Cyrus Sahukar talks about new creative beginnings, the limitless platform that the internet provides to artists today, the tragedy surrounding the AIB Roast and the need for variety in this tete-a-tete with Sreyashi Mazumdar.
Tell me something about Humble Pie Productions, as in, how did it come about? And also about the show The Bench?
Well, you know, the thing is that Humble Pie is the one production company that I am part of. It started off with me, Rhea Kapoor, who already produces films and this friend of mine called Karan Bolani and we were just really interested in trying to create sort of, off-beat content that partially could be, you know, stuff that may not ever get to television but stuff that we really wanted to watch… and stuff that we think we want to create. And many times what happens is that there are so many thoughts that we all have on things, but those things just disappear from your life, they come and go and you don’t know, like so many great ideas are lost in drawing room conversations. So, we decided that now, once at least, we put together some stuff and try to create it and we started with our first idea for a show called The Bench. And now we are working on our next project which we release in a few months. So, in a year we have been trying to create a few fun projects and put together stuff and because together we made a good team, we decided to just go ahead and call it Humble Pie.
You have dabbled in so many different things… how did this idea of creating exclusive content for the internet come about?
Well, I have been trying to think about… I have been thinking about it for a really long time and now I am starting a channel of my own also, away from Humble Pie, which is also going to create stuff. I and a friend of mine called Sanit Basu are soon going to start… sort of creating something called Superhero Shots which are the origin stories of ten superheroes for the net. I think the internet is becoming a very interesting place to be, there is very little limitation on what you can and cannot do and purely from an artistic perspective, almost for anyone, it’s exciting to not have any limitations at all and create projects and things that you truly want to. So, it works out as a very exciting aspect of life when you don’t have any limitations and you can create something and, of course, there is very little money in it. But, the fun of it is super exciting… so, the internet is something I always wanted to be in.
Considering the fact that as you said the internet gives a platform where there is no limitation… what is your take on the recent AIB roast controversy? The kind of uproar that seems to sprawl across the board clearly bears testimony to the presence of a limitation. Irrespective of the fact that our constitution endorses freedom of speech shows like AIB are getting lambasted because of their content…
Well, it’s really quite tragic that we… that the guys from AIB have gotten into any form of trouble for something like this. The thing is that, what a lot of people haven’t understood is that they did something called the roast. Now, the roast in a format in itself is age old. Even if you have a look, MTV has been hosting a show called The Roast for ages and the idea of the roast is to be rude and obnoxious and nasty, and then the very people you are roasting they go and roast you themselves… right? So, that was the format. I think the thing is that if you don’t like the show that’s fine. If people find it vulgar, that’s also fine, nobody’s going to sit and like everything that’s put out there. The fact that they are being, sort of made the symbols of people who are vulgar or obnoxious or causing any problem, that’s where it really is tragic. Also, I don’t think they told anyone that the roast is a story about Karan Johar cooking his favourite dishes, right?
It is the format that it’s going to be rude and is strictly for adults and that’s what they put out there. So, quite honestly, I can’t understand, for the life of me, why any of this should even be a problem for them. That’s the weird tragedy, I mean, there are people out there making huge communal remarks. There are people… their songs will have more vulgarity than the roast will ever have, but somehow, it’s quite tragic to have made them the symbol of something, it was just a joke. I truly think that nowhere else in the world has anyone made such a hue and cry over something as simple as a roast.
What do you have to say about those Bollywood stars who might have been on a similar path but now they are criticising the roast, for instance, Aamir Khan who didn’t really have a good thing to say about the roast, whereas his…
But that’s absolutely fine. Why should Aamir Khan not have the right to his opinion? He didn’t like it and that’s fine but that’s his opinion and that’s the great thing about comedy or any other thing. You have the right to give an opinion. But, he very clearly also stated that it doesn’t stop them from having the freedom of speech towards what they want to create. See, the thing is that the people do not understand is that this is the format of the show. Everybody doesn’t have to like it. The problem is not whether you like the roast or not, the problem is that the people who created it cannot be, sort of, sacrificed or put in trouble because of it. I do The Bench, my own mom doesn’t like the show.
She doesn’t think it is funny, but that does not mean I have to go to jail for it. He stated his opinion on not liking it, I think that’s fine. The problem is not that they do not like it; the problem is that you can’t put them, you can’t hold them, and you can’t crucify them for creating it. That’s the problem. That’s what people, I think, are not getting.
In this day and age when everyone is so conscious of what they say and write and post how did you manage to convince celebrities like Karan Johar and Farah Khan to participate in something like The Bench?
Man, it’s a tricky job. I mean, the thing is, The Bench is a show about a show that never went on air, and every episode flops and this is the making of. It’s an off-beat comedy and there are no promotions in it, there is no laughter track, there is not even any jokey punch-lines. It’s a very weird form of humour. I think that we go bonkers doing that… we sit and write a script involving a star and then I would create a documentary on just trying to look and chase the star to, sort of, come and meet us or we could meet them and try to convince them to do it. With Karan Johar and Farah Khan, we were very lucky. They were both people who, I think in many ways are big propagators of humour.
So, they got it pretty soon and they understood it and they sort of just said, “Let’s just do it,” and we went forth and just created it. But, it’s never an easy job. I think, you have to sit and write and decide and for many stars… I think people are very open to new formats as long as they see that you are doing something different and new with it. You know, people are open to stuff, man. They just have to see that you’ve come up with something that’s worth their time, and that’s something we knew when we started The Bench… that it’s never going to be easy. So, out of say ten scripts that we wrote, there are a few stars who didn’t want to do it and a few stars who wanted to do it, and that we have to deal with.
In the Farah Khan episode, especially the part where she uses abusive words so much, is that all part of the script you write or does it have to do with the way each celebrity reacts maybe?
Well, what happens is we go in with a story, a bullet point; so, Farah khan’s episode in my head was primarily called ‘The Audition’. It was about me auditioning and never getting a call back from her. See, Farah Khan is playing a character, there were some parts of the script which had mildly abusive language and some parts did not. But, the good news is we were just playing a character. What’s happened with people is they mistake the character that she is playing for who she is. So, the make-up man that she was being rude to is her make-up man for years, it’s not that he was unhappy about it. She was just playing a character; but, somehow in our country people mistake that for who the person is; so, it is as daft saying that okay Aamir Khan played a serial killer in a movie and then you catch Aamir Khan saying how you are not in jail… so she was just playing a character.
If we ask you to pick out the five best celebrities you have ever interviewed, in terms of their spontaneity or maybe sense of humour, who would they be?
It would be Karan Johar… it would be Shah Rukh Khan, just because of his incredible wit, I really enjoyed that. I had a lot of fun with Imran khan; he shot an episode of The Bench which, I think, is one of the funniest episodes I’ve ever done. I’m really looking forward to airing that pretty soon. Our next episode which launches, I think, in two-three days from now is with Mr. Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra, who is the director of Rang De Basanti and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and he has this dark, weird sense of humour which was a lot of fun. Abhishek Bachchan is a hilarious individual; he’s a really funny guy. I would love to have a lot more politicians on that list, let’s see if we can be lucky enough to get them on the show. That would be amazing.
Okay, so could you just name a few politicians you would like to have on the show?
I’d love to get Kejriwal… big fan. I’d love to also get some people from the news network. I’d love to get Barkha Dutt. I have written a script, I need to just catch up and meet her; so, that should be a lot of fun. She’s actually my first choice on a show and I am writing it, but somehow haven’t been able to really pin her down and sit with her. The list is endless man, I mean, so many interesting people from different facets of life. I really don’t want to only keep it down to Bollywood, you know.
So, with YouTube providing a platform for artists such as the AIB, The Viral Fever or maybe Kanan Gill gaining so much popularity, do you think the scene for comedy in India is changing for the better?
Oh it’s totally changing for the better and I think that a lot of it is owed to the fans and the people who end up propagating it and watching it. I think India is changing so dramatically now. See, in an ideal setting nothing should be secret. There really should be nothing secret, everything should be open and talked about; you should really joke about anything in life and I think that we are all on the same boat, we are all pushing a small car uphill and with every show… today we had a roast, tomorrow we will have a spoof. I did spoofs in MTV which helped create other spoofs. So, India is certainly changing and it’s changing for the better. It’s about time we opened up and tried things otherwise we will just be a country which keeps slipping on banana peels. There has to be a form of revolutionary change, there has to be some variety and then like it or hate it, that’s no problem, that’s your choice, there’s no problem with that.
So, what are some of the interesting reactions you have got from the public about your show The Bench?
Oh man…! I mean, the number one reaction I got was from the industry where a lot of people really liked it; some people were very worried that is it really true. You know, The Bench is… it’s a little sinister that way… it has a part of which it looks like it really happened, shot like a documentary, so, it really confuses the minds of the people. I mean, I had people who have said they love watching it on loop because it’s just so creepy and weird, and I think there’s a lot of truth about the relationship between a star and an interviewer. It’s a crazy format in our country. We can’t ask them questions beyond the film that they are promoting, they can’t talk about things that they don’t want to talk about and in this whole process every show looks just the same. So, in its own way it’s a bit of a statement on the sort of weird relationship between the viewers and interviewer and the stars and the format of… strange subservience in our country with a star, you know.
So, the number one reaction was – “Dude have you watched this video of you!”. I remember my friend Kabir Khan, the director of Ek Tha Tiger, calling me up and saying “Man have you seen the video, it’s a bit dangerous, you should have a look at it,” and I said, “Don’t worry I made it…” (laughs)
Comedy is generally underrated as an art form in our country, but it is a viable mode of satirising the socio-political atmosphere. What do you think is the social role of a comedian?
Well, I think, comedians are people who are just observing a lot more than other people and trying to find some form of a metaphor or some form of speaking the truth without getting beaten up badly for it. I think, on some level, they are the ones who can talk about the dirty underbelly bullshit of everyday life more than anyone else. It’s a privileged life that they have and they should use and many comedians in our country don’t really talk about anything but sex jokes and marriage jokes and cricket; so, it’s really boring after a point and nobody really, that I have heard, is really talking about what is going on in our country yet. We still need a Chris Rock, we still need a guy who’s saying it as it is or a George Carlin; but, while I say that, things are dramatically changing and I am very happy about it and comedy has so many different aspects to it. Some people are doing sketch comedy, some people are doing talks, and some guys are just blogging, man, who are hilarious. I am just hoping for that variety to come by. But, as a comedian you should be out there, talking about the society we live in and it’s an exciting time because India is changing so much.
Despite the introduction of dry humour through internet or any other form of media, shows like Comedy Nights with Kapil or Comedy Classes or maybe Comedy Circus are among those prime time shows which people generally like to watch and the kind of appreciation they garner, I don’t think that the shows up there on YouTube can really get hold of that popularity. Do you hold a similar opinion?
Well, I completely agree. The thing is that I’m a big believer in having shows like Comedy Nights with Kapil, because at the end of the day the thing is that, this is the number one problem… I think, this happens in every field including comedy. The minute we start liking one person, somehow, we start shunning the others. Every big problem, I think, on this planet comes from dividing. I mean, I see guys who now like the roast; so, now they’re saying “this guy is crap,” or “that guy is crap.” I mean let it be there, when you’ve got over a billion people in a country, everything should have a market. So, primetime will always be primetime. And little by little maybe primetime will also evolve and change to a different thing. I find parts of Kapil funny too, I really do. And there are things I don’t find funny about some other comedians on YouTube; that’s the great thing, but the fact is that I can shift between the two and have that variety. That’s what I really think is the only need of the hour that you can’t have only one comedy show. That’s what’s killing it, I think, variety is more important. So, imagine a world where we had only YouTube comedians, then I would get bored of them too.
We need all kinds… India is too divided to ever have any one person who can only be just the voice of India. We’ve got too many differences man; so, we need to have a variety of people. I’m completely for primetime things. It will take a while before YouTube stars actually go fully primetime; but, why not? It’s already happening in many ways, just give it time, it’s a really new phenomenon, if you really think about it, all this is just two or three years old. So, it’s good, I think it’s a very optimistic time.
We are all fans of your quick-wit and we would like you to come up with one-liners for the following topics.
Politicians zooming in on the picture of Priyanka Gandhi…
Oh! Yeah man… that’s just… I think that politicians are… politicians zooming in on the picture of Priyanka Gandhi… it’s just classic… it’s really not shocking, it’s everyday life.
Gauhar Khan being slapped?
That was a long time back… Gauhar khan being slapped… I think that was another classic example of male bravado. Crazy people out there man! It’s as usual, male bravado gone completely wrong.
What’s in store for Humble Pie Productions in the near future?
Well, I think we’re going to keep trying to create stuff with and without all of us actually being in it. I hosted The Bench but from now onwards I’m sure there’d be lot of formats for shows that I won’t be a part of. I’ll just be the creator on it and I would be soon creating my own channel and some of the formats which I really think, hopefully, will again push that car uphill in the comedy scene and hopefully be entertaining in some way or the other. Mostly the comedians are trying and failing man… in that process suddenly you find something that works… so you essentially just keep trying and hope for something.