This article is part of the #GBVInMedia campaign for the 16 Days Of Activism global campaign to end gender-based violence. #GBVInMedia campaign analysis how different kind of mainstream media (mis)represents/reports gender-based violence and broadens the conversation from violence against women to violence against people from the queer community, caste-based violence and violence against people with disabilities. Join the campaign here.
Comedy is a powerful art form that plays a significant role in sending messages to the society. In the silent era, Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick comedy acts in movies like Gold Rush, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator became the voice to ridicule the insensitive growth of industrialization, economic depression, and imperialist aggression. However, such a social message is not a necessary ingredient of comedy. Comedy is mainly meant to make people laugh, just simple humorous acts or speeches can help one to set up their mood.
Nevertheless, we want to discuss if such simple comedy can become insensitive at some point and knowingly or unknowingly favor sexist culture and gender-based violence in our society. And for this purpose, our best pick must be the king of contemporary Indian comedy, Kapil Sharma. Kapil Sharma ranked 33 in Forbes India’s 2014 top celebrity list leaving popular figures like Rajnikant, Aishwariya Rai Bachchan behind.
Kapil Sharma often objectifies women in his show and sometimes doesn’t even spare the Bollywood celebrities he invites. For instance, in a show where Sania Mirza became the guest, Kapil (Bittu as the character) says to Sumana (wife of Bittu), “Woh hai bhi Sania Mirza. Tu, Mirza Ghalib ki purane kitaab jaisa tera muh hai (She is the Sania Mirza. Your face appears like an old book of poet Mirza Ghalib)
First of all, here he degrades his ‘wife’ by comparing her face to an old book. Secondly, he objectifies Sania Mirza by contrasting her as a specimen of a good-looking woman, with his ‘ugly wife’. So it sounds like that we should admire Sania because she looks good, not for her achievements in tennis! And he doesn’t rest from his ridicules, “Biwi laagti nahi hai, aisa laagta hai milestone ke upad kapdaa lapeta huya hai (She doesn’t look like a wife, rather looks like a milestone draped by a piece of cloth).”
Now the video below will be enough to demonstrate how verbal abuses and ‘physical abuses’ have become a routine in his show.
At 2.39 minute of the video (video unavailable on YouTube), Kapil’s character says that he takes the page 3 of newspaper to keep his paranthas hot as the page displays pictures of hot heroines. At 4.39, he threatens to beat up his wife. At 5.55, he says, “Beti rahne do, koyi achha sa beta dhund do” (Keep the daughter as she is, bring me a good son in exchange).”
Now some may say that all his sexist, abusive, dowry-approving, misogynistic stunts should be taken in a lighter mood, just for the sake of fun and should not be taken seriously in real life. Some may also argue, whatever it is, Kapil’s comedy night show gives a break from the cliché family soaps in TV. But are the arguments right? Is this not a stupid way of accepting things that we need to eliminate from the society?
This year Kapil made his Bollywood debut through his comedy film Kis Kisko Pyaar Karu (KKPK). Unfortunately, the movie is another epitome of sexism and objectification of women in mainstream media. In this movie, Kapil plays the protagonist Shiv Ram Kishan Kumar, who struggles to manage time and love with his three wives and one would-be-wife and finally he justifies his polygamous life by arguing that however illegitimate it may sound, at the end of the day he leaves none of his wives complaining against him and hence he is a perfect husband for all his wives (readers will thank me for this spoiler’s alert). The women are portrayed pathetically in this movie, whose happiness comes through marrying a caring husband and freedom comes through permission from their brothers or fathers (yes, only men make decisions).
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) September 23, 2015
So more or less, misogyny, sexist remarks, verbal abuses find a living space in the name of comedy. Though sexist jokes are not rare in other parts of the world, Indian TV channels still need to grow up. It is 2015 and we still need to wait for someone like John Oliver who can use comedy to discuss something as serious as online sexual harassment.
Well, Kapil Sharma is also vocal about honoring women and talks about punishing those who fail to do so. In a meeting, Kapil said once, “Whatever happens in the society, at some point I consider myself responsible as well“, in the context of the Delhi gang rape incident.
Question is: Feeling responsible, will he ever want to correct his blunders?