The Indian rugby team’s charismatic full-back Emil Vartazarian calls himself a perfectionist and believes in having backup plans ready. Which probably explains why if rugby fails for him, he has interests in cinema and starting an ethnic Iranian-Indian cuisine restaurant.
“One of my teachers at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, called me a natural critic,” he says in jest after the Indian team’s practise session at the Bombay Gymkhana ahead of a triangular series against Guam and Philippines. “I love the camera and don’t mind being on both sides of it. But that’s a parallel life for me. Rugby is the main thing.”
The 30-year-old Vartazarian, who plays for and coaches the Chennai Cheetahs rugby team and the Tamil Nadu Police, credits his interest in rugby to his schooling in the Armenian college, Kolkata, where rugby was a part of the school culture.
“It was a compulsory sport in school. And so to keep up, I learnt how to play it and enjoyed it. The school team kept winning, and that was the boost I needed to continue playing it.”
Vartazarian, who hails from Iran, joined the school in 1987, at the age of 10, after the war between Iran and Iraq forced the family to send him and his brother to India for safety, and a chance at better prospects.
“Staying away from the family was obviously difficult. It hit us once we were here, that there was going to be no turning away, because our family had invested so much for us. That’s when we thought we should adopt the life, and we did so.”
Now a coach of the Chennai Cheetahs (he also plays for them) and the Tamil Nadu Police, Vartazarian also dabbled in football. “In 2001-02, I played for the Bengal Mumbai Football Club (BMFC), and I almost played for Mohammedan Sporting in Kolkata the next season. But due to some problems with the contract, it didn’t work out.
At the same time, I got a chance to play for the Chennai Cheetahs. So I took up rugby full time.” As for life beyond rugby, Vartazarian believes in taking the simple road. A hectic schedule as coach of the Cheetahs leaves him time to do little else apart from working out in the gym, cooking and the occasional modelling assignment.
“Modelling was a good experience. Now that I live in Chennai, I don’t get that many offers,” he said. He has appeared in commercials for Seven Up, Park Avenue and some energy drinks. But the stint that he enjoyed the most was choreographing a rugby sequence in the Telugu movie Sye.
“The movie was loosely based on Lagaan with the theme of rugby, and the director SS Chandramouli approached us to choreograph the rugby sequences. I enjoyed that experience, telling actors how to go about things on the sets.”
Vartazarian has a degree in film studies from St. Xaviers College, Kolkata, and laments the fact that he couldn’t pursue film studies. “It needed a lot of money, which I didn’t have. So I turned to rugby.”