Cyrus Broacha, India’s beloved funny man, reminisces about the grand Parsi New Year parties of the past and how the main traditions are still centred around food. By Satyaki Sarkar
This is one man who can put a smile on even the sternest face with his sharp, witty, and easy-going brand of humour. As candid and straightforward as they come, Cyrus Broacha has been incredibly popular over the years, and is know for his witticisms and funny remarks that are marked by a cheeky and self-deprecating sense of humour. He’s had a long, successful career starting from MTV’s Bakra to being video jockey, a radio jockey, a theatre personality, as well as acting in a number of movies, writing three novels, penning columns for several publications, and hosting a satirical show on politics. He’s owned the tag of ‘mad bawa’ in every possible way. So this Jamshedi Navroz, we speak to the funny man about the festival.
Is it a holiday?
“As a child, growing up, my sole concern was whether I would have a holiday on that day or not! I would always support festivals that were a holiday with greater gusto and fervour, whether they were from my community or not. So in that sense, you might say that I was very secular, because to me the whole idea was that I wouldn’t have to go to school. We are not an exceptionally religious family, however, earlier, my dad, my beagle, and I would go to the Agiary (a Parsi fire temple). Although those days are gone. Nowadays the religious side of it has gone out of the window, and the food side of it remains.”
Then and now
“Over the last few years, we haven’t really had an extended celebration, but we do celebrate the festival with a family dinner. The traditional customs have remained the same; be it the food, or neighbourhood Parsis dropping in and wishing each other. No more big shindigs though, as demonetisation has thrown the partying and grand celebrations completely out of the window. In the past, we did have a couple of big parties, as we Parsis party as hard as anyone else. And, boy, we as a family loved to party! Although, being a religious festival, it was always supposed to be celebrated with just family and other Parsis, but we had broken that tradion long ago. Close friends who are fans of Parsi cuisine, like my good friend Kunal (Vijaykar), simply had to be there, because they were huge supporters of the food; the best part of the festival! Oh, and on top of that, the free drinks definitely didn’t hurt either, as every Indian knows. We’d play a lot of oldie music, like from the ’60s, and others that we liked, and that would chase the riffraff away!”
“The celebrations I remember most vividly were during my college days, when I would call over all kinds of people to celebrate and turn it into a proper party, take over from the oldies, so to speak. Any sensible teenager, as one can imagine, would exploit the festival to the maximum, so he could meet girls, and it was certainly no different for me, but that time has gone. Nowadays there are no extra people who come over. With age, that novelty factor mellows down a bit, which earlier used to come from lots of people coming over, energy levels going up, music, and all the revelry. It’s more like a regular Sunday now, with lunch and people relaxing, and is very low-key, compared to how it used to be. It’s like a Navroz at a retirement home!”
“It’s been a while since we have visited the Agiary, or followed any of the traditional rituals. We haven’t been a part of the religious aspect of the festival for a long time…I hope we’re still allowed into heaven now! But barring that, the family tradition that has been a constant with us is going and getting the food. That involves driving to Albless Baug in central Mumbai to pick up the food. It’s such a sought after place that we have to book it in advance, go early and stand in line for it; but it’s well worth it. The bhonu (food) made by Parsi caterers is as delicious as it is a real value for money. Everybody loves it, and it is one thing you can never have enough of. The mouth-wateringly rich food, which is definitely not for people on a diet, is the other thing that really gets me going. You can buy as much as you wish, be it five or seven boxes, which are usually sent out as gifts. This year, I have a shoot early in the morning, but it should get done by lunchtime, so I’ll try to get home in time to have lunch with the folks. If not, we’ll certainly make dinner plans, maybe even call a couple of friends over, and have a nice little get-together.
“The other specialty of the Parsis is Malai Khaja, a malai and mawa sweet that we love. Lookmanji’s in central Mumbai, again, is the only place that makes it perfectly. And because of that it flies off the racks very fast. So once again, we have to go get it very early in the morning. The celebration is not so different nowadays just toned down a bit. With age, and we have around six-seven people in the house already, it’s no longer the alcohol binge that it used to be, but it is these traditions centred around food that have stayed on with us.”
Essence of the festival
“To me, at the end of it all, Navroz is about positive vibes, good thoughts, actions, and the like. So I think that’s the concept that is most important. In this day and age, especially seeing as how religion has gone entirely the wrong way all over the world, I believe it’s better to be less holy and focus more on the essence of it all, the basic things that people celebrate the festival for.”