21 February 2010

Karl, aaj aur Kal by Cyrus Broacha

In which Cyrus tries something new
I've been a fan of Cyrus Broacha ever since I first heard about him. Bakra was brilliant, and the moments of genius of The Week That Wasn't are usually well worth wading through its PJs for.
Reading this book, the phrase The Indian Woody Allen sprang to mind repeatedly. However, I was sorry to find it rather mediocre both in terms of entertainment and literary merit. I wish Cyrus had tried harder, he could have come up with something much better than this. You can read my review of Karl, aaj aur Kal and my interview with Cyrus which appeared in The Hindu today by clicking on the links above, or just read on below:

This book traces the lives of Karl and Kunal from childhood to mid-adulthood.
In their early school days they pondered whether the one who invented exams had been heavily intoxicated or clinically insane at the time but their Maths teacher (Mrs. Batliwala) believed them necessary as they empowered the teacher.
Later, in the cast of more than twenty of Godspell (little did they know that this would be twice the number of members in the audience on any given night) Karl excused himself from dance practice (no other animal than the human suffers this indignity in public) taking recourse in his strongest talent – the ability to lie.
In New York as the boys take a course at an “acting studio” we are treated to hilarious stories that are politically irreverent to vegetarians, the hirsute, Rideley’s turtles, Italians and other minority groups.
Back in Bombay, they find themselves thrown into the theatrical film world (with prominent roles in Khalid Jani’s new blockbuster The Gaonwallah, The Britisher, and The Ugly). Eventually, Karl is taken to bosom by the eminent MP Nilesh Kane and by an inexplicable series of events may one day even land up as Prime Minister.
This book calls itself a novel. However, it’s more of a documentary with insights into the film industry, Indian politicians, the south Bombay approach to the universe and some features of life in New York, Paris and Delhi. The characters are not real people and do not change in the course of the book but more like cut-outs that are being pointed at and talked about. However, there’s a distinct Woody Allen feel to much of what Cyrus writes – funny, often surrealistic, and drawing richly from a background of privilege and cultural minority.
Then, this book drips with wisdom. We learn that in the Arthashastra, Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, said there are three phases in a male’s life. In the first he craves a canine companion, in the second he craves a female companion (not necessarily canine), and in the third phase he craves for the canine companion to return and bite the female companion.
It also has insights into world history: Medieval Europe was constantly going to war because of the strange French accent. The 100-years war apparently sparked off when the French ambassador said to his English counterpart, “Greetings to your King of Pascal” which due to the fatal accent was heard as “Greetings to your king the rascal.”
As a diehard fan of The Week That Wasn’t it had me cackling like an unladylike hyena in parts and, during the inevitable lame un-funny bits, waiting for genius to strike again, but frequently disappointed.

How did you select the title of your book?
It was a gift from my erstwhile friend and more importantly drinking companion Shree Kunal Vijayakar.

Which of the main characters in Karl, Aaj aur Kal is inspired by a real person (and who)?
Some have the base of a real person, but then they ignore my instructions and land up doing their own thing. A few are an amalgam of truth and fantasy and the rest are pure fantasy. Kunal would be roughly 50% and Nilesh Kane perhaps 60%. For better or worse it's a piece of fiction.

Did you attend acting school in New York like Karl and Kunal and have you drawn from what you experienced there?
I did, and I have, and I may add I had a ball. I came back with three truths about NY a) you must enjoy walking. b) you'll always be short of cash. c) after every girl there's an even more beautiful one in the future.

Did you really experience Pearl Padamsee as the way you’ve written about her?
Ironically, Pearl herself was really larger than life. Her brand of humour waxed between straight-faced disparaging remarks and over-dramatic statements. I absolutely will always love and cherish her.

What is the message you want your book to carry? Something you want the reader to come away thinking or feeling?
Absolutely nothing. I don't want to cleanse society and the world. Quite frankly I'm one who rarely cleans himself. This book is just a journey and all messages are incidental and at the reader’s own risk.

How did your publisher work with you on this book?
Mostly from far away. Publishers I believe are like wives. First everything is hunky dory and they appear quite submissive. Then before you know it they have the controls. All said and done they've been like a good bra - fairly supportive.

Did you always want to be someone who made a profession out of his wit?
If anybody out there wants to make a living of their wit alone, and aren't necessarily going into politics, then my message to them is please ignore people who tell you to shut up along the way. In the words of Jesus Christ, "They know not what they do".
I would also like to clarify that I see myself as a professional idiot, that is someone whose slated profession is idiocy, and bear in mind I was an idiot long before Chetan Bhagat, Raju Hirani and Aamir Khan came along.

What is your favourite medium to work in? Which do you find the easiest?
Writing for sure. I control all the variables, except of course my daughter's potty timings.

You sometimes have your family in your shows as props and though it’s usually quite hilarious, I always wonder how they feel about it.
They aren’t always chuffed. But they use an excellent instrument to 'cope'. For the past 25 years they simply ignore me.

Tell us something about your early friendship with Kunal Vijaykar and the professional relationship you now share.
I first met Kunal in 1990 for an audition. I think it was a children's play. He stammered, stuttered and coughed through the reading and seemed extremely stern. I found out later he just hadn't developed any muscles, whatever, and as you know smiling needs the co-operation of plenty of muscles. After a while we hit it off. I see us as Lennon and McCartney, without the talent. Although now that I'm nearing 40, I’d rather he was John.

How did you get the idea for the wonderful Kaneez in The Week That Wasn’t?
One day at a workshop we stumbled on a girl who was happily murdering the Hindi language. Her Hindi was so bad that she made me sound like Premchand. Such a gift should not be wasted. We stole her away, only to realise that she's a bundle of comic talent, who we heavily underpay.

In your shows you do a wonderful job of poking fun at important people. Have you ever got into trouble for this? Have you ever been stopped from doing it?
The network will from time to time censor something. But in general we try to use our common sense – short in supply though it is. Generally the team acts as a sounding board when we feel gags treading on dangerous grounds. Unfortunately there are a few holy cows to be adhered to.

Tell us something about how things have changed for you over the years in terms of response from your audiences.
One thing you realise, if people already know you, they've already judged you. It’s a prejudice of sorts. They either like you or they don’t, even when they’ve never interacted with you.
I treat the audience exactly like I treat my wife: I always begin with the two golden words, "I’m sorry”.

What has been your experience with the film industry and how do you relate with it?
It's a lot like everywhere else, sometimes efficient, sometimes corrupt and with many strange accents. Mostly it's been fun, except for the long drives.
I have appeared in about 5 films in total. They are: Jalwa, which was made roughly a hundred years ago, Sooni Taraporewalla's Little Zizou, 99 - People Pictures, Fruit and Nut and Mumbai Chaka Chak (not released yet).
However, I have worked as an interviewer with almost all the male and female stars of your generation and I've had to consume large quantities of alcohol to get over a few of them.

What about politics?
Well, I've been around politicians at public functions. Nilesh Kane's physicality and mannerisms left a great effect on me. Sadly due to security reasons his name can't be revealed at present. Perhaps after I get my green card.

If you really did make Prime Minister, what would be the first 3 things you’d do?
Well, I'd give myself absolute legislative powers and thus dissolve the two now defunct assemblies. Then I'd cancel the Judiciary, and hence without the Judicial review, I'd have absolute and complete power. My third noble act of statesmanship would be to bring back the dance bars, in fact I'd make them compulsory.
But even such a powerful Prime Minister would have his limits. I don't suppose I'd be able to get my daughter into my ex-school! After all there's only so much that even God can do!

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