic bares his soul to the audience in his own inimitable style.
Intrigued about the title, I ask him about its genesis. “I felt that the title needed to reflect everything that’s happened to me in my life,” says Kapil. “From my days in theatre, to singing, coming into The Great Indian Laughter Challenge (a TV competition), then starting and producing my own show, in a relatable manner. I’m in a field where you keep learning, trying new things, until the end. And that’s something I love. Hum naye pange lete rehte hain.”
He says that Netflix wanted him to talk about his life and his personal experiences. “Normally my shows are about observational comedy and sketches,” says Kapil, referring to his long-running The Kapil Sharma Show (on air since 2016), where he invites celebrities from the world of film, sports, and music — he’s featured everyone from Amitabh Bachchan and Alia Bhatt to AR Rahman, from Baichung Bhutia to Irfan Pathan. “But they wanted me to tell my own story in a humorous way. Sometimes what appears as a tragedy in one’s life, after a while, one learns to laugh at it.”
Modest as he sounds, suffice it to say that landing his own Netflix special has propelled him to big cheese-status in the world of Indian comedy. Growing up in Amritsar, Punjab, son of a police constable father and a homemaker mother, he says that he owes his success to his parents. “These things don’t happen in isolation,” says Kapil. “When I was young, doing theatre in college, I would travel to different cities. My mother used to get up early in the winter to heat up water for me. It was the kind of support that one tends to take for granted — Oh, it’s just your parents, yaar, obviously they will do it for you! But when you become a parent yourself, you realise how much pain my father would have felt if I fell down and hurt myself. Today, if I achieve something, this dream was also perhaps theirs — my father may not be here to physically see it, but somewhere, he’s watching my success.”
What’s refreshing about Kapil Sharma is his ‘clean’ style of comedy, away from R-rated material and expletives, something he has always stuck to since the beginning. “I didn’t choose this deliberately,” he says. “In Punjab, while doing small stage shows, it never occurred to me to do anything else, that you can’t say something in front of an elder brother; that’s just not in our culture. And where is the need not to be clean? I’ve got the love of families, with children, parents, and grandparents watching my shows.”
Coming to Mumbai with literally a dream in his pocket, Kapil initially wanted to be a singer (and he’s got the pipes to back it up!). “But there’s so much talent in our country, and God paves his own way,” he says. As a competitor in The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, he never thought he would win. And if he did, he imagined a life of live gigs and comedy acts. “But uske baad woh jo learning wali cheez hoti na, seekhte rehna,” he says. “I wanted to create my own show — we had made it for 25 episodes for three months, and now it’s been eight years. Kuchh toh aapke haath main nahi hain. Upar wale hi karta hai. I never thought I would get this far!”
Has his journey been a struggle? “Yes, but everyone struggles in life,” says Kapil. “On a recent visit to Punjab, I met this widow with a 14-year-old son selling sugar cane juice by the roadside. I saw this old man pulling a rickshaw. We are so blessed, that we have turned our passion into our profession. How many people can do that? I’ve never had any complaint with God. I got far more than what I bargained for. The struggle is that very thing you learn from, that makes you move forward.”
He remembers the days when he had no money in his pocket. “Khaali jaib yaar doston ke saath, theatre ke din,” he says. “Sitting in a bus going to Ludhiana one day, Delhi the next.”
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Kapil’s upbringing in Punjab is reflected in his mannerisms today, in his inflection when he speaks in Hindi, and he continues to visit his hometown at least twice a year. He speaks quickly, with a pucca Punjabi accent. “Your personality is what shows up in your professional life, hai na?” he asks.
“The milieu I grew up in comes out in the way I talk; it’s not made up. I used to use a lot of Punjabi words in my Hindi, ab theek hai. And why copy anyone? You ruin what you have. Jo mera desi laya, jaise hain so hain.”
And likeability is directly proportional to popularity and ratings, which Kapil enjoys as an actor (he’s acted in two films) and comedian. “I’ve never paid much attention to this word,” he says. “Being popular is going on stage or TV, making people laugh, sing, and perform. The whole world feels like it’s mine – Duniya apni lagti hai — wherever people speak and understand Hindi, whether I go to Gujarat or Rajasthan, I meet so many people.” He recounts the time when he went to Seattle, on his first tour, a decade ago. “As the show ended, this old Punjabi lady came up to me,” he says. “She was from Hoshiarpur, and her son was a dentist. She’d cooked this saag for me and brought it for me to eat. Here I was, thousands of kilometres away from home, meeting this person for the first time, yet she knew so much about me. For me, popularity is feeling at home everywhere – going to someone’s house and not feeling out of sorts. Yet they know me, as they see me on TV every day!”
In Kapil’s case, it’s those whom he’s admired the most, who’ve turned out to be his biggest fans. “I’m blessed,” says Kapil. “Whoever’s fan I was, they all met me during the taping of my show, or at home. God is great, the very first time I met Bachchan Saab was during my shoot! Did you know who appeared in my first show (Comedy Nights with Kapil, in 2013)? Dharam paji (Dharmendra), who’s such a craze in Punjab. The stars and the big singers have met me with so much love, and have told me – ‘I’m a big fan of yours!’ What can be greater than that?"
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In today’s politically correct climes when comedy everywhere is being ‘cancelled’, Kapil feels that both sides should be balanced. “Take things with humour, because there’s enough stress in the world today,” he says. “One should not hurt anyone at the joke’s expense, even if it’s political satire. Being a comedian is a serious job – say whatever you want, but in a humorous way, and don’t offend the listener.”
Today, the comedian who once thought that he would always play guitar with his friends from Amritsar until 2am, until they all got married one by one and had kids, that is, is busy with his own family. “It’s so enjoyable to be a dad,” says Kapil, “When my shoot ends, I just want to be home with my daughter Anayra – she turned two on December 10 – and my younger son. It’s the small things. When I’m with them, I turn into a child. Whether you meditate or play with your children for two hours, it’s the same thing!”
The hardworking wit, who loves to drive his Range Rover Sport around town, campaigns for PETA in his spare time (he recently helped save an ailing elephant), is a pet father to two rescued dogs (a Pomeranian he found on Juhu Beach, and a Shih Tzu, also a rescue), loves his ghar ka khana, and is more careful about tweeting — (he famously tweeted a complaint to the PM himself). “Abh main sudhar gaya,” he laughs, “You’re two drinks down with your buddies and ponder about what is going on with the country… Now, I feel I should look after my family, and that’s enough. I don’t want to do the pangas. When I’m not here, I want people to smile when they think of my name, and that will mean I had a successful life.”
How i met my wife...
Ginni was in a girls’ college in Jalandhar doing her graduation, 3-4 years my junior, and I was in a co-ed college studying for a PG diploma in commercial arts. For pocket money I would participate in theatre, and visit other colleges. She was a really good student of mine. Now, of course, she’s become my teacher after marriage! She was good at skits and histrionics, so I made her my assistant. Then I found out that madam started liking me, so I explained to her that the car you come in costs more that what my entire family put together is worth! So, it just wouldn’t be possible between us…
Winning over her parents
After I arrived in Mumbai (and after winning The Great Indian Laughter Challenge), I got in touch with her again, and my folks spoke to her parents. They didn’t know at the time what the competition was about and didn’t know about the earnings (Kapil won Rs10 lakh). Plus, she’s from a Sikh family, and I’m a Hindu, and don’t wear a turban, unlike their other sons-in-law. But slowly all these things changed. Ginni’s father started seeing my shows, and maan ne lagey; there was a connect. Pitaji melted a bit. They thought, Banda theek hai.
Memories of my father
Now that I’ve grown up, I remember little things, such as when I had a fight with my parents and told them not to drop me off to school, that I would go alone. My father tried to put me on his bicycle, but I refused to sit. I left the house and started walking alone. But he followed me all the way. Until I had reached the school and gone inside, my father never left me. Those things I remember. My father was worried about me; and if he was around today, I would be able to tell him.
A mother’s love
Obviously we love our parents and they love us back, but in our culture, especially in the town I come from, we are very open with our mothers. Isn’t it? She can even slap us when we are little, we are so close to our mothers. It doesn’t mean that a father doesn’t have love in his heart; fathers are different — perhaps they are not able to express their feelings as much.
Your netflix special, in one word: It’s about me and me only
Your life’s biggest inspiration?: I’m my own inspiration and I don’t want to reveal why. Actually, my mother.
Your comedic inspiration?: Johnny Walker and Mehmood Saab.
The sportiest star?: Who’s sporty? No one! They all like to give punches, ask me, I know.
A star wittier than you?: Akshay paji. It’s always a competition with him. Who will give the last punch? It’s always him.
What do you prefer — suits or sweatshirts?: I like shorts, T-shirts, and chappals. I only wear jeans, shirts, and jackets on set. Otherwise, I am a very relaxed person.
Your most useless talent?: I can play drums on anything – on your camera, on my legs. It’s quite surprising really.
Your favourite moment in the Netflix special?: My family and friends were there, and we shot it in the mountains, my favourite place.
One celeb who surprised you the most: Abhishek Bachchan surprised me 2-3 times. The first time I met him I thought, he is so witty. The second time he came on the show, he rapped. I must say, he’s very talented!
On his netflix special i'm not done yet: They wanted me to tell my own story in a humorous way. Sometimes what appears as a tragedy in one’s life, after a while, one learns to laugh at it
Hair: Pranay Parmar
Make-up: Sufiyan Siddiquie
Production house: Frizzon Productions
Produced by: Netflix