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Exclusive! Zakir Khan: I have grown up listening to Ram Katha, Gospels & Shahadat Nama; I love all religions and it’s not fake

The star comedian-poet, who has recently dropped his third comedy special on Amazon Prime Video, in a tell-all interview, spoke about humour and religion, gaalis and the elusive nature of fame, and why he doesn’t want to talk about certain unimportant people responsible for him being dropped from a comedy show years ago. Read on...

Exclusive! Zakir Khan: I have grown up listening to Ram Katha, Gospels & Shahadat Nama; I love all religions and it’s not fake
Zakir Khan
  • Pallabi Dey Purkayastha

Last Updated: 05.51 AM, Jan 19, 2023

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2 AM in the night. All alone in a dingy flat somewhere. A bleeding bosom. Zakir Khan’s shayaris on loop. Tell me a better way to nurse your broken heart back to good health, I will wait.

They say to make a man laugh is one of the toughest jobs in the world and star comedian-poet Zakir Khan seemed to have cracked the secret code ages back. In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Zakir—ever-so-fun and candid—spoke about the importance of inculcating sanskar in generations to come, explains why expletives in comedy sketches are more than okay, and reveals that despite the mammoth fan following, he is amused that his 'show' is still going on. “I am not publishing a book of my poems as I feel it is very personal,” a coy Zakir tells us, when quizzed about his heart-wrenching shayaris on relationships and just life in general.

In this tell-all interview, Zakir Khan also addresses the elephant in the room head on: religion.

Edited excerpts from our chat with the comedian:

Those who have watched Tathastu live are calling it your ‘finest work so far’ and that is a big claim to make for someone who is already dubbed ‘the finest of this generation’. Why do you think Tathastu has, and will resonate with your fans?

This is a trilogy of three of my specials: Haq Se Single was for fans, Kaksha Gyaarvi was for people who don’t know me and Tathastu is for me and my people (chuckles!) It is a very personal story and, as an artiste, I have added multiple layers to it. I wanted to see this: every time you talk relatable things to people, (it sticks) but this time I wanted to make it as personal as it can get and see whether it will still fly or not. Also, I was born and brought up in a very sanskari family; I come from a family of Indian classical musicians, khandan, parampara and prathishta (smiles!) So, I have learnt a lot of values that help me a lot in life. A lot of my friends are having babies these days and I tell them all that they should bore their kids with values and morals. Bombard them with values because you don’t know when a situation will come and they will understand and learn everything that you have been teaching and telling them. Because, this has happened to me as my father, grandfather and mother have all tried to inject certain kind of values (in me) that have really helped me reach, grow and sustain here. So, I guess, I want a piece of that to reach the audience and that is why I made this show Tathastu.

If Kaksha Gyaarvi was about your younger days, Haq Se Single talked about men in love, among other things, and now Tathastu is filled with inspirational stories involving your deceased grandfather. Between these three Amazon Prime Video exclusives, in what ways has Zakir Khan—the artist—grown and evolved?

I think I am proud of every day that I have lived—I am proud of Zakir Khan when I was 16, I was proud of Zakir Khan when I was 25 and I am proud of Zakir Khan when I am now 35. I am proud of every day that I have lived (in this world) and taken some of the best decisions according to my limited understanding at that time. I was just telling somebody that no two shows of mine are identical. So, I have certainly grown. Like if you watch my first and second shows on the same day, usme bhi change hojata hai. So, while growing, a lot changes in your personality. But, I will not diss anything that I have done in the past. I am proud of them. I am proud of Kaksha Gyaarvi, Haq Se Single and I am super proud of Tathastu.

Unfortunately, you were dropped as the celebrity judge of a laughter challenge show and there is a lot of reference of that in Tathastu. Was doing this piece of work, in a way, cathartic for you?

Kahaan dekha mera show? Bhopal main? Arre waah! I think the dates were something that made it a part of Tathastu. It was around the same time when that (referring to being axed from the show) happened and my grandfather also died. These incidents were very close to each other (in timing). So, it was impossible to not mention what exactly was I doing at that time and why I couldn’t meet him for one last time. In that regard, I think it was important to mention that, otherwise every person that has hurt me or done me wrong, why would they be mentioned in what I do? Why give power to someone who is not important? It was just that. I could not pass through it kyunki agar kuch aur banata toh lagta ki jhut bol rahaan hoon main. And, Tathastu is a special where I have not lied at all. 80 percent of the show is true. That’s why I had to mention it, otherwise I would have not.

You are one of those comedians who talks about different religions in equal measures (even on Instagram, for example) but rarely gets in trouble for that. Why do you think that the self-proclaimed agents of morality go easy on you or steer clear of controversies with you?

Main batata hoon tumko. I am answering you very honestly although, technically, we shouldn’t be talking about these things. But, anyway, I will answer this question of yours because you were at the Bhopal show (chuckles!) So, you know, upbringing plays a major role in this. I am born in whatever family I am born in, okay? I went to a Christian missionary school which was a Catholic school and I studied there. Most of my friends in the last 10 years, since I have been living in Delhi, are Punjabi people. Secondly, when I used to play the Sitar, I have played as a background player in Sitar pravachans since the age of 12. So, prachavan plays, then there’s Ram Katha and you are playing as a background musician. My understanding of religion and storytelling comes a lot from all these different places (that I just mentioned). Jab Muharram pe Marsiya padha jaata hain and Shahadat Nama (Testimony of Faith) is read, when Ram Katha takes place and when Gospels were taught in school, I learnt to listen to and tell stories from all these places. So, a lot of my sanskar comes from all these places. All your concerts happen in mandirs. In Indore, there’s a Shani mandir which is an old temple and we have a concert that goes on for 14 days. And, for those 14 days, I am there. So, my upbringing was centered around all of that. I am from a Muslim family but I was raised amidst that. My upbringing is so multi-cultural that I love one and all and that is not insincere or fake. Mere respect sabke liye ek hain. If you can see Baba Nanak’s photo behind me, then that is for a reason. Because when this was given to me by someone, that person said that we share a bond of brotherhood and let’s keep it secular. And that is why this picture is very close to my heart. I feel I am an observant person and all these stories (from different religions) are so beautiful. I have always been curious about learning and so everything that I can learn from, I will be there. Every person that I can learn from, I will try to reach them.

A lot of the comedy material that are produced these days are laden with expletives and it seems to have been working well for years now. Same gaalis, different comedians: why do you think these types of jokes land so well, for some?

Because they need it! There’s nothing in this world that exists without the need. If you are a teacher and you have even one student in this world, so are you still a teacher or not? Haan, you are still a teacher. Right? If you have even one student, then you are a teacher. So, if even one person is laughing, then it is a joke and it has every right to exist. Jiske liye jaisa chale, jisko jaisa pasand aaye. I mean if they like it, why should that affect us? I mean, how can we interfere? Kaun kis baatpe hasega isme hum kaise stake holder ho sakte hai (laughs!), to be very honest? So, it is an intimate relationship between an artist and the audience ki what makes them laugh and what doesn’t. This is their prerogative, apna kuch nahin hai usme. I think it’s great if it is working. Kyunki, agar audience nahin hogi toh artist nahin bolega kabhi bhi. And, any art form is a reflection of society.

Your shayaris are again an amalgamation of personal struggles and victories. If you were to choose between storytelling and poetry, which one would you chose and why?

If I have to choose personally, I will choose poetry. If I have to choose professionally, I will choose storytelling. Because that is the reason why I am not publishing a book of my poems as I feel it is very personal. I wrote what I felt at that given point of time. Isiliye who kavitayein mere dilke bohot kareeb hai.

As is the case with most artists, sometimes the younger lot or the man-of-the-moment takes away the spotlight. Do you ever fear that one day your shows will not be jampacked or you will be swiftly replaced? Do you have what some may call a creative person’s insecurity?

No, I don’t have the creative person’s insecurity. I feel like I am on a journey and in this journey, a lot of people have come onboard. But, tomorrow, if people are less, then it is fine by me. I am learning every day; I am growing every day and that is what I focus on. There’s a saying in Marwadi, which goes as this: Kade ghee ghana, kade muthi bhar chana. It means that somedays you eat a lot of ghee (clarified butter), and somedays you manage with chanas (peanuts). We will see when I reach that stage in my life. Every morning I wake up and am amused that this is still going on. Thank you very much! If it doesn’t (go as planned), then I am prepared every single day. Before I sleep, I am prepared knowing that next morning it may not be there. So, I am fine with it.

The boom of OTT platforms has opened many doors for a lot of people in the industry. Is it safe to say that your own growing popularity has a lot to do with your work with OTT platforms?

I will not be ungrateful and say no to it. I will say yes (laughs!) Haan uska farak toh pada hi hain. These things (referring to OTT platforms) add grandeur when you associate with them. I am very thankful to the Amazon people and their teams because they believed in me for so many years and I hope they continue working with me.

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