When Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay first conceived the character of Taranath Tantrik, he probably didn’t know that he would end up writing only two short stories. His son Taradas Bandyopadhyay then went on to continue the series. Cut to 2019. Q – Qaushik Mukherjee – is all set for his new web series to hit the Bengali OTT platform Hoichoi. And in the lead is Jayant Kripalani. After the trailer of the upcoming series hit the internet, we had the opportunity to grab an exclusive Jayant Kripalani interview.
In Talks with Taranath Tantrik: A Jayant Kripalani Interview, Exclusively on Hoyejak
The man in a black suit sat with a cup of coffee, his walking stick resting closeby. His silver hair, beard, and stache were as noticeable as the crispness of his tongue; he occasionally broke into Bengali, speaking better than most convent-educated Bongs, as we spoke about Taranath Tantrik, Q, Bangla, the importance of free press and platforms like Hoyejak, and more. Here are excerpts:
Q: Let me start with the obvious question: how was your experience as Taranath Tantrik?
A: Oh, it was fascinating; it was different, it was something I have never done before. I thought I was taking a risk by saying yes to this. But, I have a lot of faith in what Q does. So I said OK. And the overall experience was, at one level, adventurous and exciting. It could probably have been easier, though.
Q: Talking about Taranath Tantrik and the underlying concept, I’m curious to know if you yourself have ever experienced anything related to dark magic.
A: I don’t know about dark magic; but, I think, every morning, when I get up, the fact that I got up is magical enough. Every night when I go to bed, I think that this is it – I might not get up in the morning. But then I do, and it’s a great experience, to smell the air, and see the beauty there is. The first five hours of every morning to me are just the best in the world. It’s pure magic.
Q: Aside from Taranath Tantrik, what’s your experience with Bengali literature?
A: I have to confess – very little, because, you must realise that I’m an o-Bangali; and even though I have spent a long part of my life in Calcutta, I belong to what would be called a convent educated background. Bangla wasn’t given the kind of importance that it should have been given, for which I’m really quite ashamed of myself.
But, I started learning Bangla in University here, because I had to read the slogans on the walls. Things were very political at that time; that’s when I started learning Bangla. I started reading and there was a little bit of struggling. Then some great translations, through which I could associate myself with Bengali literature a little more.
Q: Which are your favourites?
There are lots of short stories that have recently been translated by Arunava Sinha. Then there were some great poets like Shakti Chattopadhyay and the Hungryalist Quartet… I managed to get access to all these much later in life, and I started appreciating these things much later. Yes, Tagore was always there; I mean, you can’t get away from him, can you? Then there’s Saratchandra Chattopadhyay; I read his work extensively, even the translations. There are some Bangladeshi writers I’m quite fond of. My exposure to Bangla has been quite late in life. To me, it’s another world that’s opening up slowly but surely. I had to take out the old Barnaporichoy to start learning again.
Q: It’s probably never too late. And, how is your experience in general with the Bengali culture and Kolkata?
A: You know, it’s tough for me to separate myself from everything Bengali because you have to remember that I spent the first 35 years of my life here. I lived in Calcutta. Then, I moved to Bombay. So, to separate myself from the Bengali culture and think of it as a separate entity is really difficult because it has been a part of my life for a long time.
Q: Ok, then let me ask you: what about the Bengali culture or Kolkata do you miss when you’re not here?
A: Would you call food culture? Because I miss the food very much. But, what I do miss, not when I am out of Calcutta, but when I am in it, is the theatre of the ’60s and the ’70s. I miss Chetana; I miss Bohurupee; I miss Nandikar. But that’s not because I’m in a different city. That’s because I am in a different time-zone. Especially in the ’70s, Bangla theatre was at its peak. There were plays at least once a week. But then it kind of fizzled out. So, that’s what I miss, a lot.
Q: And what about films?
A: I miss the old ways of filmmakers, like Tapan Sinha. But I also find a bunch of new filmmakers quite exciting, like Q. I might not agree with a lot of his ways, but there’s no doubt that he is making fascinating films. I might disagree with them, but the fact is, he is making exciting stuff.
Q: Have you had the chance to follow any web series or show on the OTT platforms?
I did watch a few, but you know, I have a very addictive nature. When I start watching, I can’t stop. So I try not to watch. I watch some shows very late at night, so that I can fall asleep, and don’t have to binge-watch. It’s impossible for me to give up watching a show. I watched 8-9 seasons of Breaking Bad without taking a break.
Although, that was before these streaming platforms came up. I used to pirate the stuff and watch at home. It was great to be ahead of everybody. But then I found that weeks would go by, and I was eating potato chips, drinking cold drinks, and not going out of the house. So, I put a stop to that. So, I started watching at night. I get up at 4 every morning. So, I have to sleep by 9.30-10 pm.
Q: So, coming back to Taranath Tantrik and Q, did you have any unique experience while shooting for the series?
A: See, Q and I worked together in advertising many years ago – in 1978, maybe. I worked with him very closely as his boss. And, I discovered at one point of time that because of Q, I could get up and leave my job. He was running it so well that I didn’t need to be there. So I went to my boss and said, “I’m out.” So, Q gave me my freedom from my desk job, and I made him a prisoner at his desk job.
Cut to twenty years later; Q walks into my home the other evening for a cup of tea. And I think that it’s for a cup of tea and adda; you know, we have twenty years to catch up on. And he says, “Eshob baad dao. Eita (Taranath Tantrik) koro.” (Let’s cut out the chitchat and discuss Taranath Tantrik.) My first reaction was, “Na.” It took him three minutes to convince me that I should do it. And he said, “Onek mawja hobe.” (We’ll have a lot of fun.) And I said, “Thik ache, koro…” (Alright, let’s do this.)
Q: How did you handle the dialogues in Sudho Bangla?
A: Well that was the problem because the language is not my language. Amar Bangla to chalti bhasha. (My Bangla is colloquial language.) “Abilombe Abodharito…” – what does that even mean? It’s the literary language. But one of his colleagues, Surajit (Sen), spent hours coaching me, showing me the right uccharon (pronunciation), telling me what it means… He was of great assistance to me. It gave me confidence.
I would have said, no. but Q guaranteed that he would give me a trapeze net – that if I fell, I would be caught. I fell many times. But because of his team, I could manage to brush myself off and start the next scene again. So that was a great experience. I did the show because of him, and no other reason – not because of Bibhutibhushan or Taranath.
Q: Is there an upcoming project that you’re excited about?
There’s a Bangla movie called Mahalaya, by Soumik Sen. I think it will be released soon. As for the Bombay film industry, I’m out of touch because I spend a lot of my time writing. I had sworn that I would never act again, but Q brought me back to this mainstream acting, and it found it a little off. It’s a relearning process for me. It’s a little difficult and awkward. I had promised myself that I would never do it again, but here I am.
Q: And did you enjoy yourself?
A: Yes, yes. It was fun. I feel it isn’t fair to people if I’m in front of the camera when my heart isn’t in it. As an actor, if you’re lying, and not being true to the character, the camera will catch it. It’s not fair to the producers, directors, and audience. So I said, “Chor do na abhi!” (Let go of this idea.) But Q said, “Karna padhega. Tum hum par chor do.” (You have to do it. Let me handle the rest.) And I said yes.
A burst of positive energy, Jayant Kripalani is, in conclusion, is a sharp contrast to the character that he’s set to portray on smartphone screens. He is truly unrecognisable in the guise of Taranath Tantrik, in more ways than one.
If you haven’t seen the trailer already, take a look: