Mini Mathur and Cyrus Sahukar feature in Amazon Prime Video’s latest web show, Mind the Malhotras, which revolves around a dysfunctional marriage. Speaking about his experience of shooting for the sitcom, Cyrus shared with us his thoughts on how playing the role of a father gave him some big lessons on parenting. And Mini spoke about, among other things, the changing modes of reality TV in India. Here are some excerpts from a recent Guardian 20 interview with the duo.
Q. How was your experience of working on your recent web show, Mind the Malhotras?
Cyrus Sahukar: First of all, I was very worried because I didn’t know that world [of marriage and parenting] at all. Though I am surrounded by that world, it was all new to me. Playing the role of a father was a big learning for me. I have been scared of being a parent but during the show, I realised that you can never be ready. I really connected with Rishabh’s [his character in the web series] fears as a father and got to know that the core of all good parenting is love and safety.
Q.Digital platforms have revolutionised the way we consume content these days. What is the future of the medium in India?
Cyrus: The journey has started and I am speaking about it purely as a viewer. The shows that we are seeing today over different digital platforms are showing us completely different worlds, and that I think is such a great depiction of India and its diversity, because you travel here for four hours and you find different cultures, languages and lifestyles. So web is bringing forth this variety. There is going to be clutter and madness and there is going to be a streamlining of that. More and more stories will be told through the medium. Right now, there is madness; there is so much information and content. So, as a viewer, I can’t keep up.
The way the world is consuming information is very different now. Earlier, there was just one TV set or a radio. Now, everyone is individually watching what they like… But the other problem now is that there is too much choice. I spend a lot more time on choosing what to watch, than actually watching it… This is also a time for self-censorship. The most egalitarian thing to have happened to the world was the Internet. The prices of Internet subscription are dropping, so everyone has the opportunity to watch anything. Therefore, your inner censor has to kick in, as opposed to what others decide for you, and this culture has to come forth.
Mini Mathur: India is so culturally rich in terms of stories and backgrounds. And we finally have a forum where people can tap into that, and create not just good stories but good storytellers, performers and technicians. All of whom can now work on projects they believe in, rather than having to work on projects that spoke to the lowest common denominator.
Q. Mini, you were a part of India’s first reality show, Indian Idol, back in 2004, and have closely seen the genre evolve over the past decade. How different is today’s reality TV from what it was a decade ago?
A. Reality at that time was reality. They were real stories. We didn’t construct them. And because it was India’s first reality show, we were going through the whole process of discovery. I remember how popular it got. I am still in touch with Indian Idolcontestants. The emotions I felt while working on the show was something I was experiencing with them, because I knew about their hopes and dreams and where that win would lead them. That is the kind of reality I enjoy. I stopped enjoying it when television became all about TRPs and manipulation. I don’t like manipulating the audience. But people were eventually able to figure this out. This is why being true to what you do and placing content over medium is very important. I could have done 30 times more work than what I have actually done, but I chose quality over quantity.
Q.Cyrus, you started the trend of televised spoofs in India. Where do you think it stands now?
A. I miss spoofs now. They have disappeared but comedy has also evolved into different aspects. There are sub-divisions now. There is Indian stand-up and English stand-up, which is flourishing dramatically. And things have changed because of the Internet. Everyone is doing their own little bit and the variety has increased. But the culture of saying what you want to say has been curbed and this is a big problem. But there are some people who are fighting against it and they will keep fighting because there is the Internet that doesn’t belong to anyone.
Q.You two have been TV presenters for a while now. What do you think is the biggest difference between the way we treat our anchors in India and how they are treated in the West?
Mini: We are being myopic. I have always felt that the West is one up on us because they appreciate, and this especially applies to TV, seasoned hosts. They appreciate those people who have spent decades as TV hosts and for whom the content of what they do is supreme. Their experience brings so much to the table as opposed to that of some popular television soap actor or actress. In India, we don’t appreciate seasoned, experienced anchors. We don’t give them a platform where they don’t need a voice in their ears telling them what to do… Anchors are not given their due. Channels want to have popular bahus as their anchors, but not all good actors can be good anchors. Except for Mr [Amitabh] Bachchan, Shah Rukh [Khan] and Salman [Khan], who have proved their mettle as anchors, all else who has just been roped in for the eyeballs have not been able to do justice to their part… As a TV presenter your job is to connect the audience to the content, and it is an underrated art in our country. And this makes me very angry. Signature shows need to be given to these seasoned anchors, without bastardising it with cheerleaders and Bollywood music.
Cyrus: And they [TV anchors] are really not celebrated at all. This stems from the fact that everyone judges ratings now. Saturday Night Live, a comedy-based show, has never been a number one comedy show. It has been 25 years and they keep it because it is a cult show. People would have dumped it here, but in the West they understand that since you are introducing a new concept, you need to be given time.