I have been a Kapil Sharma fan ever since I first saw him on television some years ago. It helped that he was from Amritsar, my birth place. That affinity was further accentuated by his ‘cool’ Punjabi mannerisms, his somewhat rough edges, and of course his distinctive (and confident) swag. His humor was typically Punjabi, not exactly crude or slapstick or cheap or vulgar or lewd, but funny in an endearing kind of way. He was a natural. He wasn’t quite like the practiced stand-up comedians you see these days on the internet with scripted lines, scripted laughs and stoic faces. He was spontaneous. He was fun. He was exuberant. He was lively. He was chirpy. He was quirky. His humor appealed to all: from bebe to bibi to biba to baby (grandma to mama to teen-ie to tot).
Kapil Sharma went from strength to strength with his unique brand of humor, conquering hearts, building up a fantastic brand franchise. He made viewers laugh, he fought and wrestled with Manju, he insulted and ragged Bumper, he ridiculed and riled Chandan, he poked and joked at Dr Mashoor Gulati, and got mad and irritated at his Dadi. In fact in my Doctorate research on Human Brands, he was the tallest amongst TV personalities, far ahead of Arnab Goswami and Chef Sanjeev Kapoor though both of them also had very strong brand pillars. Kapil’s appeal was far more universal, more wholesome, more all-encompassing and he was very strong on key attributes like Fun, Likeable, Friendly, Honest, Unique, Innovative and Stylish.
Then quite so suddenly, Brand Kapil Sharma took a plunge. Got surrounded by all kinds of controversy. Fell out with his buddies, his co-workers on his hit show. There were negative stories all around in media. Booze. Foul language. Fisticuffs. Intemperate behavior. Tantrums. Not arriving on his sets leaving guests (actually top film stars) fuming. Kapil Sharma was on a roller-coaster ride to self-destruction. His show was re-launched. Plummeted on ratings. Never picked up momentum.
Kapil Sharma is back again. This time with a show called ‘Family Time With Kapil Sharma’ on Sony TV. A leading daily newspaper gave it a 0.5/5 rating and went on uncharitably to say, “… here we are, dragging ourselves through Family Time With Kapil Sharma and almost an hour and half of incessant, unfunny and pathetic attempts at flirting. Kapil is at his co-host’s tail throughout the episode as she blushes, is lost for words and tries to brush him off, unsuccessfully”. My personal assessment of the ‘New Improved Kapil Show’, as I sat watching one of the first episodes on TV, was not very far from the newspaper review. Kapil Sharma, for one, looked horribly out of shape. At least 10 kilos overweight. Double-chin. Puffed up. A bit sullen. No longer spontaneous. No effervescence. Very little charm. In fact Kapil Sharma looked a bit self-conscious, as if made aware for the first time of his celebrity status. Rumours from the set had it that he had once again stood up a celebrity guest the previous week (Rani Mukerji, I was told, who was to be on the show to promote her latest movie Hichki) and now had to do without any celebrity presence on the show. Instead there were some mindless games with outsized prizes on offer.
Hark back almost 20 years. I had a serious sense of déjà vu. Twenty years ago Shekhar Suman was to Indian TV what Kapil Sharma is today. His ‘Movers & Shakers’ show was a super-duper hit. Shekhar Suman was Steve Carell and Oprah Winfrey rolled into one. He was humor plus satire plus comedy plus a virtuoso playfulness. Shekhar Suman could do no wrong.
Then Shekhar Suman had a fall-out with Sony TV where he had built his show, and brand. I was then Group CEO at Zee Telefilms. We gleefully welcomed him to our fold. ‘Movers & Shakers’ was rebranded as ‘Simply Shekhar’ and re-launched with much fan-fare. Much like Kapil today, Shekhar in his new avatar was a bit self-conscious of his self-importance. He was the center of the show, not the comedy. The show flopped. But we had Shekhar Suman on contract with loads of money committed to him. We tried to marry a game show concept with comedy, much like ‘Family Time With Kapil Sharma’. We copied a very successful Pakistani game show format, ‘Nilaam Ghar’ which used to be anchored by the indomitable Tariq Aziz. But Shekhar Suman just did not have the talent of Tariq. And comedy just did not admix with game play. The show flopped despite big prizes on offer. Shekhar became a visible caricature of himself. And Brand Shekhar Suman nose-dived to oblivion.
Kapil Sharma is almost following the 20-years old Shekhar Suman script frame-by-frame. Critics are panning the new Family Time show with uncomplimentary reviews, “…he returns as a boring, unimaginative Oprah on a budget…”, “…filling awkward silences with the humor of a five year old…”.
I ran a small sample on Kapil Sharma this week in Chandigarh and Mumbai to update my attribute scores on him. The Brand Kapil Sharma is surely losing steam and sheen. It is waning.
Sharma is no longer Down-to-Earth. He is far more Arrogant. He has dropped on Honesty, Charming and Trustworthy. He is also no longer as much Fun or as Likeable. Methinks, Brand Kapil Sharma is in trouble and needs serious help. As The Hindustan Times put it, “You can laugh only so much at men and women falling hard on their buttocks”. The comedy + game-show format is just not delivering. The new Kapil Sharma Show requires much more substance, much more meat. Kapil Sharma has been a phenomenon. He is becoming a has-been. He is a pale (actually bloated) shadow of himself. He needs serious inputs. Serious introspection. Serious re-thinking. Serious rebranding. HELP!!!
(Sandeep Goyal is one of India’s foremost experts on celebrity brands. His research on Celebrities as Human Brands goes back over a decade.)