It is the opening episode of Zee Tamil’s reality show Comedy Khiladis, and the rules of the show are crystal clear.

“It is time for you all to take an oath,” Vigneshkanth, a judge on the show, tells the contestants. All 31 of them repeat after him. “I will not steal concepts from other shows and pretend that I created it,” he continues, to roaring laughter from the audience. “If I get eliminated, I will not bring my parents and make a scene, crying and providing content for the show.”

Comedy Khiladis, which features participants from all over Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, Trichy, Madurai, Coimbatore and Tirunelveli, is aired every Sunday afternoon. Among the judges are actress Devadarshini and Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara comedian Daniel Annie Pope, better known as Danny.

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Comedy Khiladis (2018).

Like in any other reality show format, the contestants in Comedy Khiladis will be scored on their performance and narrowed down through rounds of elimination. It is up to the contestants to choose whether they want to perform in groups or fly solo. The opening act of the first episode brought alive the Rajinikanth-Kamal Haasan rivalry with a hilarious twist: filmmaker K Bhagyaraj, who has worked with both actors, played a wicked umpire.

Comedy Khiladis (2018).
Comedy Khiladis (2018).

“Naa epo varuven epdi varuvenu yaarukum theriyadhu, aana varavendiya nerathula correct ah varuven (Even I do not know how and when I will arrive, but I will arrive when the time is right),” Chitti Rao, a 21-year-old contestant said, mimicking Rajinikanth’s famous line from Muthu (1995). “It has been 300 years since this dialogue came out. Tell me something new,” the umpire retorted with a yawn.

Rao said that he chose to play Rajinikanth because the actor is back in the news after he announced his decision to join politics on December 31. The announcement came shortly after Haasan officially declared his political ambitions in November.

“The director wanted us to perform something that could connect to the audience quickly, with it being the first performance of the first episode,” Rao said. “So Rajini sir and Kamal sir were going viral at the time for their news about politics.”

Comedy reality shows are highly popular on Tamil television. The makers of Comedy Khiladis hope the show will stand out with its wide range of amateur participants.

“Comedy is a very important part of the whole Tamil culture, which include films and television,” the cluster head of South Business, Zee Entertainment, Siju Prabhakaran, told Scroll.in. “Having said that, comedy is very difficult to crack. There is a very fine line between good comedy and bad comedy. We wanted to take a different approach. We wanted the show to connect with youngsters who can sit and enjoy comedy with the family.”

The effort to choose contestants from across the state was novel, Prabhakaran claimed. “But the whole proof of the pudding is in that if you are going to have a good laugh about the show, the content would have served its purpose.”

The young comedians are tremendously confident, which improves the quality of the performances, Devadarshini pointed out. “Right from their script and their confidence, they look quite good,” said the actress and judge about the show. “I have been in the industry for donkey’s years. But even now when you put me on stage, I get butterflies in my stomach. Moreover, comedy is a really difficult genre. It is very easy to make people cry, but not to make them laugh. If not for timing, the comedy will fall flat. It is a genre which can easily be criticised. To excel in something like that with confidence is very difficult.”

The contestants do need to impress the judges, but the real target is the audience. “There are a lot of television channels and a lot of comedy shows,” Danny pointed out. “I want to do something different in them. That is what I expect from the show. The contestants need not entertain us at all, but they should be able to make the audience laugh.”

Television actress Nandhini, another judge on the series, said that the freshness in the show’s content was enough to beat the crowd. “There might be many such shows, but the fact remains that fans love today’s Rajinikanth better than yesterday’s Rajinikanth,” she said.