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Cyrus Broacha's number on

Transcript of the Cyrus Broacha interview, India's favourite VJ

Are we ready to start the interview?

The whole delay and exercise was to make me look good. They gave me this shirt and these ethnic pants. But I decided to spoil it by taking out my towel. To show the real me! This towel hasnít been washed for seven days. I just want the Rediff surfers to check this out. Itís important to feel close to your towel. Life mein towel aur chaddi, these are the two most important things. So I donít care if I donít wash them. I must feel comfortable.

Were you like this as a kid also?

No, I was much shorter! I was not dirty, no, whatís the word... I was not hygienic. I am clean now. I donít want to scare the girls but I was scrubby... No, I was untidy. Yes, thatís the word. Untidy. Completely untidy!

Were you a quiet kid?

Not really, in fact, not at all. That was my one problem. I was completely not quiet. I remember my first report card. My father took it out the other day when some relatives had come from abroad. They were going through the album. Suddenly you see what you were like after all these years. There were a third or fourth standard report card, which had a remark: 'He has potential to score more marks but as usual is always talking'. This was the principalís exact remark. I was very proud of it. Ha! Ha! That day they were making fun of me; today I am making money because I am talking.

Have you met your teachers lately, especially the principal?

I heard he is settled in Pune. I am not in touch with him. It is scary now to go back. I am in touch with one or two teachers. I met this guy, Dr Krishnan, who was our English professor. He has a PhD. He used to have very strong opinions. For example, he wanted the entire north belt of India, what is called the cow belt, thrown out of the country! Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and whatever. You canít say these things if you are a teacher. For us it was strange to meet someone like that. The guy would say what he felt; usually you have teachers, who have a certain politically correct way of teaching which is easy. But here was a guy who tells you how he feels. So even if it was wrong or right, that is not the point. The point is he was fun in the class. He was a bit of a sexist too, he would make certain remarks, but he was great teacher.

He gave you freedom of speech in the classroom?

Correct. Exactly. And then you could argue back. I remember one of my best friends, he was a bhaiyya (a term for north Indians) boy called Nitin. I would get up and argue about the Hindi-English divide. He would argue about seat reservation Ė the Mandal Commission controversy had just broken out at that time. So all these arguments would take place. It was more on comic level than on the serious level. But if you have arguments like that outside it will be your last day in India.

You have had formal training as an actor?

In 1985, I did a play called Memoirs with Pearl Padamsee who just died a few months ago. I was just 14. That was the beginning. But Bombay theatre scene was such that there were only so many plays you could do. I met some people who had studied the Stanislavsky method. I wanted to do theatre.

You see theatre as a medium allows you to exaggerate and act. And to do comedy is great fun. Serious plays however suffers, say, when compared to films as a medium. If I am doing an interview right now, as a scene in a movie, it will come out okay Ė I am playing a guy who is hyper, which I am, I can wave my arms and all that. But look at youyou havenít moved at all. Your face is more or less impassive. You are talking in a low volume. If we were doing it in theatre, you will have to reach the 800th person in the back row. So you canít be like this, I canít be like this. I have to be even more hyper!

With the Stanislavksy method everything is broken down to realism. Itís come to a point in the West where it's got so extreme, they insist on being more real than they should be. Theyíll say ďI love youĒ (Cyrus mumbles) in Marlon Brando styleÖ they mumble everything, you canít hear anything. Itís interesting to expose yourself to all these methods. Itís a whole new world. I really enjoyed myself in New York when I went to study acting.

I had even won two auditions but my characters were racially not correct. One was a Jewish white boy and the other was a Cuban guy. When you go for auditions the big problem is your brown skin. But in the last six months, since Manoj Night Shyamalan has broken through and Tarsem has come up with a film its been good for us. I believe Firoz Vasunia, who is Hosi Vasuniaís son, has had his script picked up by a Hollywood studio. If that script is made in to a movie, it will be good for us. Maybe weíll all get a call up there.

How did your audition for MTV go?

I auditioned actually in a very strange way because TV18 was pitching to make software for MTV. There was this show called MTV-U. But amongst us aspiring VJ's they had a competition. We had to do a piece on rappelling. There was this guy Ė I donít want to be rude Ė who was some kind of a model, who was running his hand through his hair all the time. He was the kind of guy you wanted to throw out of television and ask him never to come back. I canít bear those guys, I donít mean any disrespect to anybody. Everyone tries hard but you canít just stand there and play with your hair.

Anyway it was a rappelling segment. The only reason I think I got it was because I was so scared. Iím not a guy who has climbed mountains. But we had to rappel on a seven- storied building in YMCA, Byculla, and climb down. At the point at which you had to go over the terrace you are actually on the verge of a free fall. I thought this is not worth it. Forget TV shows, I would do my bad plays and make money. It was really a funny moment because I was grabbing my abdomen saying, 'Boss, I want to come down'. People were having great fun but actually my pants were wet inside. The worst part was that when I came down, the cameraman tells me, 'I didnít get the shot, can we do it again?'.

Were you ready for the fame?

I didnít know this. I didnít know it going to be like this. I swear on God. I was still studying law, 6 pm to 9 pm. My dad is a lawyer. I was still doing freelance copy. I still do my radio. So I had all these little fall-out plans. But then we had a 4-million viewership for MTV. It was very difficult those day, unlike these young pubs who come in and become stars in two days. For MTV-U, I used to go with the crew, talk to the principal, and get the permission. We used to have a BBC format which is all lies. Like we used to go to the Chandigarh principal and tell them 'Yeh physics department bahut acha hai'(This physics department is very good). And everyone knew that the physics department is the seventh worst in the world.

It was very tough scenario then. MTV-U was a great training ground for me, the TV18 crew, the MTV crew. Now itís much easier. MTV is a known name and we have a large viewership. When we walk in, people want us to shoot. In a way we are much more complacent now, at least people like me because itís too easy sometimes.

There are shows designed around you. How do you do that?

Letís understand how it works in any democracy. Sponsors rule the country, right? Why do you have a one-day match? Because Pepsi wants to play. So itís the same thing here. The sponsors are the creative people. They decide everything. You just fit in.

What about Bakra and Loveline? What are you doing in a show like that giving advice on love?

I was doing a dial-in radio show from in 1993 Ė the Polo Dial-In Show, which after the FM radio fiasco was taken off. There was another chap on the dial-up show who used to give serious advice. But how can I give someone advice? I canít. My whole life is a mess. I canít turn around and tell someone you should do this, you should do that. So all I do is, I talk positively to them and make it very flippant and have fun. And that is just an extension of me.

I thoroughly love doing Loveline. People always ask me are you sure you want to do this programme Ė love advice and all. "Tereko waste karta hain idhar. Do some masti (You are being wasted here. Do some fun programmes)."

But I enjoy telling people to do silly things. Itís great to see a person who is seriously telling me 'I want to leave my wife'. So I tell him, "Leave her, whatís the problem? Jaa na, cricket khelo maidan mein! (Go, play some cricket)" Itís just a way to laugh. The whole thing is not to take it seriously.

How about Bakra? Is it back to the MTV-U days, you on the streets?

Bakra is a tough shoot for us, but itís great fun. Frankly itís the most fun shoot we have for the whole crew. We have to set up, we have to coax, we have to wait, we have to patao (win over). After the shoot, we have to patao if they are upset, which happens occasionally. But again it is a great learning process. We are far better than we were technically when we started.

There were screw-ups, lights were not in place, the person will not be in the frame. I mean, the fly-cam is placed here and we plan everything and the guy decides to stand there in that corner. Itís so unnatural for me to go there and bring him here, you know. You canít just go there, and say 'Hey bhaiyya, idhar aa (Hey brother, come here) and pull him there. Heíll give you one slap. All that is fun Ė what gags work, what is too much of intimidation, what is too little, what is not funny?

It could be dangerous also. Some of the bakra stuff is done on you.

I think thatís good. That keeps us on our guard because we keep playing pranks on ourselves, our own crew, on me. In the public perception it is important they understand that you are not a bully. These are folks who catch the train at 5.15 am, and come to eat pav-bhaji at 7.30 am and you crack a bakra (joke)on him, he 'll be upset and his whole day is gone. The perception should be such that everyone could be a bakra. Being a bakra starts at home.

And now you are imitating Mr Amitabh Bachchan with Kaun Banega Kangaal?

Firstly, I want to say Iím a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan and I hope (making a plea to Mr Bachchan on camera), ĎSir, you are watching this and I can get a small role in Abhishekís next movie as a treeí. Iím so glad Amitabh is back because heís wiped out the rest of the superstars of TV. He is a phenomenon. Being at MTV our idea is of course to take the flippant side Ė Kaun Banega Kangal. We are thinking of give the guests one crore (ten million) and then make him kangaal (broke)Ö

Just like Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who'll be a multimillionaire), the Pepsi commercial featuring you - Mera Number Kab Aayega - has become a cultural phenomeon.

I donít want to sound modest, but I think the Pepsi commercialís success really goes to this girl called Anuja and Prahlad Kakkar. Anuja, who is at Hindustan Thomson Associates, wrote that great line Ė Mera number kab ayega? (When will my turn come?). We all empathise with the loser. In our heart of hearts, you feel like that guy at some point in the day. So the whole idea is everybody, except this guy, wins. But he still goes on saying ďMera number ayega! (my turn will come)Ē Heís 90 years old and he is still saying it.

Like Bakra, Mera number kab ayega cuts across society. I go to have a drink on the weekends, the bartenders crack the joke at me 'Mera number ayega"!. I go to Bombay Gymkhana, the upmarket society, and people come and tell me, "Aa gaya kya tera number? (Has your number come?)" Wherever I go Ė Madras, Jallandhar Ė I get that feedback. Anuja has written a brilliant line that has gone through everybody. We are just lucky to be associated with it. And yes, I definitely feel I am that character. When it comes to women and careers, mera number ayega, ayegaÖ

Who are your heroes?

I had many when we were young, but after the cricket scandal I donít know what to do. Weíve all become so cynical. A whole generation is going to grow up cynical by 15 or 16. I was a complete cricket fanatic. Whatever happened in life, I would tune up to Radio Jamaica early morning, 4 oíclock, to listen to the West Indies-Australia match in the Eighties. I feel bad for this generation growing up. My heroes then were Gavaskar and Kapil; I was a little too early for Sachin. In films, my hero is Amitabh Bachchan. I donít think thereís any other actor.

I also admire Naseeruddin Shah but thatís more because of his plays. I saw all his plays, including his monologues. I have watched some of them four times and every time Naseer would do it differently. And monologue is serious acting business! Naseer puts his money where his mouth is. He does his movies because he has to pay his bills. But heís always doing his plays. And for that simple reason he is a role model. If you can be like that, itís a gift.

If you were a 15-year-old, how much pocket money would you need today?

Where I come from my whole family is very tight-fisted. They never gave me any money. My dad gave me Rs 20 a week from eighth standard to the end of college. This meant on Monday you ate vada-pav, kachcha kairi, which is my favourite, and two kala-khattas, one sugarcane juice, and the money was over. Money had to be borrowed. I owe so much money to so many people, I hope they donít watch this show. Itís scary.

You still want to be a lawyer?

When I see the television serials, especially the American ones, I get inspired. But when you actually go to court here, like I have been for couple of cases, itís totally different. Itís smelly and dirty and they canít hear you. The other court is in session next door and half the time, all you hear is "Next, next". Three cases are argued in the three-hour session. So I havenít finished my law course. I thought television is a young manís game Ė play the game for two years and then move on and do something else. Now a whole industry has come up. There are so many channels, so many shows. Weíre getting into sports. Iím dying to get into sports. I keep telling my boss, let me be a commentator. I can be Harsha Bhogle with a little comic twist!

The bottomline is you are having fun.

Canít complain, boss. Paisa (money) is easy, work is nonsense. You get clothes for free, girls at least come and talk to you. Only the towel hasnít changed!

Produced by SoundPicture Communications

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 Video interview
  His towel
  At school
  His favourite professor
  Theatre days
  In Hollywood
  As an anchor
  Cyrus and Loveline
  The 'bakra'
  Kaun Banega Kangaal
  Mera Number Ayega
  His role model
  Clothes and pocket money
  Becoming a lawyer
Video Promos
  The Pepsi ad