By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Kiku Sharda, who currently rides the crest of fame as the cross-dresser Palak on Comedy Nights With Kapil, in conversation with Subhash K Jha.
Your Palak has become a sensation? But where were you all this while?
It’s been a long time since I’ve been performing. I’ve been working in the serial FIR for many years. The money was coming in. The house was running. The wife and kids were happy. So I was quite happy with the status quo. I guess I’ve been complacent with my career. I have never hunted for work. People who know me would know I am not a go-getter. Unlike the pushy Palak that you see on screen I am not an extrovert. I take time to open up. For me to seek work is difficult.
Tell me about how Palak happened?
It all happened suddenly. I was called for Comedy Nights With Kapil because I had worked with Kapil before on Comedy Circus. We met regularly. Kapil and I were fond of one another from long before this show. Initially I was not part of Comedy Nights With Kapil .I came in after 12 episodes. Prior to that I used to watch the show and see the way it was gaining popularity. Sunil Grover’s Gutthi had just started when I joined the show. It wasn’t really that popular initially. The Channel wanted me to come on stage with Sunil. At that time it wasn’t even clear whether mine would be a male or a female character.
We thrashed it out. We thought of either giving Gutthi a sister or a friend. The idea was to make the two of us appear visually funny. Sunil being tall and thin, me being short and fat. The call for Palak’s gender was taken when we came to shoot. Sunil and I saw Gutthi and Palak as cousins or friends hanging out together.
Was it difficult for you to go on stage alone when Sunil Grover left?
Yes, initially it was really difficult. I was lost without him on stage. I shared such a wonderful rapport with Sunil. We knew one another so well that I’d pick up the cue where he left off and he would do the same.
Did you ever expect Palak to become so popular?
I am equally fond of my other (male) character Lachcha Prasad. That isn’t easy to do either. But I think Palak’s attitude has connected effectively with the audience. She is not the least inhibited about being fat. She is not embarrassed by her looks. She brazenly comes into Kapil’s home and makes herself comfortable in his house with his celebrity guests. You need to have a lot of audacity to do this. According to her, she writes mind-blowing sher for the celebrity guests. The writers write the sher for Palak. But sometimes I improvise.
How do your wife and children react to your drag act?
They are okay with it. My wife even jokes that as long as I don’t come home dressed like Palak she has no problems. I used to dress up as female characters in Comedy With Circus. My family sees it as part of my work.Besides Palak, a lot of people also recognize me as Popo, the character I play on a show called Hatim on Star Plus. Palak may be my most popular character. But I’ve played other popular characters. But yes, Palak has made a huge difference to my career and life. The show just happened. Now I am still part of FIR though not regularly. But it remains close to my heart. Maybe I won’t be part of FIR in the coming weeks.
What about films?
I’ve done films. But nothing major. I’ve met directors like Ashutosh Gowriker. But I am not too sure I can make the time to do tv. How stupid it would seem if I approach filmmakers for work and then I say my TV work doesn’t allow me time to work for them. Besides, the films that I did have done nothing for my career. I’d rather not play the hero’s funny friend. I am done with all that.
Are you from a family of entertainers?
Nobody else in my family is part of the entertainment industry. I come from a Marwari business family. We’re three brothers. My two brothers work in New York and Mumbai. My father has his own business My real name is Raghvendra. But I was known as Kiku from the time I was a child.
Is your wife a fan of Palak?
My wife is not so much of TV watcher. Actually we are not big fans of television comedy. We watch a lot of CID and Bigg Boss. We like watching reality shows. We also like watching all the new films in theatres. I love the grandeur of the big screen.I’d like to be part of it. But only if I get something substantial.
How do your children react to Palak?
They’re 5 and 8 years old. They’re growing up watching me do all kinds of characters on television wearing the weirdest of clothes and wigs. So Palak doesn’t shock them. But yes, it would be embarrassing if some friends teased them about their father dressing up like a girl. Luckily so far that’s not happened.
Do your kids expect you to be funny at home?
They do. And I am. I love hanging out with my kids. I play all kinds of games .We speak in a specially-invented language.I try to make the processing of knowledge innovative and exciting for them.
Do you one day hope to have your own show like Kapil?
Not really. I’ve the highest regard for what Kapil Sharma does. I don’t think I can pull it off.I can play characters. But I can’t hold a show together like Kapil can. Sunil Grover and I have spoken about this.
What is your take on Sunil Grover’s departure from Kapil’s show?
A lot has already been said and written about this. People said Sunil had to leave because Kapil was jealous, That’s not true at all. Sunil has the highest regard for Kapil. So do I. Kapil is a man of genius. He is involved in every department of the show. He’s a one-man army. At 5 am he is alert awake and raring to go. He enthuses all of us. He comes to the sets sings a song, plays the drums , makes us all feel charged.
Do you get mobbed?
Ha, ha, not mobbed. But yes people do approach me for a photograph when I am at a restaurant with my family.On the road when I am driving heads keep popping out from other cars to say hello. And I love that. The day people stop approaching me it’d mean I done.
Are you recognized without your Palak get-up?
Luckily ,yes. I’ve done a lot of work before Palak.They connect with me more through Palak. But they know my real face even if they don’t know my name.
How do you avoid charges of vulgarity?
A joke’s impact depends on the way it is narrated. My respect for Kapil also comes from the fact that he never resorts to crudity. He never takes that route.Sometimes when you don’t have a script the simplest way to make people laugh is to switch to vulgarity.Kapil was recently pulled up for making a comment on a pregnant woman giving birth while negotiating a pothole on a two-wheeler. That was more a comment on our roads than women. Now Kapil takes so many potshots at his stage-wife.Some people may get up one day and object to that. So then what do we laugh about? You can’t call a fat man fat man? Then what do you call him? Agar har chotisi cheez bura lagega toh comedy kaise hoga? We need to take ourselves far less seriously. Take a stand when you need to. But learn to take a joke.
What after Palak?
I’ve never been ambitious. Now when suddenly things are going so well for me I’d be lying if I narrated a screenplay about a long struggle for myself. I come from a family where money was not a problem. I had the freedom to do what I like.Even on Nach Baliye I’ve told my wife we’d be only dancing until we enjoy it. Likewise I’ll continue doing the work I enjoy until I enjoy it.
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