By the Edge of the Century, Cyrus became one of the youngest people working at MTV India, after winning the MTV VJ Hunt. He later on forayed into leading a spoof show called MTV Fully Faltu.
His most popular appearance was that of a spoof of Simi Garewal’s show- Rendezvous with Semi Girebaal which went on to be a bigger hit than the original show.
Having completed more than 100 shows on television, Cyrus successfully became a host of POGO channel’s game show- Hole In The Wall and All Stars. He also anchored the show Kickass Mornings, playing more than 25 characters in the show.
Team Storiyaan had the phenomenal opportunity to have a word with the brilliant VJ, host and musician who spoke about his journey.
Questions and answers
Your dad was posted as a military man before. Did he impose a militaristic discipline on you growing up? How has it helped you?
My family worked in the Armed forces.
My grandfather was a brigadier and even won the President’s Award, and my father served in the army and the military. My parents separated when I was three years old.
Unfortunately, none of those experiences was a part of my life as I was bought up in Delhi by my mother, grandma and my sister. I grew up in an environment predominantly surrounded by only women. I was under no influence to follow a certain sense of discipline, or riding and archery.
From a young age, I had to learn working since I had realised that i had no backup plan. It sounds quite strange when I tell reveal that I have met my father only thrice in my life. So it looks like an unusual family I grew up in.
You started working in the theatre when you were merely six years old. Did acting come to you naturally?
I think it did. When I was in school, my mom pushed me into joining theatre groups in school. I was a terrible student and while in high school, there was a gentleman called Barry John, who was very well known in the theatre circuit. He had put up a play called ‘Haroun and The Sea of Stories’, which was a book by Salman Rushdie.
I used to rehearse with him during the summer holidays. In a way, it helped me immensely get away from my reality. Looking back, I think the theatres saved me cause I was always running around, neither was I good in studies and theatres gave me the place to expel my energy. I hated exams but liked performing for people. I would always recommend people to try out theatre. It may help them find relief on things that have been holding back in life for all you know.
You are musically gifted and witty at the same time. Given a chance, would you record an album? If so, is there any particular genre of music you'd like to work on?
For me music was something that I got into at a very young age, my mother used to love singing and therefore we often used to sing together. It was always a hobby and i did join my school band; but i never wanted to become a professional musician because, I had realised very early in my life that there are far better musicians than me and for me the theatre and art, acting and performing became something that I was popular at and therefore I took a step back from singing.
You started your career as a VJ. Can you take us through the journey?
It was a crazy journey. I was 17 years of age when I realized I was losing interest in school. I was into temporary jobs would earn 400 (rupee symbol) voice-overs in Radio. I would perform theatre and assist Roshan Abbas as a production boy.
At that time, there was a lot of excitement in the air about the media. In 1997, I had randomly auditioned for a show on MTV. I went on a holiday with my friends to the mountains with no money in our hands.
Approximately 30,000 people auditioned, and I was shortlisted along with ten others to travel to Mumbai. I just went because I had never sat on a plane before. I geared up for the trip and was excited to fly on an airplane. I never planned to win the position. It was a scary experience for me as everybody else was older and better dressed. I felt like an outsider in that circle.
Me winning the VJ hunt at 18, along with two others, was pure happenstance. I moved to Mumbai from Delhi soon. I joined the show on my birthday. I felt weird in the beginning, as there were a lot of mixed emotions engulfing me. It was spooky but exciting too as I had never faced a camera before that.
We have to mention your work on the show Kickass Mornings, where you played 25 different characters. How tricky was it to pull them off?
It was the time when MTV started working on spoofs on MTV Fully Faltu. Before MTV, nobody did parodies in India, and they did well. The next show they launched was called ‘Semi Girebaal’ which was a spoof on Simi Grewal. Then they did ‘Piddhu The Great,’ which also did a great job.
Then came MTV Kickass Mornings, a mockumentary on 25 characters. To add to that, we had no budget and script-writers. We would venture out wearing a wig and find bizarre characters for the show. There was one businessman named Bobby Chadda who gave wrong information to people, an NGO worker named Paromita, who had adopted 21 children and taught them all the wrong things.
It was challenging to break one character and move to another. As a result, I became accustomed to improving and making up plots at the spot. I love to communicate with regular people, and incidentally, all I met were regular characters and not spoofs. I think I learned the art of acting through it.
You have been a host to many Reality and game shows and have worked in prominent shows and movies. Out of all these roles, which one would you pick if you had to act it out for the rest of your life and why?
I think I would hate to be trapped in a single character for life. But I think I would pull the whimsical nature of Bobby Chadda. He was the CEO of a company and had unusual ideas about how things should work in his organization. Even though he wasn’t very popular and had done terrible things to people, I really enjoyed playing the character and felt that I could add more color to his life.
In 2017, you went on a trip with co-actor Kunal Kapur for the Fox Life's show, Great Escape. Among all the memories, are there any incidents or anecdotes that have added to your experiences as a VJ?
It was a life-changing experience. We went all the way from Dharamsala to Spiti Valley and crossed many villages and towns. Every third day, we would come across a big rock on the road to our destination.
Among all my experiences, I remember once when we visited the world’s highest post office. It was situated on a high altitude with only one postman assigned. To add to the remote scenery of the villages, we couldn’t find any phones or internet for a span of 25 km. The postman delivered letters regularly, and if he carried a good news piece, they would offer him a glass of milk or a cup of tea. For the same reason, he drank more than a dozen cups of tea a day.
I chanced upon many villagers who lived happily, staring at the sky from their rooftops. I smiled at the view of birds sharing an apple. I had a wonderful time with Kunal on that trip. It’s still available on Hotstar in case you would like to catch up.
When I met these people, I felt that they were content with their lives without phones and gadgets. It was a different perspective in a time where it felt like the people were stuck in time. I think that there is no right or wrong way to look through life. One must be careful and not purchase other people’s ideas of how lives should be.
Can you narrate a weird or funny incident that happened on the sets while shooting for Mind the Malhotras?
In Mind the Malhotras, I played the role of a father of three children. I remember doing one of the episodes for the show and completely forgetting to get into my character and started talking to one of the child actors who was to be my son on the show as a friend would generally do. The director reminded me of my idiocy as it didn’t fit the role of a father.
I also shared a few funny incidents with Denzil, who played the role of a Psychiatric once. On the whole, we had a good time and shot with Sahil Sangha and Mini Mathur. I loved the environment, and I’m looking towards a Season 2 for now.
If you ever suffered from a memory loss, what is that one thing that would bring back all your memories?
There is a farm I have near Mumbai that I’m very fond of. It a place where I hang out with my dear ones, and it is surrounded by a lot of plant and fruit trees. It has given me some of my most joyful times. If I am taken there, it will bring back my memory.
Is there any artist from the industry that you would love to work on a project with?
There are many artists with whom I would love to work with. I must say that I’ve been fortunate to work with Rishi Kapoor in Delhi-6. I would have loved to shoot with Irrfan Khan had he been alive. I think they were prolific actors.
Since many other great actors are still around, I’m hoping to work with them. I always wanted to work with Naseeruddin Shah, and now I am doing a series with him, which should be a great experience.
Working as a host/anchor isn't an easy job. Are there any tips or techniques that you'd like to share with the readers that you use to be flawless on stage?
I don’t think it is ever easy; that is why there are only a few hosts who have a long career. If you are trying to be a host, don’t try to be over-chatty if it is not your personality. You can record opening lines for a show and keep practicing.
Don’t fall for bits of advice like ‘Be yourself’ or ‘Just jump in’ . When you have no idea about your work, you can always start by jotting down a few opening lines or phrases that you think will work for the particular show.
There are specific rules you need to follow: postures, body language, and voice amplification. You can find help on YouTube and enhance your performance. The variables keep changing in such a job.
On the show, many things can go wrong. For example, the artist does not turn up, and you’re asked to manage for an hour or so. At times, the camera goes off. You need to be prepared and adapting to the changing circumstances. I think it’s a great way to record yourself and watch how you’re doing on camera.
Your comical roles have managed to bring a smile to a lot of faces. How do you prepare before you hit it off?
It depends entirely on the nature of the role. For the character of Randhir Gambhir in Aisha, I played the son of a confectioner who wanted to move up in hierarchy yet remain unnoticed. Since I wanted to add an honest touch to his character, I had to play vulnerable and weak.
The kind of outfit I choose to play the character really helps. Besides, I like to write a backstory about the character. For Aisha, I went to see the founder of Haldiram. I also did a lot of research and background checks. In acting, you should prepare beforehand and deliver it in a relaxed manner, especially if you’re new.
Being a comedian can be rough, how do you come up with engaging material for your audience?
For me, life has been hectic. Apart from being a comedian, I have traveled about 100 days every year. Although I don’t do it anymore because of the lockdown, I am dire at it. As I said, in MTV, no one gives much thought to scripting and thought-process. But I try to look around and be well aware of my surroundings and the subjects I’m about to deal with.
If you are a stand-up comedian, you should keep writing and come up with new ways to entertain your audience. You have to work at it and not give up continually. It is essential to be open and interact.
As a host, the world is your material and your crowd. So rather than sitting back home, you can tag along with people you really like. That is what I have been trying to do, and I must say, I love it.
Can you take us through your day in this quarantine period?
It is weird as I’m home alone for more than two months now. I like to wake up in the morning and make myself a cup of black coffee. I sit with my work, and by the time I’m done, I have a second cup of coffee by the table.
Anyway, after I’m done with my work, I do my chores and sit back to watch a never-ending cooking tutorial. While it mentions using four different kinds of vegetables for a curry, the part where we need to get masala and other ingredients always come last, which makes me crazy. I could be looking at this cooking show having massive arguments with my Laptop asking why it didn’t mention that ingredient at the beginning of the video.
Also I am hosting two shows during this period. First is the Atrangi Fireside chats. There I do interview the cast and crew of the shows that would be hosted on Zee 5. Also I do a cookery show from home based on travel and living. These things keep me busy.
With each passing day, I become a better cook and a more patient guy. I feel, in many ways, the isolation has been a gift as I have enough figure out things by myself. I haven’t felt the need to go out and meet people. I have an exciting time hanging out by myself as I’ve been on the wheels for so many years, surrounded by people. It has worked as my reset button.
What has been the most memorable moment in your career so far?
Winning the VJ hunt was a memorable moment for me as my life changed entirely by its end. As a kid, I was baffled about my future and used to worry about financial commitments. In my career, you come across a lot of disappointment, of which half are beyond you. When I won the VJ hunt, it gave me a newfound confidence that I could make ends meet.
It gave me an ambition along with a job, which is one of the most privileged things to happen to a person. With the level of competition going on, it was challenging to have a long career in the media. You can be in the limelight for a few months. However, sustaining this job for an extended period is a tough job.
What is that one advice that impacted you in the most positive of ways? Would you like to pass it on to our readers?
Not only one, but there have also been three such instances.
“Imagine your audiences sitting on pots when you go on stage. You won’t feel scared anymore and will actually find them funny.” This was in response to my nervousness before a show and the feeling dread that came along.
“When you are on stage, the audience has invested in you and want you to do well as they have also traveled from their respective places to come see you.”
Similarly, they are part of my show, and I should not feel alone.
I read this quote by Mark Twain that said- “The world was here first, and it owes you nothing.”
I never let myself fall into the trap of complaining, which is predominant in many actors and performers. They would sit at a coffee shop nagging about how someone else got a better deal or how their talent didn’t get the right focus.
I wouldn’t say that they’re wrong. But if you keep lingering on such thoughts, it will only deprive you of more opportunities in the future. When I get up in the morning and contemplate life, I know that we don’t owe ourselves anything. If I have taken up a task, I’ll do it. And if I don’t like it, it doesn’t matter.
There’s a thin line between not caring and not being bothered about something. If you care too much, you act paranoiac. If you care too little, it shows.
Something you can’t live without– Laughter
Favorite punch line– “I have done nothing in my life to be humble about.”
Dream destination– A beach where tranquility persists. I like the ones in the mountains, especially the Himachal and Uttarakhand. Europe is known for its beachside towns.
Biggest fear– Being around moody and badly-tempered people because it affects me severely. I have dealt with a lot already and pray that I don’t have to be around them.
It annoys you the most– Riders and drivers who honk too much, and people who are mean to animals. I also don’t find people who keep victimizing their lives appealing at all. As a comedian, I feel there’s always something new for me to be annoyed about.