The Telegraph
| Sunday, August 25, 2013 |


Straight Talk

Published on Sat, 24 Aug 2013 18:24:20 IST

  • Jayant Kripalani

Those who grew up on a staple of Doordarshan prorammes would know actor Jayant Kripalani well. Kripalani become a household name in the 80s with serials like Khandan that had everybody hooked. And when he played the loveable 'Mr' to Archana Puran Singh's 'Mrs' , in the sitcom Mr Ya Mrs, Kripalani assured himself a place in the TV stars' hall of fame. Then came Ji Mantriji-- the Indian adaptation of BBC's satirical sitcom, Yes Minister-- in which he played secretary to the minister of administrative affairs. An impish grin always seemed to suggest that Kripalani was up to something. And he was - and continues to be.

His fans also remember him well in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it role (except that you didn't miss him) in the Aamir Khan starrer, 3 Idiots. And now he's reinvented himself as a writer. His debut book, a collection of short stories called New Market Tales (Pan Macmillan), is out. In it he's taken a fond look at Calcutta, where he grew up. Not one to take a breather, he's already working on his next written venture.

Writing isn't an entirely new field for Kripalani as he wrote the script for the TV serial Ghar Jamai as well as the mini TV series PC aur Mausi (which he also produced). Somewhere in-between this he also found the time to write the script of Shyam Benegal's, Well Done Abba (2009). He juggled all this with a career as an actor in television shows, films and theatre. He's also been deeply involved with making corporate movies and advertisements (he's acted in some as well).

In a freewheeling chat, Kripalani talks about why he's not seen on television anymore and what makes his book so special for him.

Q: How long did it take you to write the book?

J.K: I had taken a year off from work, as I had been very busy with different things. I wanted a change and it was at this time that I started writing the book. The actual writing took about eight months though the genesis of the book goes back many years. It was originally written for television but hibernated for about 10 years. I plucked a few people from there and started writing this book. Then as chance would have it, I met Divya Dubey, a publisher, on Facebook, who became my friend. I sent one of the stories to her to find out whether I was on the right track. She edited the story and sent it back. And the process was repeated for the other stories. Then she asked for my permission to send it to a publisher. Soon enough Picador wanted to publish it.

Q: When you decided to write what did you keep in mind? Which is your personal favourite short story in this book?

J.K: I write about simple things so I kept the short stories simple. I can't even begin to say which literary genre they fall into.

As for my personal favourite, I love them all. But I certainly relate to the last one where Mesho, an elderly gentleman, decides that he's lived enough and wants a fun funeral. He feels that he has eaten and drunk his quota according to the shastras and decides that he will die within three days -- and does. This character is someone who can stand up and be strong without doing anything unpleasant. If I had control, that's the way I want to die.

Q. Are the characters any people you know?

J.K: The characters are vaguely based on some people that I knew. One of them could be a composite of three or four people. If you have lived 30 plus years in an area, its history becomes a part of you, without you even realising it. My mother is quite a chronicler of episodes and she narrated stories about shop owners and our neighbours, which have found themselves into this book.

Q: Why don't we see comedies like Mr Ya Mrs. or even Ji Mantriji on television anymore?

J.K: I confess that no one has time for comedies any more. There are programmes on television that are supposedly comedy shows -- but in fact they are not. They really are joke-telling programmes, which to me is very different from having a sense of humour. Comedy is how you observe life and that might be funny on occasion and not so at other times. Perpetual laughter in the background -- from beginning to end -- as people enact bad jokes is not my idea of comedy. Neither can I judge these shows nor perform on them.

Q: Why did you decide to do films like Jaane Tu .. Ya Jaane Na or even 3 Idiots in which the roles were small?

J.K: The movies chose me. Abbas, who wrote and directed Jaane Tu..., used to hang around my house as he my son's friend. He wrote the character with me in mind and later cast me in the role.

Raju Hirani, director of 3 Idiots and one of the finest editors that I know, also edited some of my documentaries. One day he landed where I was shooting and told me that he was in trouble as an actor had quit his film as he thought the role was too small. I agreed to bail him out. And even as we were walking across the sets of 3 Idiots, someone was measuring me for my suit, another was feeding me the three or five lines that I had to speak. Raju told me that people would remember me for this role - and they did. That one line gave me a lot of mileage.

Q: Why don't we see more of Jayant Kripalani now on television and in films?

J.K.: As one grows older, one likes going out a little less. Getting into television and films means that I have to meet people and I am not overly fond of doing so. If I can get things done without setting out, then life becomes worth living.

Q: Do you have more books up your sleeve?

J.K: By January 2014 I should be out with a second book. This will be a set of three novellas with the same character that moves from Calcutta to Mumbai to Darjeeling.