Cyrus Broacha is a morning person. He also seems to be one of those people who have a plan for each day, a schedule they rigorously follow. Coming up against that side of his personality can be surprising, especially if you take the persona he’s cultivated over his many public appearances and TV shows over the years — the eternal prankster, bumbling funnyman, a modern-day Bertram Wooster — to represent who he really is. But within minutes of a conversation, you see quite another side of Cyrus.
We’ve set up a 9 am telephone call for a Wednesday, over a series of messages on Tuesday as he’s been shut up in a recording studio all day. Cyrus calls at 8.55 am, and (as a non-morning person) I have to request a few minutes to pull out a notepad and pen and get into “interview mode”. He gives me 10 minutes, then calls back in a little under that, and we get right down to business.
We’re talking about his new book Netagiri, “a satirical take on a power-obsessed society”, which some reports say, was written against the backdrop of the recent general elections.
“I was talking to my publishers last year, about a new book, and we talked about cricket being the subject of it. But cricket is the one thing I do take seriously… So we were thinking about what else could be topical and lend itself to satire and the general elections were around the corner, so that’s how the book came about,” Cyrus says.
At the heart of Netagiri is Paul Huskee, who must rescue the people of Gyaandostaan from an oppressive regime by confronting his greatest fears — which includes talking to women. Cyrus describes Paul as a “comedy of errors kind of guy”, someone who is “in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time” depending on which way you want to look at it. And since every tale of triumph needs a villain as much as it does a hero, Netagiri has a bad guy too. Cyrus, however, says he hasn’t made the distinction quite so black and white in his story. “It’s more about someone who is clear in his path, and someone who isn’t quite so clear,” he explains.
And lest these characters seem reminiscent of some from our own political landscape, Cyrus quickly clarifies that Gyaandostaan and all of its denizens are purely works of fiction. “I was the J.K. Rowling of my world, so I had complete freedom to do what I wanted,” he says. There was another type of freedom — to let his story grow spontaneously. “I did have a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go (but not the specifics). I write like I talk,” Cyrus says. “When I was in acting school in New York, my teacher told me that the word ‘decide’ comes from the Latin root that means ‘to kill’. So I believe, like my teacher did, that when you plot and plan too much, when you decide it all beforehand, then what you’re doing is following a craft, rather than an art.”
In a way, Cyrus’ own books are biographies too, sketches of the characters he and (his close friend and frequent creative collaborator) Kunal Vijaykar inhabit in the public sphere. Netagiri diverges but little from his previous books like Karl, Aaj Aur Kal and The Average Indian Male, in its chronicling of a type of male protagonist, in that sense. So, how about setting a story around a female protagonist? “Well I barely even understand men!.. so writing about women…”
Also, what he writes, and how he writes has a lot to do with why he writes, Cyrus adds: “People write for different reasons. I write because I want to make people smile.”