Bawa, bawi ne Bombay

By Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

In between negotiating evasive spaghetti, Cyrus Sahukar and Amyra Dastur talk of being members of a minority in Bollywood that is obsessed with all things delicious

Television host and comedian Cyrus Sahukar and actor Amyra Dastur bond over lunch at CinCin, BKC. Pics/Bipin Kokate

They call it a small world. But actor Amyra Dastur is quick to refute the adage — she hasn't worked with a Parsi actor, ever, after being in the industry for nearly 10 years. We are seated outdoors, with tin cans of gypsophila on our table and swaying palm trees for company, at BKC's Italian pit stop CinCin. Dastur goes through the menu before actor-comedian Cyrus Sahukar arrives and they meet for the first time, though it hardly feels that way. The Parsi foodies are stuck in a classic Italian dilemma, pasta or pizza, before Sahukar settles on a name. Dastur warns him, "It may not be as good as you think it is." And he erupts in laughter, "Oh no, but that's life!"

Dalreen: How did you celebrate Navroz this year?
Cyrus: I actually didn't. I was part of a gig in Hyderabad. How about you?
Amyra: I was finally in Mumbai so I celebrated with family after four years. It was normal — home, food, drinks, cards, and more food. That's what I attend family functions for.
Cyrus: I want to have eight to 10 Parsis in my life, and check if they're single or married. The latter is better.
Amyra: Married with children is even better because you get the food from the Navjote ceremony.

Dalreen: Tell us about the best wedding or Navjote you've attended.
Cyrus: The wedding of Boman Irani's son. The meal was at the back of the house. So I spent 45 minutes thinking that there is no dinner. Then I got super high. The food there was unbelievable. I think I pushed an old man for a seat.
Amyra: For me, my own Navjote was my favourite. I was nine and my eight-year-old brother got drunk because he kept asking everybody for a sip of their drink.
Cyrus: I have really different memories because my Dad, a Parsi, and my mom, a Punjabi, separated when I was three. I went to live with her, and grew up in Delhi with very little Parsi influence. The only two Parsi guys in my school were called Cyrus. When I joined MTV at 18 in Bombay, there were three Cyruses; a fourth Cyrus, an intern, also joined and I had no sense of identity left.
Amyra: So, I told my aunt that I have an interview with Cyrus today. The first thing she asked was, "Which one?"
Cyrus: Which is strange because there are only about 10 left. They always talk about us like exotic birds.

Dalreen: What makes the community in Mumbai so unique?
Cyrus: From an outsider's perspective, I'd say they are quite scattered in other cities.
Amyra: But I don't get the assumption that all of us live in Parsi Colony.
Cyrus: I want to live in one.
Amyra: I like going to Cusrow Baug, but I feel that you don't get your personal space. My family and my aunt's family live on the same floor.
Cyrus: So the doors are open…
Amyra: Yeah, I've reached a point where there is nothing that can embarrass me. And that has really helped me with acting.
Dalreen: How did you deal with the stereotyping in cinema?
Amyra: There's the Parsi Hindi I dealt with. At home, we only speak English or Gujarati. But at the end of the day, you learn something that makes you better, so I worked on my Hindi.
Cyrus: The depiction of Parsis in Indian cinema is hilarious because you would see this old guy in the car with his wife and 10 children.
Amyra: Imagine if we all had 10 children, we wouldn't be dying out right now.

(The food arrives — saucy salami pizza, branzino meditarraneo, tajarin with fresh truffle, and carpacio di manzo)


Dalreen: When do you feel a strong connect with the community?
Cyrus: My first love for the community didn't come through people. It came from food and furniture. I would go to town auctions at old Parsi homes. I remember meeting Waheeda Rehman there and we were staring at a piece of cutlery for an hour.
Amyra: I have to say our people preserve objects beautifully. The clocks and paintings make old bungalows so pristine.
Cyrus: But isn't it all fast disappearing with restaurants here?
Amyra: The chicken soup and fried rice at Colaba's Paradise Restaurant was a constant for me. Now, if you want authentic Parsi food, you have to ask your friends' parents or grandparents to cook it for you.
Cyrus: That's tough, to get invited…
Amyra: Make more friends!

Dalreen: You were looking to start an Iranian restaurant with your brother, who is a chef, as well?
Amyra: I'm waiting to finish acting. By the time I'm done acting in five years, it will be open.
Cyrus: And what will you call it?
Amyra: Pestonjee's.
Cyrus: That's it! We just talked about stereotypes and there you go with your little car, balloons, and eleven children!
Amyra: It's the cutest Parsi name...
Cyrus: I think you should mess it up. Call it Ramesh or something, and confuse people.

Quick takes

What's the funniest thing you have heard about being Parsi?
Amyra: That we still marry our brothers and sisters.
Cyrus: Not all Parsis are jumpy, happy guys eating eedu [eggs].

If you had to invite a non-Parsi for bhonu, who would it be?
Amyra: Nawazuddin Siddiqui because I want to hear him abuse in Marathi.
Cyrus: My mom's side of the family — the Punjabi clan.

What's your favourite egg dish?
Amyra: Papeta par eedu.
Cyrus: Eggs Kejriwal.

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