As seasoned actor Jayant Kripalani brings his childhood heroes between covers, he tells that he swears by his conviction
His writing flows like his dialogue delivery. Effortless! With “The New Market Tales”, Jayant Kripalani has just shown one more side of his multi-dimensional personality. Having grown up in Kolkata, Kripalani has picked characters, which he describes as heroic in their own way, from his growing up days and has created an engaging dialogue between fact and fiction. He has scratched the red walls of the legendary market to find stories that touch a raw nerve, situations that tickle you and small surprises that leave you baffled. “I had written these originally as diaries of The New Market in a different avatar. My friend Siddharth Basu wanted to produce them as a television serial,” says Kripalani as we settle for a leisurely interview on a rainy morning in Pan Macmillan’s Gurgaon office.
“Ten years ago they rejected it. The channel took it up to almost the launch mark, but then they looked at numbers and said no. I was told it is too expensive to mount, there is too much happening and that it can’t compete with saas-bahu serials. It is amazing that their philosophy is while you are watching television the daal should not catch fire.” What is that? “Exactly, I was also shocked but I was told that a housewife should be able to watch television and stir her daal at the same time. I found it very insulting and quit the medium. The last sensible thing that I did was Ji Mantriji.”
However, some time back the stories cropped up again on his desk during a cleaning up exercise. “I started working on them, again. I shared it with people over Facebook. One of them liked it and sent it to Pan Macmillan. It was not a conscious decision.” You call it fate? “Mainu ki pata, yaar,” he snaps back in his trademark style. What he does know is that the process of writing was quite agonising. “Francis, the baker’s son who wanted to become a jeweller, is a composition of four-five people. Mesho, the man who wants to die, is a combination of at least 10 people, including my father.” But his characters (each short story is named after a character) are quite seamless on paper. “I am no spring chicken. I am quite old, and have a lot of stories in my head. My problem is what do I leave out? That was the trouble part. There was a temptation to overflow. Finally, I followed the principle that I stuck to all my life: less is more.” .”
Kripalani says what motivated him to dig into his memory bank was that these ordinary people were heroes in their own lives. “I have lived with heroes all my life in Mumbai. Here are people who talked about themselves all the time but these were people who actually did heroic things and behaved as if it were part of their normal life.”
He has managed to strike a neat balance between the emotional and humorous parts with the surprise element nicely snuggled between the layers. “I think it works well in the short story format. I don’t think it is possible to sustain it in a novella. I can’t say whether I would be able maintain the same balance between sentimentality and humour in a novel. I am still new to the medium. As I said there was a temptation to overflow and the tough part was coming down to less-is-more attitude.”
The attitude worked for him in his acting career as well, as audience keeps waiting for his return but he doesn’t oblige. “In Bengali we call it creating hava!” quips Kripalani. “Acting has never been my bread and butter. Also, I am never scared to go hungry and in Bombay you need calibre to go hungry. It is not easy,” he laughs.
A Doordarshan boy, Kripalani was our first corporate type on screen when he appeared in Khandaan. Today there are many such types. “I like to meet the guys they are trying to portray. I have never met corporate people talking like that.” Was he conscious that he is getting into an image trap? “I couldn’t be bothered. I learnt acting from Satyadev Dubey who told me not to worry about the acting part, learn how to speak because when you speak the character will happen. I have played a paan-spitting Haryanvi chacha, a corporate type, a bureaucrat and it is always exactly the way I am speaking to you. When you mean what you are saying whatever you are performing comes out well…clean and neat, without any frills. And television is not a medium where you really require any frills. It is so small and so upfront. So if you try frills, it takes you away from the medium.”
Reflecting on Khandaan, he says, “I was not just corporate, I was a debauched corporate in the series. The director Shridhar gave me the opportunity to work it my way.” Inspired by Dynasty, Kripalani says it worked because there was only one channel and Khandaan proved to be an antithesis of Hum Log. “Hum Log was down to earth and Khandaan was gloss. Now we have only gloss. These days I am negotiating for a role in the Indian remake of Vanity Fair. I am not against remakes. Steal legitimately and steal well. Don’t pussyfoot around.”
Is he still interested in turning his tales into a television series? “No. If I make some money, I will like to turn Mesho’s story into a film. On TV they want to turn a simple eight page story into eight episodes and I don’t want to do it.”
His next book is about a bureaucrat who gets frequently transferred. Somebody like Khemka? “Yes, except for the fact that he is sweeter. We tend to miss the person behind the veil of bureaucracy.” The process is still painful but Kripalani can see the bigger picture. “In your second book, you get illusions of grandeur. My prose at this moment is too florid. So the process of scratching it and rewriting it is on. My favourite friend on my computer is my trash can.”
Frank admissions about his characters
The only truth in Francis’ story is that he died at a young age.
Amol has feet!
Mita was my girl friend but the rest is all fiction.
Mesho’s decision to walk along the country’s coastline is taken from my life. It is something I do every monsoon.
On Doordarshan days
There were certain rules and regulations but if you stuck to them the process was quite effortless. Still we complained bitterly about the lack of freedom. The babus used to say when you will get freedom you will crib about the past. They were actually write. Now my producer friends say, “Woh Doordarshan ke din kahan chale gaye.”
I miss the infotainment part on private channels. Once my eight-year-old child asked me why is water wet. I took the idea to Doordarshan and I was asked to make a series answering such questions.