In Amazon Prime’s latest show, Mind The Malhotras, Mini Mathur and Cyrus Sahukar play Shefali and Rishabh, a Mumbai couple with three children. The show follows their daily problems – children’s school grades, their daughter’s tattoo-ed boyfriend, Rishabh’s fear of turning 40 and Shefali’s issues with her mother-in-law. There’s a sweetness and innocence to the show that is reminiscent of old Indian TV shows, before kitchen politics and naagins took over. And yet, Shefali and Rishabh are a couple of today, going to couples therapy to avoid a divorce like some of their friends. We speak to the Mini and Cyrus about creating the Malhotras, memories of their MTV days and more.
Mind The Malhotras reminded me of older television shows. When we made clean, fun shows about families.
Cyrus Sahukar: The way I understand it, the settings and the problems are modern but it’s got an old school framework to it. With the news I’m absorbing or the shows I’m seeing, sometimes you get a little freaked out that maybe the world is getting really dark.
Mini Mathur: And somehow everyone has got leisure time only towards the end of their day and you feel like, ‘Oh no, no, I can’t watch this in the night. This is disturbing.’ So, this is a show that I think everyone will agree on watching.
CS: It’s like a mild sitcom. The history of sitcoms are also very interesting to me because the first sitcoms that came, the people were really like nice people. Extra nice and extra chirpy. So from the mundane existence that everybody was living in, they used to turn this on and everybody was like ‘Hello! Hi!’ And then little by little with shows like Seinfeld, the lead characters became faulty and flawed and I think that has also crept a little bit in here.
Internationally, when you have Oprah or Ellen or Fallon, you’ll notice that as they got on in years, they get their own shows, they get to play with the audience. Here what happens is that people burn out really fast, says Mini Mathur
Mini, you’ve done television for so many years but very little acting. Did you not like what you were being offered?
MM: I’ve been very choosy about my work throughout. Because both of us are from Delhi, we were the MTV VJs whose Hindi was saaf. And so I’ve got offered a lot of work on TV but I was never attracted to any of that because it didn’t resonate with me. With the advent of the kitchen politics and drama I said that this isn’t my world and I loved being a TV host so I wanted to build on that. This is my first full-fledged acting assignment.
Is it daunting to act?
MM: I don’t know what Cyrus’s take on it is but I feel like it’s a lot easier that being a TV host where from the moment you start, it’s your vibe, your words and spontaneity…. I remember in the first few days I told Cyrus, ‘This is somebody else’s lines. I just have to read it and perform it? How fun!’
Cyrus, you’ve done a lot more acting work. But did you have trouble imagining yourself as a dad to three kids?
CS: I did do that math when they told me this and I thought, ‘Does this mean I’ve had a baby at 18?’. I’ve never played a dad and I don’t have any reference since I’m not married, don’t have kids, and most of the fathers I know, like my friends, their kids are maximum 5 or 7 years old. I referenced a lot of my friends who belong to a generation of trying to figure shit out and I found Rishabh very interesting for that reason because he represents the average good guy. And that guy has disappeared on a global level. They just have a few shows or sitcoms or otherwise it’s either a guy who is cheating on his wife or the super young guy with six pack abs who is super brash.
Both of you’ll do work that is so varied. Mini, you do shows on food and travel among other things. Cyrus, you switch between hosting, acting, theatre and comedy. How do you pick what you want to do?
MM: I think after having put in 20 years of picking projects that resonated with me, I was pretty sure that if you’re a consummate host, then you should be able to do shows on everything. Moving from MTV to a general entertainment channel and doing things like Indian Idol was a big shift for me. After having put in those slog overs of what the market demanded of me versus what I wanted to do, eventually our passions played a huge part. Travel, food and lifestyle is a big passion. So I pick what works for me and life is more important than work for me so I won’t put take up work just to keep my calendar packed. Cyrus is the only guy I know who rejects more work than he accepts. I tell him, ‘Are you crazy? There’s a lot of money.’ and he says, ‘Nahi main thak jaaoonga’.
CS: But look at my 6 months. I did a show for MTV called Elevator Pitch. Then I did another show called The Anti-Social Network with Jose Covaco. Then we started Mind the Malhotras, but in the middle of that I was doing a 25-city tour for Diageo. I used to come back on set tired, with one eyeball hanging out. I’ve forgotten my daughter’s name. I’m like, ‘Who are you?’ And the kid would say, ‘I play your son.’ Then I went off to do a show called Signature Masterclass. After that Mini and I hosted a TV quiz show by Byjus. But I find this easier. Someone says, ‘Just sit on a plane.’ and I do it. If there were awards to be a bum I’d be at least in the top 5! If you leave me to myself, I could have vegetables growing out of me.
Nobody can achieve what India can in terms of throwing shit out there fast. That culture of writing is not there, says Cyrus Sahukar
I remember when I’d see both of you’ll as VJs on MTV, I imagined that you’ll had the coolest jobs ever. What are your memories of that time?
CS: I didn’t know it then. I wish I had met you. I was complaining saying my feet hurt. I was in drag for 10 years so it wasn’t always cool!
But I have a book of memories. Because India doesn’t collect pop culture I didn’t realise there must be history lessons on shows like Tamas, Buniyaad, Hum Log, Nukkad. MTV at that time was like a whole new wave hitting India because the country was also economically growing. Shah Rukh Khan became the symbol of change for us. I’m pretty sure that the first proper spoof shows started with MTV Fully Faltu. I was 19-20 growing up in this world and the atmosphere at that time was non-competitive. No one would say, ‘You’re cutting my light.’ or ‘You’re taking my line.’
MM: Which why all of us are friends till date. I know this guy from his 17th birthday. All of us VJs are in touch and now our kids know each other. There was such great bonhomie. I will never get to see that 5 years of my life. We all had each other’s back.
What’s a dream project for both of you’ll? Mini, I saw you posted a photo of Oprah doing an interview in a garden and saying this is the life you want.
MM: I’ve constantly believed that India is not ready for hosts of a great stature. Internationally, when you have Oprah or Ellen or Fallon, you’ll notice that as they got on in years, they get their own shows, they get to play with the audience. Here what happens is that people burn out really fast because you’re not using people who are inherently TV hosts or trained in that craft. Oprah has transitioned into this person who has said I will only do what gives me joy and my joy comes from interacting with people. And I also love talking to people from any walks of life. So all I want is to sit in my backyard and make a great cup of chai and have these wonderful people on my own show, so I’m not distracted by the market pressures of dumb this down, add a dance… a good show is good show. And I truly think doing Mind The Malhotras gave me that satisfaction.
CS: I couldn’t agree more. And while we are going shorter because of attention spans, I feel the West is doing longer podcasts which have millions of downloads a week. I’ve interviewed so many people and I find that relationship very weird because it’s based on one person constantly talking and the person only asking questions. It’s not human. There’s no back and forth. People don’t realise these great shows (that Mini mentioned) have many writers. Nobody can achieve what India can in terms of throwing shit out there fast. That culture of writing is not there. So I’d love to do a podcast – people are amazing and they’ll tell you great things if you just shut up. So I want to do this for sure.