We’re Entertainers, Not Journalists: Cyrus Broacha, Kunal Vijaykar on 12 Years of The Week That Wasn’t
As The Week That Wasn’t turns 12, Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijaykar talk about working together for over a decade, the challenges of satirizing daily news and the circus that is Indian politics.
Kunal Vijaykar and Cyrus Broacha in stills from their CNN-News18 show The Week That Wasn’t.
At a time when it’s common for shows to premiere and shut down within the same calendar year, it is no mean feat for a news programme—that parodies politics in a country as volatile as India—to make people laugh for 12 years and still not lose its sharp edge.
As CNN-News18’s headline show The Week That Wasn’t turns 12 this year, we get up close and candid with the duo primarily responsible for its success—Cyrus Broacha and Kunal Vijaykar. Here, they talk about their show, working with each other and how they make the important interesting.
The Week That Wasn’t has turned 12! How has the journey been?
Cyrus: It’s been exactly the same. We go to the same studio, the same spot with the same thing and repeat a lot of our jokes. So it’s been pretty good.
When we first started in October 2006, we were both anchors—I was working with MTV and he was doing a food show. Those were easy jobs. We just had to turn up and do our thing. There was no prep, ever. But here we were suddenly pushed in a situation where there is a pressure on a daily basis to write, to find stories that fit, figure out which are the right ones and then get a spin on humour, but that’s become easier and easier because our country is just becoming so funny.
Finally, we deserve to be paid for a job. Honestly, I shouldn’t have been paid for lots of stuff that I have done in my career. And maybe Kunal too. But this I should be paid for because we actually have to sweat a bit. We have earned our keep to some extent.
Kunal: I think both of us have put on tremendous amount of weight since we started. But the big change that’s happened in the last three years is that from being a weekly show, we are now a daily vignette format, which is quite exciting and challenging because you’ve got to be on the top of news all the time.
How did the show come about?
Cyrus: A gentleman who no longer works with us called me up in 2006 and said ‘I want to do a show which is a bit like John Stewart’s.’ He was very clear that he wanted a satirical show for the new channel. I liked the idea but I didn’t take it seriously because I was still working with MTV. He asked me ‘Who do you want to work with? Do you have a team or should I put a team together?’ I immediately thought who’d fetch and drop me, who’s the one person I can eat lunch with? Putting all these factors in mind, I chose Kunal. At that point, I didn’t really know him.
12 years is a long time. What do you think has worked for you guys?
Cyrus: India’s politics is always going to be fun. There are a lot of people who really enjoy this kind of humor because they are living in the real world and looking at it. This segment appreciates what we do and I think we’re also a part of this segment. We’d watch a show like this. I would like better looking people in us but other than that I think we are pretty OK.
Kunal: It’s true that we have extremely funny characters within our politics. Also, we haven’t tried to take sides ever. We have tried to be equally bad to all of them.
Cyrus: No, I don’t think it’s about good or bad or balanced. You look at the issue and the issue is ridiculous. For instance, cow politics, after a point, is really funny. You have to look at it from that angle. That’s the way it is and the people who watch our show understand that. Or the renaming, for example, is funny because with all that’s going on in the background, is it really the top priority? So it’s easy to spin those stories.
What goes into preparing an episode? How do you decide what to take and which stories to leave out?
Kunal: The news tells itself. It has to be from top of mind. Like most comedy, if the subject that you choose is top of mind, half the battle is won right there.
Cyrus: Kunal has reached the internet age but our viewers are mostly people who read print. So I have stuck to print. I read what’s there in the newspapers and what I think is the story. He sticks to internet and tells me what the big story there is. We argue a bit but we try to get the right balance from both these mediums.
Kunal: Often there’s no story worth talking about or the story that is on top everywhere is so sensitive that you can’t do anything about it. In such cases, we find a story that is inherently funny irrespective of where it has appeared and then we do our take on it.
Of all the characters that you have played, which one has been the most fun doing?
Kunal: A lot of our super-hit characters, unfortunately over the last 12 years, have either become irrelevant or have passed away. But Sharad Pawar and Nitin Gadkari have been really good fun to do.
Cyrus: We have lost four iconic characters in the last six months alone. And all of them are super-hit visually, the kind where they just have to come on stage and the audience is already laughing.
I really think the difficult one which Kunal is not comfortable with, is his Trump. He doesn’t like doing it, but I haven’t had one person who doesn’t like his Trump.
Kunal: I am uncomfortable with the character because I don’t think I am good enough.
Cyrus: The thing is, with Gadkari and all, Kunal is closer to the ethnicity and the look. With Trump, he is not, but it’s still funny. The idea is to be funny more than anything else. He is clearly not accurate, he is not holding their accent but it is funny. Everyone who has watched has enjoyed his version of Trump because it is very different from the impressions that people who look like him do in America.
Kunal: Also, none of us are mimics or actually good at mimicry. Our representation of characters is more like a cartoonist doing it.
Cyrus: They are very poor actors. Imagine what I am working with. Just in this limited capacity, I have been able to put together a vehicle like this. They can’t act, they can’t mimic and yet we manage.
Between the three of them—Kunal, Gopal (Dutt; actor) and Kaneez (Surka; comedian)—we have managed to go across a gamut of politicians of different ages, sexes, genders, even film stars and people from abroad. The NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) does come to mind, because we are punching above our weight. We don’t have the numbers but we are still doing what we can. I think Kunal should be given the Padma Shri as soon as possible.
What’s the working relationship between you two like?
Cyrus: When we are alone, we don’t have much of a problem. I like people to laugh. So I sometimes make fun of him and he gets offended. I like people I hardly know. He only likes people he knows. But we are OK. I don’t think there has been a major issue ever. Otherwise we wouldn’t have survived so many years.
Kunal: Being together every day for 12 years is no joke. Cyrus can pretend he likes people. I don’t pretend.
Cyrus: Kunal is also in my house half the time. He is in my domestic life. We go to plays, shows and events together sometimes. So there is a lot of spending time beyond the show too. I think it’s a bit late now to file a complaint.
What's the most challenging bit about doing a funny show around politics when views are polarised and people not particularly tolerant?
Cyrus: Although we have a huge tradition of satire and vyang in India, people like us in television news are finding our feet all the time. So maybe the next generation of people who do this will have a few yardsticks to look at it. We don’t really have that. So we have to test the waters. I wish I could tell you this is allowed and that is not but there are no definite black and white areas. And they keep changing.
We don’t want to cross lines. I don’t want to be a martyr. We just want to have fun, see what the funny side of it is, spin it and set it off.
Kunal: We are entertainers. We are not journalists. What we do is entertainment, you all fight the causes.
Where do you draw the line?
Cyrus: Personal issues are always the issue more than anything else. You have to be careful with them—height, weight, age, 10 children, those kinds of things. But if we are looking at a political issue, we are not worried. We take on political issues but it is personal issues where defamation comes in. You try to avoid that.
Have you ever had any threats or been sued for your content?
Cyrus: We have. We have apologized on the phone to a couple of people. I don’t have a problem with that.
Kunal: If somebody is offended, what is wrong in saying sorry? Most people want an apology. They just want to be acknowledged.
Cyrus: Their ego is bruised. And you don’t want to bruise it. It’s never the intention ever to make a person feel bad on a personal level. On a political level, yes, because it is often stupid. If I want to talk about political issues, I have every right to do that in a democracy. But personal issues is where you cross the line. If that happens, if sometimes the line is blurred, we apologize.
What’s the plan ahead?
Cyrus: We are excited about the upcoming general election. 2014 was huge for me. The entire world watched India. 2019 is going to be even bigger. We are just waiting now for May because that’s going to be great fun.
A lot of mudslinging is already happening. Our politics has become very Americanized. We are not holding back. It’s going to get dirty and murky and worse. In all that we get more to play with. So we can’t wait for the gloves to come off.
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