I got heebie-jeebies when I saw myself in RDB ~ Cyrus Sahukar
Hosting, Films, Comedy, Theatre – Cyrus Sahukar is truly familiar with the adage, “Jack of All Trades” and in this case, he’s a master of them all! His wit and nose for humor have made Cyrus the go-to man for all things funny. Right from his start at MTV through his journey in films, TV, the Internet, and any other platform, this multi-faceted guy has constantly reinvented himself; there’s never a dull moment with Cyrus.
In an exclusive and freewheeling chat, Pandolin speaks to the man about his roots, his journey, his strengths, fears and everything that makes him the Cyrus Sahukar!
What you did with ‘Kickass Mornings’ back then, in the early 2000s, is the foundation of what TVF & AIB swayed the Internet with. How did an MTV or you yourself not explore the digital route first?
Absolutely. In 2001, we started spoofs and sketches with Cyrus Oshidar who was then the Creative Director at MTV. We started with a show called ‘Fully Faltoo’ where we did popular movie spoofs, like ‘Bechare Zameen Par’ which was a spoof on Taare Zameen par, then there was ‘Semi Girebaal’, then came Piddhu and then we did sketches with Cyrus Broacha. We were doing almost everything with similar aspects to what is happening now, but without the Internet.
I was 6 foot 3 inches, not handsome, had weird arms and looking good was never a priority at MTV for me or Broacha!
So what do you think happened to (Indian) TV after that? How did all of it end?
I joined MTV when I was 18 in circa 1999, and the benefit of what was happening during that generation was that they had only two options of networks; one being MTV and the other being Channel V, and we’d have around 8 to 12 million people tuning in. It was very different, and that ran for almost 8 to 10 years till I guess a new wave moved in and new reality TV kicked in. Even then, I did host the first season of Roadies, but then I believe that too many changes were happening.
When I first joined MTV, they never cared about the amount of money they were making, they were just playing, without being bothered about the output or what would happen. They were taking a lot of risks but then with the advent of reality TV and other things, comedy was going left or right! You know what I mean? It didn’t get as much importance as it was getting earlier and I think that is understandable. I don’t even know anyone else who had a straight 10-year run of doing spoofs and comedy and tried to push the boundaries.
And starting the first mockumentary series with ‘MTV Kickass Mornings’, it was a privilege to be in that position. It wasn’t that we were doing something unbelievably great. Some of it was good, some crap! But we were lucky to have that podium and in that, it wasn’t just us! We were surrounded by people who are the ones leading the advertising market today, be it Piyush Raghani or Ayyapa. All these people, who are directing great ad films and what not, had at that time somehow gravitated to one music channel or the other because of which the atmosphere itself was that of super excitement. And thus quiet frankly, it was a privilege to be there.
And now with the advent of digital, similar stuff is happening and it’s online! Probably today, ‘Semi Girebaal’ would have been something with a great number of hits on the net.
Every year there were people leaving MTV and then suddenly everybody quit. Do you think that changed the whole picture with MTV?
I think so. With MTV, it was terrible. One year, there was a huge bunch of people that quit and that was a big shift. It’s just the way that things work in life and in organizations. It’s not going to last forever. Everyone moved on to other things. But it was a great opportunity to be there at that time.
Even now, at least twice a day, I meet someone who knows all our work, and that’s a privilege.
Do you keep in touch with the original MTV team?
Ashish, Vaibhav, Mathur and I meet all the time. When you work as long as we did everyday for those many years, you bond. We’re really close. We’re in each other’s lives constantly. They’re people I can insult randomly and take for granted; it’s a great privilege! (Cyrus) Broacha, of course never calls me, I have to call him but I love him. That bond can’t change.
We never talk about work. We make fun of each other. We talk about food. We talk about random things. Strangely, work is never discussed. Nobody is competitive. We were never really saying “You take this line” or “This is mine”. Everybody was very warm and easy and that same culture continues today. Everybody is doing well enough in their own way. So collaborative conversations have not happened but the love is amazing. 10 years in an organization changes everything.
When I first joined MTV, they never cared about the amount of money they were making, they were just playing, without being bothered about the output or what would happen
Do you think the incoming of the very massy style of comedy and stand up comedians on TV sort of deflected the audiences away?
Yes! There was a show called ‘The Great Indian Comedy Show’ with Ranvir Shorey, Vivek Pathak, Ashwin Mushran, Gaurav Gera, Suresh Menon; all the good guys. It was in Hindi! And it was happening along with ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ so I don’t think it took away any market, rather it fed the market and further expanded it. But maybe, while all this was happening, the ideology became that since this was working, everybody started doing the same thing and when that happens, it is basically the end of variety.
I have never really understood why everybody always does the same thing! You could have easily had great English programming, hilarious Hindi programing, offbeat and massy stuff, and they could both co-exist like they do around the world. But somehow, everyone thought “This is working, and so we should only be doing this,” but yeah, it made the market bigger and fed that market.
Do you not enjoy television anymore? You did a Sab TV show called ‘Sab Khelo Sab Jeeto’.
Yes, I did 100 episodes, around last to last year. And then last year I did ‘Signature Start Up Masterclass.’ I’ve done two years with Hotstar where I had to host the pre-IPL game with Varun Thakur. Then I did a play and was also traveling for events. Which was then followed by the Tiago launch where I got to meet Lionel Messi. So, I still like TV. I’ve had good years and bad years. I keep doing my thing and whenever something comes about, it’s great.
I have seen too many super talented actors who couldn’t make ends meet, who just disappeared due to constant rejection and it was too much for them
You were one of the most handsome man on TV Y2K onwards. You were tall and you are still the most trained and skilled actor to be discovered by TV after SRK and (also Parmeet Sethi maybe) and your alma mater is same as SRK (School & Barry John Acting Studio) yet, Bollywood could only use you best in Aisha so far! Are you not interested or have the movies ignored you for the best parts?
I was never handsome, I was friendly-looking! I was 6 foot 3 inches, not handsome, had weird arms and looking good was never a priority at MTV for me or Broacha!
Sorry I cut your question!
What I am trying to understand is that you kickstarted a film career with Rang De Basanti (RDB), Delhi 6 and then…
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra called me for RDB! So I did RDB and then I did Delhi 6 in the very next year. With RDB, he just called me and said, “I want you in this film” and I obviously had no idea that it would become such a cult movement otherwise, I would have probably combed my hair and probably held that door shut longer to get more footage in the film (laughing). But he called me back and wanted to work with me again in Delhi 6, which I will always appreciate. I played this lazy, dodgy photographer who was trying to make ends meet. And then immediately after that I did Aisha, which was immediately followed by Love, Breakups, Zindagi. So I did three films in a year and a half!
I have never really understood why everybody always does the same thing!
Why didn’t you do much after that? Especially because with your character in Delhi 6, it looked like you had learnt acting and knew it for the first time because RDB was too small a part!
Yes, personally I got heebie-jeebies when I saw myself in RDB! I was like MY GOD! I had a heart attack basically!! Unreal! (Both of us mimicking the dialogue of his from RDB in sync) Personally, I knew I was so out of place but I was just lucky to be in that film, which was such a movement that anyone who was a part of it was somehow forgiven, so I did it. I was just lucky that this and all the other films happened.
I come from a school of thought where I need to be working everyday! So a large chunk of my career has gone in doing non-televised live events, hosting them, doing acts and performances and things like that. When I did those three films, it was a great run but I don’t think people understand that there are these people, actors who act in films on and off and there are people who are working actors! In my eyes, working actors are the ones who have enough jobs throughout the year that they do professionally and that pays the bills, so I did those films and immediately went on to doing television shows. I hosted ‘India’s Got Talent’ and this and that because I come from a school of someone who likes to work a lot!
But with an ‘actor actor’ you need talent and there’s this stinking feeling of being without work for months. And because so many of my friends are those actors, I have seen their lives very closely and it dawns upon you that it’s about going for a lot of auditions and looking for new work. While for me for instance, Aisha released on August 6, it was my birthday and the very next day I was out on a 10 city event tour. I could not sit still and because of the lack thereof, I could not focus single-handedly on doing films.
I have seen too many super talented actors who couldn’t make ends meet, who just disappeared due to constant rejection and it was too much for them. While for me, I just like to work. So if a film came my way, it was great but if it didn’t, I didn’t have the power to wait for it for 7 months!
You are today the first choice to host some of the biggest and best live events. Do you enjoy them or is it just bread and butter?I
For me, there is a lot of corporate and lifestyle event hosting in the live market world, and I really enjoy all of it. From the age of 18-19, I’ve grown up interacting live! By the time I was done with MTV, I had finished about 1000 events, and I was only 28-29 years old. My training is in live, that’s what I love and enjoy. I totally trip on it, it’s not something I do just to pay the bills. And I have been lucky to have had the opportunity of doing it. It has been a great bonus!
My desires to act were fulfilled and fueled a lot with theatre
That comes from your theatre training?
No, frankly, I don’t think so. Honestly, my real theatre training started just two years ago. I was 12-13 years old when I actually started with theatre, I did two plays – one with Roshan Abbas who was this gracious person and was always very sweet to all of us 13-14 year olds. And I did plays with Barry Johns’ but I was never good at them, maybe just good for a 14-year-old! I was just having fun with it. And then a couple of years later, at the age of 18 I joined MTV. But it was only two years ago that I did a play with Atul Kumar called ‘Trivial Disasters’ with Kalki (Koechlin) and Richa Chadha. That’s when I really started enjoying the process of theatre.
And then you did Rajat Kapoor’s ‘I Don’t Like It. As You Like It.’
Yes, I got lucky again when I did a workshop cum audition on improvising. Rajat Kapoor was someone that I really liked from his work; I like his makaab kind of theatre – the clowning, so I was really excited when I got this chance to work with him.
I am someone who has spent most of his career alone in a new town, in hotels for events and so on. And suddenly, I was a part of this community in theatre, so it’s not only about the play but about the chats after, each person having each others’ back and the sense of great community. Someone cooks the food, someone washes the plates, you know what I mean? It’s so much more! And I have always loved acting, if you see, a lot of stuff that I did on MTV was acting. And so my desires to act were fulfilled and fueled a lot with theatre. I recommend theatre to everyone whether you are a doctor or whoever, it really helps you a lot, it opens you up and it’s far beyond being good or bad.
The writing process is the toughest and everywhere I go, I see that the culture of writing needs to become more integral to the process
Do you interact with your audience after plays?
Yes, I do. I am amazed at the subculture of theatre! We did a Shakespeare tour this year which had five plays by Rajat Kapoor. We traveled all over the country and almost all the shows were houseful with people who were coming back to see the shows again and again. A Friday evening filled up 2,500 seats!!! There’s a huge subculture of people who really enjoy theatre.
Are you doing more theatre this year?
No, not this year! It’s too packed already, plus the ‘I Don’t Like It. As You Like It‘ tour also happened this year. So maybe next year, I’ll do another play.
You have this funny, left out & lonely character you do on Facebook – Ajay. Is this an impression of someone you know? It’s damn funny! Why don’t you do more of it?
(Laughs) It was really bizarre why I did Ajay. To me, Ajay was just a sad kid who, in his own way, is going a certain form of depression about the world. He thinks of himself as an outcast, which all of us do at some point. I got some really good feedback for it. Then I got a call from Rajat Kapoor who loved it and wanted to write and create something with it. The good news is that that’s what we are currently working on! That’s why I’m not putting up a lot more of it. We are trying to create something that is a little bit more structured in the form of small videos.
I knew I was so out of place but I was just lucky to be in RDB, which was such a movement that anyone who was a part of it was somehow forgiven, so I did it
Were you writing these videos when you were putting them out or was it just random videos?
No, I’ll tell you what happened. I had gone on a holiday with my friends to Kazakhstan. One of my friends decided to go to a night club and it was really boring for me. So I decided to step out. I was bored so I just started rambling into the phone. That’s how Ajay was born; how he went on a holiday with his friends and they never returned.
I got a lot of very happy feedback from people. Since I’m not very proactive on social media, it was a rarity for me. So I decided to put up one more video. It was a reaction to the world around me, which is so confusing now a days. Now I’m hoping we have more fun with it.
I’m really hoping to see more of Ajay.
Currently, we’re just jamming so let’s see.
You were also doing a show on YouTube with Signature, where you interviewed stand-up comedians. Would you ever be doing some stand-up comedy?
I’ve always wanted to, because I’m a big fan of stand up. Though, I’ve never tried it.
You’re funny when you’re anchoring, like the GQ Man of the Year Awards. Do you write your own scripts?
GQ is a really good platform because every year they put a lot of effort into trying to find something different to do. I write the script along with another female writer Vaishali. GQ awards is one of the only awards shows that is only for men, therefore there’s too much energy in it. So we decided that we need a female writer to give it an edge, another voice.
People mistake me for being outwardly crazy but Kunal is the serial killer variety; he’s the hidden crazy
After a cameo in ‘Man’s World’, you finally have your own show on the Internet. Tell us about ‘Office Vs Office’ and what motivated you to be a part of the show?
The guys from TVF wanted to me to read the script that they wrote with the lead character, who’s a really weird guy but set in a real tone. I read it and I really enjoyed the process. The first 2-3 episodes you may just go by without even figuring out why I am the way I am. So he’s a guy who is brilliant but offbeat. He runs an organization where due to cutbacks from a foreign company, he decides to rent out half the office to another company. He’s obsessed with meditation and finding himself, he’s hypocritical, also quite mean sometimes and then obsessively nice. To find that character was fun for me and I had fun working on it. ‘Office Vs Office’ is the first series that I’ve done.
Do you have more offers for web series? Are you reading something?
I did create something with Rhea Kapoor and Karan Boolani called ‘The Bench’. We’ve put two episodes out and have five left, which we’ll put out this year. You have to see it. It’s an awkward interview between a star and an interviewee. The first episode was with Karan Johar and the second with Farah Khan.
I did get some scripts that I am currently reading. One of them is a mockumentary series, something that I really enjoy. It is something I really want to do. Simultaneously, I’m trying to create something too. I’d done ‘Kickass Mornings’ a long time ago. And I think it backfired (Laughs). I’m trying to reprise a few weirdos from there. The writing process is the toughest and everywhere I go, I see that the culture of writing needs to become more integral to the process.
Everyone living in Bombay is a little anxious even if they don’t show it, because no matter what they’re doing, there’s a feeling of not doing enough
Tell us about the show with Kunal Kapoor, Fox Life’s Great Escape. You are as always super excited, energetic and funny on the show and Kunal’s your best friend.
We had a fun show. There’s one more (show) that launches in October. So I have work till then. It was amazing to shoot with Kunal. People mistake me for being outwardly crazy but Kunal is the serial killer variety; he’s the hidden crazy. He almost set our room on fire! In his calm relaxed way, he decided to hang his towel on top of a heater. And the whole room was smoked out at night! A lot of this was on on the show.(Laughs)
I’m genuinely happy with the show because it’s one of the only travel shows which has no links to camera. It is almost like a documentary in many ways. Someone is always following you around, you’ve been through s*** and you’re talking crap. The weirdest thing happened on the first episode itself. I had a moment of philosophical thought about life and was talking about it, when an hour later, I realized that the camera was tilted and it was only recording my reproductive organs! So this was a voice over about life but the camera is only pointed to my p***s.
How big was the camera crew?
It was about 12-13 people and they had put GoPros in the car. It was amazing shooting for it.
You don’t know driving? Really?
I do know how to drive. I learnt a bit but I’ve never been a happy driver. Now, learning how to drive or driving in the mountains was tricky. Kunal was a really good teacher and I drove at a top speed of 15 km/hour, pushing boundaries as you can see. (Laughs)
You always seem chilled out.
I’m actually quite anxious. It’s a mix of both – energy and anxiety. I absolutely love Bombay. But living here, everyone is a little anxious even if they don’t show it, because no matter what they’re doing, there’s a feeling of not doing enough. Contrary to the fact that I may seem chilled out, I get quite anxious. I try to calm myself by continuously talking to my friends. I drive my girlfriend nuts!
If you haven’t seen The Bench, you must watch it now!