No one minds being made a bakra when Cyrus Broacha is around. Meet the lovable gagster who, along with stand-up comedian Vikram Sathaye, performed in the city
It's 20 minutes to show time. I'm in the greenroom of the Music Academy, winding up an interview with one of India's most recognisable faces. Celebrities, after all, always have schmoozing to do, phone calls to take and noses to powder. As I jump off my chair and bolt for the door, Cyrus Broacha looks startled. “But where are you going?” “Um, don't you have to get ready for your show?” I counter. “Me?” he chuckles, “I have nothing to do.” Stand-up Comedian Vikram Sathaye, comes by. And we sit around swapping stories like old school buddies sharing canteen samosas till show time.
This is why Broacha is possibly India's most-loved comedian. He's funny, sure. He's comfortingly familiar, thanks to the fact that he was one of India's first VJs debuting at music television's crest. But he's also managed to carve himself an identity that weathers time and trends. Viewer loyalties are notoriously fickle, yet Broacha retains a loyal fan base. Granted, these aren't screaming, obsessive, we'll-stalk-you-to-the-supermarket fans. He inspires more of a quiet affection, like a favourite cousin or the class clown. A direct result of his relentlessly self-deprecating sense of humour, which almost makes you forget his razor sharp-wit, sponge-like memory and multi-hyphenate talent.
Broacha is currently hailed as a ‘TV anchor, theatre personality, political satirist, columnist and author,' in addition to being a stand-up comedian. “Yeah, but it doesn't mean I've done any of these things well,” he says, discussing his many titles. “It's so embarrassing, actually. There's no tangible property, no specific talent — like an ability to sing, or paint. So it means nothing. I feel bad and shallow when I'm introduced like this.”
He began acting at 14, in a Hindi movie “Jalwa” starring Naseeruddin Shah, despite the fact that he didn't come from a show-biz background. “My dad's a lawyer, my mom's a teacher. I must have been quite a disappointment.” Enamoured by the stage, he quit law school, and eventually ended up as a copy writer doing theatre on the side. At 23, he decided to study film and attended the Random Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute (New York), taking a sabbatical from work. He returned to start an event company. “We folded after our first event.”
Then Channel V came calling. “They picked five-six of us in that age group. It was just a case of being in the right place at the right time.” He was sent to Hong Kong, where the trainer came down with jaundice. “Living conditions were terrible. I was sharing a tiny apartment with three men… heads in the sink, waiting for toilet time… I couldn't handle it, so I came home to Mumbai.”
MTV came next. “The competition was between me and two other guys. One was an Adonis. A hunk with long hair, constantly feeling the muscles in his arms. The other was really strange. He had this accent that was all over the place — like a really bad Al Pacino. I was lucky the two worst people in the history of auditions were my competition.”
Broacha caught viewer's attention with ‘MTV Bakra,' where he played practical jokes on people. Bakra's popularity continues to surprise, and sometimes exasperate, him. “I just seem to be remembered for that. Even at the airport today, someone yelled bakra.” He's had unexpected fans. “I've heard that Bal Thackeray would stop all meetings at 3.30 p.m. so he could watch it.”
His new avatar as a stand-up comedian, however, is less popular with the politicians. “Audiences loves stand up. It's getting really popular… The only catch is, we can't take on political figures. We have to be careful, because all it takes is one nutcase to ruin everything. But the idea is not to insult people — it's to poke fun at their shortcomings.”
Meanwhile, he's considering going back to school. “I'm 40, with kids, and I want to study. I don't suppose there's much I can do with a law degree at this point. Maybe it will come in handy if my wife decides to divorce me. But I guess it's an Indian middle class mind-set: finish the degree.”
(Comedy Night Live starring Cyrus Broacha and Vikram Sathaye was organised as part of Art Chennai.)