He swept vintage Doordarshan with charm unlimited. The man chose to stay away from TRP driven TV later though. In a recent interview, he lamented lack of comedy in today’s Indian television and called Bigg Boss `smelly’. An author and occasional actor in Hindi films, Ji Mantriji's JAYANT KRIPALANI speaks to Teresa Rehman, about TV during Doordarshan era and life…
You were one of the first small screen stars in India featuring in the television serials of the 1980s Khandan, Mr. & Mrs and later Ji Mantriji (2003), the Indian adaptation of BBC's satirical sitcom, Yes Minister. Can you tell us about television’s Doordarshan days?
Different. Very different. We used to complain in the old days of how difficult it was with only one channel, that too a government channel, and we had to pander to their whims and fancies. “When will we have competition?” we would ask! And that old adage came into play: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.
We got hundreds of channels, the quality of content took a dive, ratings ruled, the lowest common denominator came into play and I dropped out of it. Ji Mantriji was the last satisfying piece of work I did on television.
Do you think television in India has changed over the years? Would you prefer the good old days of Doordarshan?
I think the first part of this question has been answered in the earlier one. I am not too sure though, if I would prefer the good old days of Doordarshan. In retrospect one can use the term ‘good old days’. But let me tell you we had our miserable days too. When we would have to reshoot a programme because it offended the sensibilities of someone in Mandi house, when we were summoned to Mandi House from whichever part of the country we were shooting in, to discuss some obscure emotional infarction we’d caused!
Why did you quit television?
I am not too sure I’ve quit television. Let’s just say that there wasn’t a ‘saas’ I wanted to be involved with or a ‘bahu’ that excited me. There was a producer who accused me of being a snob, and was very upset when I replied, “I’m working on being one, yes.”
What keeps you busy now?
Start up companies. I helped launch an HR company call Exper Education Private Ltd and it’s offshoot INME which provides alternative learning systems through its adventure camp, for 9-18 year old children in India. They are fun and learning programs.
Once they took off, I went back to writing and directing small films. I think I am still a partner in the company though that is something I will have to check with my Chartered Accountants.
Rowdy Rascal, a TV production house which was having some problems called me for about a year. Once it got back on the rails I handed the company back to its owners.
I keep a distant eye on them.
Please tell us something about your early life. Was there anything in your childhood that influenced your later years?
Everything in my childhood influenced my life. Being born and brought up in Calcutta, you are bound to be influenced by all that happens around you whether you are a Bengali or not. I grew up in and around The New Market area. I hadn’t realised how much it had influenced my life until I came out with a book of short stories which Picador published early this year. It’s called The New Market Tales.
Jadavpur University in the 70s was another great influence on my life and my way of thinking. I had to learn Bengali to read the slogans on the walls and suddenly a whole world of politics, literature, drama and cinema opened up for me.
How did you get into the world of theatre, media and films?
Certainly not by design. A series of accidents and chance meetings led me into these areas of expertise. And all of them – the accidents and the chance meetings – had to do with the relationships I had in, what can best be described as, my misbegotten youth. I have to confess that I am happy to say there was never any acrimony and all the people I fell out of relationships with are very good friends to this day — the ones who are alive. (I keep forgetting my age.)
Please tell us something about your stint in advertising. Has advertising changed over the years?
My years in advertising were insignificant and nothing to write home about. I happened to be marginally good at it and it was a convenient meal ticket. Later in life, I would have loved to work with minds like Piyush Pandey but by the time they came along I was well away from it all.
Have you ever been to Northeast India? Do you think the region has not been adequately represented in the media?
I remember Arunachal when it was NEFA. Truly the most beautiful place in the world inhabited by the most graceful population I had ever come across in my short life. I have spent some time in Assam, Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Do the last two qualify as North East? Not sure.
I do not understand the meaning of ‘adequately represented’. I do know there are a million pre-conceived notions and prejudices we have about people living in the Northeast. The jury is still out on whether the media is responsible for this or the powers that be.
We have to work consciously towards removing these prejudices and notions. So maybe the media needs to be a bit more involved in objective reporting of the area.
Would you want to come back to television?
I never really left it did I? I just became a bit choosy about what I wanted to do with it. I might be anchoring a quiz in the not too distant future and I might be writing a series.
How would you like to be remembered as?
How? I hope people are charitable in the way they remember me. What I would like to be remembered for is someone who is easily forgotten.
How is your sense of humour in real life?
If someone can define what a sense of humour is, I might be able to answer this one and maybe get a laugh out of it.
Please tell us about your book. Why did u choose to write it?
I had absolutely no intentions of writing anything remotely resembling a book. There is this lady I met on Facebook called Divya who decided she wanted to become my friend so I agreed. It turned out that she was a fine editor and we exchanged a few stories. Next thing I knew she had forwarded some of my stuff to Picador and there you have it.
New Market chose itself as the main character in the book because I guess I was born and brought up in and about that area. I knew so many people there – not any of them heroes. They were ordinary people who led ordinary lives on the face of it. But if you put them under a benign microscope, you found that they had some wonderful qualities. Yes, I would even go so far as to say they were heroic qualities – heroic in very fundamental and basic ways. If you read the book you will understand what I’m trying to say here. No one was ever going to tell their stories. I decided I would.
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