Cyrus Sahukar is mobbed like a rock star inside the jam-packed auditorium of a Delhi school. A teenager dressed as Shiva stretches out his hand to touch Sahukar as he snakes his way out through the jostling crowd. The actor-video jockey is almost embarrassed at the attention that he’s been getting.
“It is crazy out there, man,” Sahukar says as he sits on a stool in front of a mirror in his vanity van. The crowd has been gathering at the auditorium since the morning to audition for a new talent show on TV to be hosted by him. “The auditions have been going on since seven in the morning and people have been waiting for hours in this heat, man,” he says.
I notice a change in him since I last met him a few years ago — the word “man” has replaced “dear”. But apart from that, Sahukar seems much the same. He’s still lean and lanky, his hairstyle is no different and his matter-of-fact way of speaking (when he’s not on TV, that is) hasn’t changed.
He dumps his sweaty red tee and gets into a neatly ironed black polo neck. He is going to have a quick lunch inside the air-conditioned van before auditions for this season’s India’s Got Talent on Colors start again.
Sahukar knows what goes inside the minds of the people vying for their 15 minutes of fame, for he is himself a product of a talent hunt show — the MTV VJ Hunt of 1999. “It can be nerve-wracking to perform in front of the judges. On top of that, the tension is a thousand times worse because there’s so much exposure these days,” he says.
But what eggs him on is the talent of ordinary Indians. “Whether it is calling birds in a unique way or making a dish on one’s head or flying a kite with one hand, people from around the country have been showcasing mind-boggling talent.”
He is impressed by their confidence because, despite having taken to radio-jockeying very early in his teens, he found the camera intimidating. “I was scared of it for almost a year. I had nightmares about the angles, my movements and the way I was talking. But everything smoothened out once I gained a bit of experience.”
He was only 19 when the talent hunt took place. Veejaying — or video-jockeying — was the dream of a great many teenagers. Sahukar — who was hosting a Western music show on All India Radio while he was still studying at Delhi’s St Columba’s School — had also started lending his voice for radio ads. “My first voice-over was for a toilet cleaner,” he adds.
Sahukar says it helped that he had supportive parents. “They were very liberal and always wanted me to do what I was best at,” he says. His Parsi father, who’s retired from the Indian Army, and Hindu Punjabi mother, a social worker, live in Delhi.
But veejaying, Sahukar holds, is not what it used to be. There’s a mad churn out happening because of the explosion of television channels. The standards have clearly come down and there is saturation as far as programming is concerned, he says. “But I hope variety will slowly start coming up.”
What impresses him is the standard of stand-up comedy in India. “Comedians no longer have to slip on banana peels to make people laugh. Good humour is being appreciated,” he adds.
His brand of humour has been quite a draw too. Sahukar is known for taking irreverent potshots at the rich and the famous. His take-off on The Simi Garewal Show — cheekily called The Semi Girebaal Show — had better ratings than the original, and Pidhu The Great — a spoof on MP and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu — was a hit.
“Abhishek Bachchan was the butt of many of my jokes. He took it sportingly and in fact told me that he enjoyed them. So did Sidhu. But I don’t think Garewal got over the fact that a spoof on her show had better ratings,” Sahukar laughs.
When it comes to comedy, Sahukar doesn’t have to slip on banana peels to make people laugh on the big screen. And he is not worried that most of his cameos have so far been of a “loser” in Hindi films. “It’s always a challenge to play the role of an underdog. But I loved my role in Aisha. At least I was rich there,” he says.
Apart from Aisha, he’s acted in Love Breakups Zindagi and in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti and Delhi-6. “Rakeysh asks for money every time he casts me,” he jokes. But he doesn’t figure in Mehra’s upcoming Milkha. “I am a waterboy on the sets,” he quips.
Sahukar doesn’t lose any sleep over the fact that he has only acted in a handful of films. “I am choosy now. I don’t want to do 10 films in a year just because it’s a number.”
So does that mean he’s looking out for serious roles? “Sure, but more directors should consider veejays serious actors,” he says with a wink. A few, it seems, are already taking him seriously: he will feature in short films to be directed by Mira Nair and Zoya Akhtar.
Till then, he’ll be busy. A compere for Google’s events in the country and abroad, he is writing a film script. He is also planning new shows drawing from his more than decade-old experience of television. Sahukar will also produce his own show on interviews gone wrong.
A Delhi-boy at heart, Sahukar says he visits the capital every winter just to sit at home and eat food cooked by his mother. But if he really misses something in Mumbai, it is Delhi’s infrastructure. “I wish I could take a few flyovers from Delhi to Mumbai. We really need them there.”
With auditions slated across the country, Sahukar could do with those. After all, he’s going places.