“An ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society, there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared.”
— Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Indian society will always prop up those mythologies, figures, personalities that serve its agenda of supporting Hinduism and maintain caste hegemony by extension. It will effortlessly gather the resources, even crowdfund from among savarna castes to never let go of the stranglehold on the oppressed castes it has had since centuries. Through the Kapil Sharma Show, which on the surface, functions as a comedy show, it performs the dual function of championing the merit of a “self-made” Brahmin man while also parade the minority savarna gaze as pan-Indian culture. In this latter aspect, it merely copies the great mediocre Hindu/Dominant culture vehicle called Bollywood. I will divide this essay into two parts, the first dealing with the myth of self-made status of Kapil Sharma the comedian. Then I will touch on the larger influence his name-brand has on popular society at large.
To begin with, a disclaimer: I write this essay not as an expert on Kapil Sharma’s career. I don’t think that is necessary. There is a larger commentary I intend to make on the trends or cycles that our society follows, and the example about Kapil Sharma’s career is a valid case in point. Kapil Sharma first found a break at a comedy hunt show where his act based on a policeman became popular. He has admitted that he took on the persona of a policeman because members in his own family are policemen. There is a deeper ironic meaning to this statement itself. The Sharma brahmin is engaged in the processes of incarceration and policing the lives of the innocent and the marginalized working on the thresholds of society because policemen always work without trying to attract a lot of attention to themselves.
Coming from such a familial background, Kapil Sharma now aims to bask in the limelight, not without trying to make the task of policing a matter of light fun and humor. As if police forces employed in the country aren’t recognized as being the worst groups that infringe on human rights and are regularly accused for human rights abuses. This is the backstory to Kapil Sharma, the comedian. He has had a bourgeois middle class upbringing in the top predatory Brahmin caste. The younger Sharma must have craved attention from his parents and probably been denied. The path of performing on TV must satiate his craving. Kapil Sharma as an artist grew from winning the comedy competition to having a show named after himself.
This is another hint to his personality, if somebody had any doubts as to his feelings of self-worth and whether his cravings for attention have in any way been soothed. Kapil Sharma the man seems to be always chasing the power, recognition, fame which has eluded him, in spite of his superficial success in show business. In his interviews he comes across as a pompous, overhyped, know-it-all celebrity, someone who believes his presence is a gift to everyone around him. In his comedic routine, he attempts to showcase and portray himself as the common man, but the incidents he uses for his sketches are thinly veiled caricatures with little originality that aim to highlight Brahmin culture.
His show has similarly been panned for its regressive humor and use of misogynistic, anti-trans “comedic” tropes. It is strange how TV shows in India seem to be bound in a time-loop that has no regard for human dignity of the sections of society that the producers do not themselves belong to. Right from such “award-winning” novelists as Manu Joseph, Arundhati Roy and Aravind Adiga et al to TV artists like Kapil Sharma to the world of Internet stand-up comics, all of the savarna writers cum activists cum celebrities seem to wallow in a self-imposed curse. They exist in their own ‘dimension’, to use a term made popular by another Godman Sadhguru. They do not have any truck with what goes on in the lives of the people away from their own made-up fantasy world.
Having digressed from the main topic of Brahmin comedy superstar Kapil Sharma, let’s see how his position as the reigning TV personality helps the Indian state. The fact that he is given prime time slots for people who do not want to watch another Brahmin on news channels, is enough evidence about how desperately dominant society wants the public to swallow the garbage that it produces in the name of culture. Society in India never had its period of Enlightenment, which came in Europe in the form of Rousseau and Kant in the 18th century.
Indians by and large have been kept slaves of Brahmins through its machinery of culture and faux-intellectualism that has kept the country within a time warp. The first step to being a free individual is to realize one is a slave. But here, people are unaware of themselves being in chains, because the houses they live in have never seen the face of the sun to know what sunrise means. Therefore, what we see is structures superimposed on unequal, barbaric customs that not only survive but actually proliferate. People like Kapil Sharma will go from being a regular on TV to becoming a national politician and the entire cycle is repeated once again. The only thing that does not change is who holds the power to determine the political future of the nation with their vast vaults of money and influence.
Chanchal Kumar is a poet and writer from Jharkhand. Currently, he is pursuing M.Phil. from the University of Delhi.