In a democracy, people enjoy making fun of their politicians and tearing down institutions: Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijaykar on 12 years of their show, The Week That Wasn’t
Laughter therapy on TV has always worked wonders on the Indian audience. Therefore, when amusement comes in the form of political satire, even daily news – often mind-numbing, dull and shocking – can get delivered with unexpected sharpness. It comes as no surprise that CNN-News18’s headline show The Week That Wasn’t turns 12 this year and the two most loved entertainers on Indian Television have made that happen.
The Bengal Story spoke to Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijaykar, the men creating magic on the show for over a decade.
The Week That Wasn’t has completed 12 years at a time when viewers are spoilt for choice and skip one show quickly for another. How do you keep people glued to your show?
Kunal: I think it indicates two things: there’s always a place for comedy and people always want to make fun of their politicians. There’s space available for clever ridicule and satire. Moreover, the channel believes that they should have some sort of entertainment cum satire and have supported us for so long.
Who watches your show?
Kunal: We have a good set of fan base in all age groups. Interestingly, we suddenly got audience among really young people — even 14-15 year-olds! I talk to a lot of people while travelling and recently have come across many who tell me that their children of that age group watch the show. Maybe it’s a good thing. Moreover, so much is happening with the English language in India which is why maybe it’s attracting audience in all age groups.
Cyrus: I think our audience has grown older and younger at the same time. By 2020, 60 per cent will be under 35. But viewership mainly seems to be adults over 35.
Fourteen year olds? Only because they haven’t seen a man in a saree before! But don’t listen to anything Kunal says. He is a lazy man who doesn’t like to move. He is the right man to be in politics but not talk about it.
You both deliver serious news with humour. Is it sometimes difficult to achieve?
Kunal: Honestly, there is no news that is serious anymore. The difficulty starts when there is no news. Take today’s newspaper and open it to any page. What is happening everywhere is ridiculous. Half our job is done by our politicians.
Which part of India watches your show the most? Is it because they are more interested in politics or they have better sense of humour?
Kunal: It’s mostly watched where English is spoken more commonly – like the South Indian states. The Indian audience has a good sense of humour… There will always be small elements who will create trouble but that happens everywhere. Even films like Padmavati [before it became Padmavat] and in fact, all of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movies create trouble. But we’ve had heart-warming experiences when senior politicians came up from the both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and told us they love our show.
What do you think of Bengal politics and its politicians…
Kunal: I am sure Mamata Banerjee is doing wonderful things. The jodi (pair) of Mamata Banerjee and Derek O’Brien is the most interesting. They are poles apart. If I had an actor to play Banerjee, it would be wonderful. But I am too fat to play her.
I miss the Communist Party [CPI-M]. They created humour by doing nothing. We always think of Calcutta as a place where nothing works. Strikes and bandhs all the time. But now with the Trinamool Congress, it’s not like that anymore… I am missing that. I miss the old-fashioned Bengali Communist intellectual with a cigarette in hand, wearing dhoti, and jharao-ing philosophy after philosophy sitting at the Coffee House or their drawing rooms. I used to love playing that character.
Cyrus: Politicians? From where we live, there is only one Bengal politician, Singular. Nobody else. And there is my good friend Derek O’Brien who used to be a quiz master.
See, the grass is always greener on the other side. I am slightly biased towards Calcutta so maybe I am not the right person to talk to. I have a romantic feel towards Calcutta and Bengal. I love coming to Calcutta, and I think the problems of the city are better than the problems of the rest of India. At least for those people who have club memberships, what are they complaining about? You can eat what you want. Everyone is willing to have a conversation here.
In Mumbai, no one talks to you.
Kunal: I do love Calcutta. It’s my favourite city. There’s such a sense of culture and dignity in spite of it crumbling.
You have done political satires for so many years. What is the difference between Bengal politics and politics in the rest of India?
Cyrus: Bengal is the last facet for liberalism in India. They hold the torch for all kinds of freedom.
There is no similarity except for the fact that there is a kind of new fascism in every state in India, like in any democracy – but that’s another story. I don’t see much of a parallel. The Centre, I am worried about the fact that all these parties have one or two personalities – but if you take out those one or two personalities, there is nothing else. They don’t have a bunch of great men or statesmen. NO pun intended because you are from Kolkata and have read the papers!
Have you seen a change in the Indian audience over the years?
Kunal: I think it has only grown. With the onset of social media, we have enough people trolling us. That’s the most amazing thing – when the Congress government was in power, they used to call us right wingers. Now with the BJP in power, they call us Leftists and Congress supporters. I think whoever is not in power, the average troller aligns us with them.
Cyrus: There is an odd paradox. If people like our shows, it’s actually a satire against government, the VIPs, the influential people, mainly the movers and shakers of our society.
It’s almost like they enjoy making fun of these people and tearing down institutions – which means they are not happy with the people in charge, like in any democracy. That’s why I don’t understand why anyone would like to be a club secretary, building president or a monitor in a class. No one likes the people in charge, unless you are like Kim Jong-un and there is no question of opposition – what’s the point? No one likes you. You will be blamed if you fail.
Which politician do you like to act/satirise the most?
Kunal: I like Nitin Gadkari a lot. I like playing Mayawati too. Today I Played Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab. It was the first time I have played him and I enjoyed it a lot.
Cyrus: I can’t play politicians because I am far too good looking. But Kunal does most of the impersonating. He does a good job at doing the (late) Karunanidhi. I like his Nitin Gadkari.
For Mamata Banerjee, he doesn’t have the features. But his Bengali accent is getting better. I think he plays Derek O’Brien really well.
What are the inspirations for your jokes and satires?
Cyrus: We don’t need any inspiration. For example, there was a whole episode about building Ram Mandir. We added things like a cow park where you can park your cows and worship and take blessings. So you see it’s not even the ideas you need to laugh at. Because you see where it’s headed, it will happen anyway. In many ways we don’t have to spin the news and add mirch masala. It’s pretty good the way it is. Not only in India, but the whole world – like Trump, the Brexit issue… everywhere there are small stories going on which are hilarious.
What is the greatest challenge in satirising news?
Cyrus: We shouldn’t look at it at that way. Mostly, we are jokers and comedians who don’t get proper jobs. We are even below the politicians in the hierarchy of “rubbish”. We are separated by very little. They have power and don’t want to do much, and we don’t have power and don’t want to do much. So, we shouldn’t feel pressure. But we need to have a balance. I don’t want to be aligned to anything or any party. Let’s just see what’s happening. One cannot have prejudices. But then if I get a ticket to stand for election that will change of course!
Other talk shows you like…
Cyrus: I like James Corden and Conan O’Brien. Those two are my favourite. Conan, he has his own style. I like to be like him. He is very lazy – one formal joke – 15 minutes and everything moves around it. He sets a nice low standard but he is hilarious.
Cyrus, how has your journey been with Kunal?
Cyrus: It’s been very painful. A lot like the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra. You can’t do anything without fighting. I look at him as a junior partner who is younger and needs time to mature. He is always throwing tantrums and shouting on the set. Though he is eight years senior to me. But I am like a father figure to him. (aside) Make sure I get more footage than Kunal.
[Photographs courtesy: news18.com]