MUMBAI—He’s grown to be an institution. A quiet boy from PNB High School, Amritsar, Kapil Sharma now speaks volumes and earns billions for television channels like Aap Ka Colors (earlier) and Sony (now) besides for himself. He had even supplemented his family’s income then by working late nights and early morning at STD-ISD centers in his hometown when customer traffic was at its highest as call rates were low and many in the city had kith and kin overseas. He had also developed a rare skill at snooker and was promptly hired to tutor guests in a well-known restaurant.

When India-West met Kapil Sharma a week before the release of his second film, “Firangi,” he made light of the topic, stating that he was a quiet boy because he did not know in which subject he would flunk! And snooker, he said, soon gave way to the theater, which gradually made him shed his inhibitions.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: Otherwise, how was school and college life?

A: Pretty normal. Every year, the school celebrated Guru Nanak Jayanti and Krishnasthami, and I would love to sing devotional songs on both days. Then there was the circus, for which I bunked school and saw free of charge through a gap in the tent, which also meant watching so many beautiful girls from close quarters!

And we had a very strict principal in college who would stop a running film, make the theatre switch on lights, just to catch students who had bunked and come in, and then give them a thrashing! And in college, they made me the president of a union affiliated to a political party and said that I would be one only in name. I realized how true that was when they declared a strike without even informing me, forget taking my consent!

Q: From serious theater to comedy, how and why did you make the transition?

A: I think that it is better to make people laugh – especially in the movies, where they have to spend Rs. 200 on a ticket. It does not somehow seem right to tell them to spend that money and then go and cry, though I admit that emotional stories have their following.

I worked hard at this transition, but today, when I see the new contestants on comedy talent shows, they are so much more confident than my generation was. God knows how things will be 10 years down!

Q: Comedians from Charlie Chaplin down to today’s names like Johny Lever are actually serious people. What about you?

A: It depends on my company and the environment. But I am very serious about one thing, and that is my work. I minutely examine every written line of my show for every artist before the shoot.

Q: The way you describe it, why do we then feel that the show is impromptu?

A: A large section of it is impromptu. Only our character entries and some minor but important things are scripted. The celebrity section is completely impromptu, and so are the questions and answers.

Q: Then why do we feel that certain questions are stage-managed?

A: Occasionally, we do have to resort to those things. There was this boy, for example, who wanted to ask Kareena Kapoor Khan a very insolent question. We had to ask him to change that.

Q: What was your reaction when your childhood friend, writer-director Rajiev Dhingra, came to you with the story of “Firangi?”

A: He had wanted to make a film with me for years, but one should never trust close friends till they prove worthy of it (Chuckles)! I told them then, “First show me whether you know how to make a film!” (Chuckles again). He then made this hit film in Punjabi called “Love Punjab.” He discussed a germ of an idea that I liked. I even offered to produce the film. Then he developed the script almost in front of me. It took a year, and I had to remind myself that I was producing the film, so I would have to do it. (Laughs) Seriously, he has done a superb job.

Q: What is the subject?

A: When people make films around our Freedom struggle, the stories are always grim and full of violence. This is a feel-good film set in the last days of the British Raj. There is no bloodshed. The first half is light until just before the interval. Afterwards, though it gets serious for the characters, the audience will find the proceedings funny.

Q: And what next in films?

A: I am producing a nice Punjabi film. But let “Firangi” release at least before I get down to my next Hindi project.

Q: What is more relaxing among the two mediums?

A: I enjoy both. We would shoot for two days for my show but ideate and discuss for the other five. With cinema, we have to report every day for work, but as it would get dark, we would wrap up by 5 p.m. and then relax. In my hotel, there would be performances of traditional Rajasthani music, which I absolutely love and would attend.

Q: Buzz is that the people behind “Big Momma’s House” have approached you for a show.

A: (Looking pleased more than anything else!) Now, who spilled the beans? Actually it’s all in the air, as we have just spoken on the phone. I will have to go there to see what they have to offer!

Q: What next in India? Is “The Kapil Sharma Show” going to be back?

A: Yes, I am planning to name it “The Khairati Lal Show” or something like that.

Q: Why on earth?

A: That’s because when things go wrong, it is my name that comes up! I get the discredit because it is my show. A journalist saw Sumona smoke a cigarette during the time of my earlier show. The next day’s headline was “Kapil Ki Biwi Peeti Hai Cigarette (Kapil’s wife smokes a cigarette)!” Now, come on, she was only my wife on the show, and what had I to do with her smoking anyway?

When Kiku Sharda was arrested for mimicking a godman, the news was “Kapil Sharma Show Ki Palak Hui Giraftaar (Palak from the Kapil Sharma Show has been arrested)” because Kiku was Palak on my show!

Q: But the controversies have extended to you as well – Sunil Grover, angering big names like Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn…

A: Now that is exactly my problem: I do not have a PR mechanism to look after me, and I think I should now start talking rather than let my silence be misinterpreted. Those who know how we work are laughing at the “making stars wait” rumors. The reason is simple: if a star is coming at 7 p.m., my team and I are there at least six hours earlier. We are rehearsing our stuff, doing readings, going over the creatives.

Just yesterday, I shot with Akshay Kumar on his new show, and Shah Rukh Khan, whom I have also supposed to have also annoyed, was the first to tell me to give topmost priority to my health when my body began to protest.

As for Sunil, I have tried my best, and I realize that all artists including me are sensitive and even torture ourselves. I did something I should not have and apologized to him, but if he wants to stretch it forever, then what can I do about it? My doors are always open to him.

Q: Your health was a matter of great concern.

A: Yes, irregular hours, overwork, no rest, wrong eating – they all added up. I took off for a 40-day regimen at a famous Ayurvedic center in Bangalore. The first two days were terrible – I felt I was in some jail. But gradually I began to enjoy it and would now recommend the place to all of you. The discipline and the diet worked wonders, and I felt my body’s strength returning. I could only give it 15 days as I had to come back to the market and release my film. But now they will send me their medicines.

Q: How do you look back at your long journey?

A: Strangely, now that you mention it, or when you talked about some aspects earlier, I remember all these things that are deep in my subconscious memory. In the daily grind, there is no time to think about how I came to be here, and from where! Sometimes, if I am not getting sleep, such memories come to me, or when college friends meet and remind me of specific incidents. Do you know that for years I have not got any time by myself?

Q: You are also engaged. When is the big day?

A: Mommy’s happy, but I am a shade tense about it and don’t feel like going ahead, though I will because even marriage is necessary! At times, when after a busy day I go back home and find my cook sleeping and no one else, it gets to me!

Q: How is your relationship with your mother?

A: It is very much like a maa-beta relationship! (Laughs). But honestly, my mother is like a child for me, completely innocent! When she heard about bad things happening to me through neighbors reading or watching the news, I called her here and even took her to Bangalore. She asked me what I would be doing there, and believed that I was there for getting massaged, though she could not understand why they were required several times a day instead of just once! When she asked me why I was not going to work when back in Mumbai, she believed it completely when I said there was a strike going on!

Q: Finally, your views on the “Padmavati” mess.

A: Negativity never did anyone any good. I have made this one film in extreme climates in Punjab and Rajasthan, and I realize how hard we worked, and that it is a blessing when we complete a picture and also release it. With me, it was comparatively easy, but what Sanjay Bhansali and his team are going through is terrible. It is a big film with hard work to match.

And what must Deepika Padukone’s parents be thinking? A daughter who was the spokesperson for so many worthy causes is now being threatened when she has done nothing wrong.

Q: What was tougher then for you? Being an actor or a producer?

A: I do not have a producer’s shrewd mentality of controlling budgets – we have gone 8 crore over what I had planned. I was told that a certain camera hired for Rs. 8 lakh would enhance a sequence. As a producer, I wanted the best, so I agreed. And then they actually edited out that sequence and I was so angry! And at the end of every shooting day, when all had gone home, my accountant would come and request me to sign a few checks. Those ‘few’ would actually mean 70 to 80, and after signing a few of them, even my signatures would start looking different!

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