Krushna Abhishek is rehearsing his script for 'Comedy Nights Bachao' with fellow comedian Sudesh Lehri. The show follows the form of a roast, bringing its guests down a peg or two. The night we visit the sets, Sonam Kapoor is around to promote her next movie 'Neerja', along with the cast of 'Tere Bin Laden 2' — Manish Paul, Riya Sen and Sikander Kher.
Krushna Abhishek on the sets of 'Comedy Nights Bachao', which shares the same space as 'Comedy Nights Live', which until last month, was the kingdom of Kapil Sharma who hosted 'Comedy Nights with Kapil' for Colors. Pic/Sameer Markande
Sudesh is dressed as a baba who is answering Krishna’s questions in an all-knowing manner. "Baba Sikander Kher ke bare main kuch bolo?" says Krushna, "Nahin tu bata," says Baba. "Pehle aap", "Pehlu Tu"… "koi toh batao, kaun hai yeh Sikander Kher?" As we laugh inside Krushna’s crowded dressing room on the sets, we know millions will also laugh when they see the show on television.
Also read: Kapil Sharma's show might be pulled off air
Krushna Abhishek gets a fresh coat of make-up before shooting an episode of 'Comedy Nights Bachao'. It’s rumoured that among the reasons for Kapil Sharma’s exit from 'Comedy Nights...' was also the popularity of Krushna’s show, also on Colors. Pics/Sameer Markande
Krushna has been hosting 'Comedy Nights Bachao' since September 2015. Last week, he took over the crown from Colors’ big ticket Kapil Sharma, who left 'Comedy Nights with Kapil' last month. The show has now been re-titled 'Comedy Nights Live' (CNL).
Rumours are rife that Kapil was replaced as the channel thought he had gotten too big for his boots and was upset that Krushna’s 'Comedy Nights Bachao' was doing as good, or better, than his show.
Krushna on the sets of 'Comedy Nights Bachao', in Powai
In media reports, Colors’ CEO Raj Nayak has gone on record, saying, that Kapil was "renegotiating and asking for more money which we gave, but the more important and worrying thing was that he violated his contract by hosting shows on competing channels" and also that "his managers started panicking when, in terms of ratings, 'Comedy Nights Bachao' started doing well, and better, than 'Comedy Nights With Kapil' in some episodes". After it was reported that Kapil left in a huff, and now is in negotiations with several different networks for a new show, Krushna was asked to take over the empty slot.
"It’s the same dhancha, because people are used to that," says CNL director Nikul Desai, who also used to direct 'Comedy Circus' — the talent show on Sony TV which launched Kapil, Krushna, Bharti Singh and Sudesh among others. "'Comedy Nights' is a brand and they want to continue that. Krushna plays Pappu and his family and friends come to visit as that’s the brief — ‘naye kirayedaar aye hai’. Of course, there is a certain pressure as Kapil was awesome, and the brand is so successful, but I think over a period of time, people will like our jokes. Krushna is a full entertainer — he can dance, act, sing… he is not a stand up-comic. He’s a performer."
"People are calling me up and saying that they want to be on my shows. Salman has tweeted about me, Shah Rukh has as well," says 33-year-old Krushna as he sits for a touch-up just before going on stage for Bachao. Dressed in black tracks and a T-shirt, he seems bigger and broader in person. And he doesn’t seem one to mince his words. If anything, he seems intent on telling it as it is. "If you ask me, the greatest stand-up comic in the country is Kapil Sharma. I am his fan. We were the pillars of 'Comedy Circus'. He is popular for his one-liners, and his audience interaction. I am different from him, because I am an actor — I take on guises, I dance and I sing."
Nikul Desai, CNL director
There’s truth to that. Krushna has also done some 40 films in Bhojpuri, and a few in Tamil, Telugu, and Bollywood (Bol Bachchan, Entertainment), but his big break, he says, came with 'Nach Baliye' in 2007. "I had just started dating Kashmeera (Shah), and Star asked us to participate. Once that finished, Comedy Circus (2009) came calling," he says, adding that he has no clue where his comedy gene comes from. It could be credited to growing up in a filmy family. Krushna is actor Govinda’s nephew — born in Borivali, he grew up in Juhu next to Farah Khan’s house. He says he grew up watching ‘Chi Chi’ mama, and knew that he always wanted to be an actor.
"I was impressed by him, but he hasn’t helped me in my career. I used to wear his hand-me-downs. So, when I went somewhere, people would say ‘oh, that’s the jacket Govinda wore in 'Ankhiyon Se Goli Maare'," he laughs. "I think my first acting assignment was as Jesus in a school play. I entertained the girls all the time." He sees these two shows as the next big challenge in his life. "Meri abhi haalat kharab hai," he turns towards us and says seriously. "When Bachao started, I had to prove myself, and now 'Comedy Nights Live' is on my head, and I have to prove myself all over again. I have to keep proving myself, despite being a part of this industry for over a decade. That’s the nature of this line of work. Your next appearance decides your next move, month, year, producer..."
Colleague, Bharti, who stars with him in both Bachao and CNL, says Krushna is her strength. "If he is around, I can do anything," she laughs, and then adds, "but seriously, we haven’t replaced anyone. We are just carving a space for ourselves, with our brand of comedy. If someone says no to hot pizza, will you also say no it? Kapil left, so we are doing the show."
JD Majethia, co-chairman of the Indian Film and TV Producers Council, says that unlike daily soap actors, comedians have a lot of avenues to branch out into — "they can host award shows, and they do a lot of live shows." He feels that when a channel has a hit show and a star leaves, it doesn’t really affect the channel. "Shows go on. And if a person is really talented, they will find success on a different channel as well." He feels that TV is losing its audience to the digital platforms and the best way to combat that is not to ape each other. "If one show is successful on one channel, don’t make another one like it. We need to up the quality of content."
Krushna is aware that he, too, may be asked to leave if the show doesn’t do well. But, he seems to take it in his stride, "We are actors, we are not gods." Then, he pauses for effect and smiles, "When Amar Upadhyay (who played Mihir Virani, the lead) left Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, it still went on, didn’t it? Shows go on. We will have to work very hard because Kapil is a star and I know that, people love him. He used to stand up for me at one time. I think he got angry, because I didn’t go on his show for two years. But if you are a brand, I am also making my brand. My ego doesn’t allow me to come on your show and do a two-minute appearance."
When Krushna goes on set, the live audience breaks into a thumping applause, and he poses in full filmy style for the photographer. Before he heads off to shoot the episode, he tells us in all seriousness, "I am still working on myself. I now have this big show on my shoulders. I made Bachao work, and now I will have to make this work. That’s the way it is. When Kapil starts a new show, even he will be under pressure to make it work.
But that’s just the way it works in this world."