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‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ and the recipe for laughter

MUMBAI: It is said that laughter is the best medicine and one who can make people laugh is a truly gifted individual. It is with this adage in mind that I started chasing the man who has been making India laugh riotously for the past 10 months.With a calendar busier than that of the top actors of Bollywood today, Kapil Sharma, aka Bittu, is riding high on the success of his popular show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’.

Big B on the sets of Comedy Nights with Kapil

Big B on the sets of Comedy Nights with Kapil

It was not just him running like the wind but the entire cast and crew of more than 75 members were rushing to get the set, costumes and the entire act ready on time. The reason was not unfathomable: Apart from being Kapil’s birthday, it was also the day when the legend himself visited Bittu Sharma—yes, it was Amitabh Bachchan.

The excitement among the unit was contagious, and as Kapil himself puts it, “This episode with Amitabh Bachchan is the most memorable episode for me till date. It was also my birthday, so I was happy and adding to my happiness was the shoot with the legend itself. That day, I felt very happy from inside performing on stage.”

With many popular actors including Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Dharmendra, Jeetendra and more having visited the household of Bittu Sharma, the show has indeed hit it off with the audiences. Bittu’s quirky entourage comprising Daadi (Ali Asgar) who loves to drink, the 22-year-old hot and sexy Bua (Upasana Singh) who is searching for a suitable groom, his wife Mrs Sharma (Sumona Chakravarti) who yearns for her husband’s love, his servant Raju (Chandan Prabhakar) who is mired by circumstances to work for Bittu Sharma, his neighbour Palak (Kiku Sharda) and her mother Pankhudi (played by Kiku Sharda again) who loves to drop in to meet the celebrities—all these characters, coupled with Bittu and his antics, have got successfully etched on the viewers’ minds. Above all, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who plays the judge, never fails to add something extra to the punchlines, courtesy of his infectious guffaws and poetic interjections.

So, how did Bittu Sharma’s household become the most popular in the neighbourhood?

Kapil Sharma on the sets

Kapil Sharma on the sets

The credit goes to Kapil, who has mastered the art of comedy through his participation in several comedy shows like ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’. He even won a few titles starting from ‘Comedy Circus Ke Superstars’ and ‘Comedy Circus Ka Jadoo’ in 2010, then moving on to win the consecutive subsets of the show like ‘Jubilee Comedy Circus’ (2011), ‘Comedy Circus Ke Tansen’ (2011), ‘Comedy Circus Ka Naya Daur’ (2011) and ‘Kahaani Comedy Circus Ki’ (2012).

It is when he started hosting the dancing reality show ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’ on Colors that the story of this show and his production house K9 Productions took birth.

“I had the concept in my mind and had thought of making it a one-hour show. But an hour could be a drag if the punches were not funny. So my thought was that we would start the show with a gag by me, followed by an audience interaction with celebrities,” he says.

With this idea in mind, Sharma approached Colors, which willingly decided to give it a go. After ‘Nautanki Theatre’ which failed to make many ripples, this was the second attempt at comedy by the channel.

According to Colors weekend programming head Manisha Sharma, “Given the scenario today, every show is a fair gamble and Colors has never shied away from taking calculated risks, thereby setting the trend. Sharma is an established name and one of the most sought-after comedians on television today. He enjoys a strong fan following and our aim was to bank on his fan base and reach out to our set of audiences while presenting them with a laughter-inducing show that would keep them entertained.”

                                                    Comedy Nights trivia

  • Kapil Sharma started his career as a drama teacher for youth festivals in a college in Amritsar, before taking up comic roles in theatre.
  • The show was initially scheduled to run for 13 weeks, but was extended later by 10 episodes. The rest as they say is history.
  • Apart from comedy, Kapil is a talented singer and drummer, sometimes playing the drums on the set to entertain the live audiences.
  • Sunil Gavaskar and Virendra Sehwag will be the first guests from cricket field to feature on the show soon.
  • The atmosphere on the sets is very lively, and the cast and crew keep cracking jokes in between shots.
  • AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal was to appear as a guest, but the idea was dropped due to the Lok Sabha election.

When the show was conceptualised, the makers developed a magazine segment which would require association with some films nearing release to enable interviews with Bollywood celebrities.

Kapil turns drummer

Kapil turns drummer

With the aim to develop a show that is light-hearted and has a completely different format from other comedy shows on television, the channel and Kapil developed an ensemble cast, created interactivity with the audiences and a star factor to make it a viewers’ delight.

An interesting yet hilarious element of the show is how most of the female characters are played by male actors like Ali Asgar, Kiku Sharda, Sunil Grover who used to play Gutthi, and even Raju Shrivastava who features as a beautician in some episodes.

And thereby too hangs a tale. Owing to the spontaneous and lively format of the show, the characters of Asgar and Sharda very often get involved in fights and other such physical acts which would be difficult to perform with a female cast member.

Kapil adds, “If we had cast an old lady in the role of Daadi, it would be difficult as we shoot the entire night and plus we show lots of funny fight sequences which would be difficult to perform with a female artist.”

Sidhu on sets

Sidhu preparing for the shoot

Roping in Sidhu wasn’t a task either, as he had already worked with Kapil on another show and shared a friendship. Kapil rightly felt that Sidhu would add the required colour to the show with his occasional poetic outbursts.

Once the cast and format were finalised, it swung into motion as a 26-episode series. However, the response to the first episode prompted the channel to extend the number of episodes to 36. Today, the show has already completed 70 episodes and is still going strong.

Comedy Nights with Kapil

Comedy Nights with Kapil team

But what goes behind the making of this top-rated non-fiction show on Indian television?

Highlighting the off-screen process, director Huzaifa Qaiser states, “The shooting schedules are very hectic as the script is constantly improvised upon. Being very spontaneous, Kapil is never 100 per cent satisfied with the script.”

There is a creative team of 15–20 people who work on the script which is then improvised by Kapil. As a result, they sometimes end up shooting till the wee hours.

“Unlike other shows where everything is staged, here it is all very spontaneous and sometimes the performance becomes too physical with the characters running around, so it’s very challenging for us to capture that on camera,” he adds.

One of the episodes where the director faced a lot of difficulties was during a Bhojpuri integration that had Ravi Kishan, Manoj Tiwari and Dinesh Lal Yadav. The moment Kapil cracked up on them, the three actors moved in different directions making it difficult for the camera to capture their reactions.

The production team presently uses 13 cameras, of which one is dedicated to Sidhu and one is used for reverse shots. All the other cameras are always chasing the artists. Thus, there is not even a moment for the camera technicians to sip water because they have to be on their toes all the time.

Sunny Leone and Ekta Kapoor on sets

Sunny Leone and Ekta Kapoor on sets

On the content front too, both Kapil and Colors have made a conscious effort to keep the show family friendly. Although there are moments when the punches border on the horseplay, such moments are few and far between.

Says Kapil, “I make sure that the punches never go below the belt and we take special care when writing the script. I take inspiration from everyday situations as the show is basically meant for the masses. The reason for the show’s success is also that the family can watch it together.”

But it was not just success that the show tasted. It went through testing times when the set was engulfed into flames. The team which was producing two episodes a week faced the daunting task of re-building the set and continue shooting at the same time.

That was indeed a difficult phase as the cast and crew had spent six months on the set and suddenly the set was gone.

Remembering the day, Kapil says, “We were working on the set for a long time and had grown an attachment to it. Seeing it completely in ashes was heart-breaking but we managed to bounce back soon enough.”

Kapil rehearsing with Tushar Kapoor

Kapil rehearsing with Tushar Kapoor

They found shelter on the sets of ‘Bigg Boss’ in Lonavala, though travelling was tough for the already busy actors who were also shooting simultaneously for their daily soaps. The channel here played a big role and helped the production team to set up a similar set within 21 days.

“Luckily for us, we had a couple of episodes banked which gave us the time to come up with a strategy and plan our next move. We immediately took the call to rebuild the set with the same set design to ensure that audience familiarity was maintained. For episodes that needed to be shot in the interim, we set up a temporary set in Lonavala at the ‘Bigg Boss’ sets and wove a special story to explain the reason for the shift. Using Kapil’s affable personality and sense of humour, we were able to establish a context to the change in set and continue with the show,” adds Manisha.

Another low point for the show was when Sunil Grover who played the extremely popular character of Gutthi suddenly quit the show to start his own with another channel. Although introduced into the show at a later stage, Gutthi became an instant hit with the audiences for her ‘introduction’ and personality.

The exit of Grover caused a slight dip in the ratings, but later bounced back with the character of Palak being built further and more guest appearances.

Manisha comments, “For any show, when a key cast member chooses to exit, it is a very tough and uncertain phase. However, as they say, the show must go on. After the initial slump in ratings for about two episodes, audiences accepted the change in characters and we overcame the phase. Since then, we have upped the production quality and content of the show and it has been a hit with loyal audiences.”

This indeed propelled the show to newer heights, with international audiences now becoming a part of the live audience in the studio. And it’s not only them—even the Indian cricket team is a big fan of the show!

Only recently, Team India captain MS Dhoni was shooting close to where the set of ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ is located. Upon hearing that the show was being shot on that day, he dropped in to meet everyone on the set.

An enthusiastic Dhoni got pictures clicked with the entire crew and the director, and stated how he and the entire Indian cricket team were a huge fan of the show and watched it whenever they were in India.

The show was also set to have Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal as a guest, but the idea was collectively dropped on the day of the shoot as the episode would have been embroiled in petty politics with the Lok Sabha election round the corner.

The team recently shot an episode with Sushmita Sen and is all set to feature cricketers with Sunil Gavaskar and Virendra Sehwag being the first guests from the field. The episode is scheduled for air by the end of April.

Kapil's band of boys

Kapil’s band of boys

The team is also introducing new characters to build the storyline of the show. Akshat, the boy from ‘India’s Got Talent’ whose dance videos went viral, has recently joined the cast playing Palak’s brother.

However, the schedules of the show are set to get more awry with Kapil soon beginning to shoot for his debut film ‘Bank-Chor’ with YRF. Hence, the team is now creating a bank of episodes and shooting every alternate day. With the pressure mounting, will the show turn to its weekly format again as it had during the airing of Anil Kapoor’s ‘24’?

Pat comes the reply from Manisha, “As of now, we have not decided whether we want the show to be infinite or seasonal. We continue to shoot with a fresh perspective with every passing episode. Whether we will change the show’s format in future is something that will be considered when the time is right.”