Shekhar Suman, the pasha of satire, says he has no intention of staying stuck in the genre
He is possibly the best-known face of Indian comedy. Years before any of us had heard of Seinfeld and stand-up entered the mainstream, he was dishing it out on Movers and Shakers. And with the Great Indian Laughter Challenge taking off as it has, Shekhar Suman seems in `comedy' heaven. "The verdict is out. The audience totally loved the show," he says. With the second season of Laughter Challenge kicking off with a whole new cast of comedians, it seems like comedy has finally come of age. As Suman explains, despite humour existing in our society for as long as anyone can remember, it never had a platform for itself. "When I was doing a stand-up act in Movers and Shakers, I didn't know what I was doing. I just assumed that I was connecting with the audience, until someone told me that I was actually doing stand-up comedy. Now, humour is finally getting the respect it deserves."
It's easy to see why Laughter Challenge, and to a lesser extent, the Great Indian Comedy Show, have become such runaway successes. In a world where TV is dominated by melodramatic soaps, stand-up comedy is refreshingly original. "It's more relatable," says Suman, "because it's grounded in reality. It isn't about tears, crying or beating your chest." Besides, with Indian sitcoms being what they are, the country seems starved for Suman and his ilk of humorists. Indeed, there has been a realisation within the film fraternity too of the power of comedy. After all, almost all of the biggest Bollywood actors have turned to comedy in recent times to rescue their sagging careers. "Comedy has worked for everyone," points out Suman. "Salman Khan resurrected his career with comedy. Saif Ali Khan is more sought after than most of the action heroes in Bollywood because of his comedy skills. Sanjay Dutt, one of the biggest heroes, is best remembered as Munna Bhai. Even Amitabh Bachchan has frequently done comedy." Suman too owes his success to comedy. His first attempt at the big screen opposite Rekha in Utsav was far from a hit. And neither were any of the other dozen or so film appearances that followed. On the small screen, as possibly the only satirist in the country, though, he quickly shot to fame.Despite the rising popularity of comedy, Suman is eager to get away from the genre. After years of laughter and fun, he wants to call it a day. He had originally endeavoured to come into comedy just to see if he could do it, but somehow got stuck in the genre. "It's like my visa expired, but I overstayed. After a point, doing only humour is taxing. It's only a tiny aspect of my talent. People need to understand the difference between an actor with comic talent and a comedian." Even the dry wit that has earned him bouquets and brickbats, he says with candour, is just him filling a space that will soon be occupied by someone else. "I'm just the frontman. I am asked to deliver lines and I do it. Tomorrow, if I don't say these things, someone else will." But does he see a future outside of comedy? "I am experimenting with life. I have a couple of films on the cards. I want to sing, write, act, produce, make ads and direct films. I want to push the envelope as an actor. My future is just as bright or as bleak as anyone else's, but I couldn't care less." RAKESH MEHRA