Raju Srivastav: One of the Last Men Standing

23 Sep,2022




By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorSeason 1 of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, aired on the then-newly-launched Star One in 2005, will rank high in the list of landmark Indian television shows in the satellite TV era. The season was a rip-roaring success, touching ratings unheard of outside Star Plus at that time. More importantly, it ushered in an era of stand-up comedy on mass Indian television, in turn giving birth to shows like Comedy Circus, and eventually to the biggest comedian India has seen till date, Kapil Sharma.


Raju Srivastav, who passed away earlier this week, was the most popular face of that season. He eventually went on to finish third, behind Sunil Pal and Ahsaan Qureshi. But for almost 15 years since then, Srivastav has had a remarkable television and events career, and was the face of his genre till Sharma burst on the scene.


Over the last few years, stand-up comedy in India has seen a marked shift, with the rise of streaming platforms. Targeting younger and more cosmopolitan audiences than mass TV, platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have relied on more urban humor, often using liberal sprinkling of the English language in their shows and specials. Oddly enough, some of the TV attempts at stand-up comedy in the last few years have been misdirected, trying to get the attention of the streaming audience. What else explains the choice of judges or mentors in some of them, such as Zakir Khan, Mallika Dua and Hussain Dalal in the 2017 season of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge? Not surprisingly, there hasn’t been another season since.


Netflix, on the other hand, seems to have realized that even for their urban, sophisticated audience, a mass comedian like Kapil Sharma is a bigger draw. Their I’m Not Done Yet special with Sharma earlier this year found good traction, with an estimated viewership of 8.8 million audience in India as per Ormax Media estimates.


But nevertheless, mass comedy faces some sort of an identity crisis in India. The rooted, local humor needs a certain breed of comedians, like Srivastav, which the stand-up comedy scene and the open mics, and now even GEC executives, tend to look down upon. We haven’t had a name of any significance breaking out in the last decade, since Sharma’s meteoric rise to fame.


To that extent, Srivastav would be remembered as one of the last men standing, pun intended. His brand of humor was inclusive and accessible, words whose importance has been diminishing in a streaming-driven content ecosystem.


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