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‘Even if I sympathise with the Naxal ideology or the cause of Deepak Kumar, I do not support violence’: Actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay

The actor on playing a Naxal leader in the Sony LIV web-series 'Jehanabad' and the challenges that came with it.

February 05, 2023 / 02:05 AM IST
Actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay essays the role of a Naxal leader in the web-series 'Jehanabad: Of Love and War', streaming on Sony LIV.

Actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay essays the role of a Naxal leader in the web-series 'Jehanabad: Of Love and War', streaming on Sony LIV.

Anything political excites Parambrata Chattopadhyay. The actor-director, who plays Naxal leader Deepak Kumar in Sony LIV’s recent show Jehanabad: Of Love and War, brings a certain fieriness as well as intrigue to the character. Here, he speaks about the show that is inspired by the real-life jailbreak that happened in Jehanabad in Bihar in 2005 which led to the escape of nearly 340 inmates, including 130 Naxalites. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Apart from your role in the show, what other boxes did the show tick for you?

Anything that concerns any chapter in the political history of the country or of the world is exciting for me. Also, I am a Bengali and I come from a very Left-leaning state. Bengal has had the radical Left and the constitutional Left. These stories of Left revolution and leaders have been handed down through generations as urban legends or folklore. The fact that someone is making a story on an incident which not many people might be aware of was exciting for me. There are problems that plague the very grassroot of the country and some people are trying to resolve those issues, but, maybe, their means or ways are not right. These stories need to be told.

This is not a traditional 'good guy vs bad guy' story. Your character Deepak Kumar is a Naxal leader who does resort to violence. How do you not judge a character when you are playing him?

I think there was one scene that summed it up for me. Early on, when my character is questioned by someone who asks that after being so well-educated, why I have chosen to go down this road, I respond saying that it is only after studying that I could see the difference between what is being taught and the actual injustice happening in the real world. Till this point, you want to side with Deepak. But when he is asked again about killing innocent people in the process, he remains silent. This is the duality and the debate. I am strictly against violence. Even if I am sympathising with the cause of Deepak Kumar or with the Naxal ideology, I do not support violence. However, someone can also argue that it’s easy for us to condemn violence but for people who have been at the receiving end of it for hundreds of years, what else do they resort to? That is the nature of the show. It’s very grey. You cannot judge anyone in the show — neither the cops, nor the Naxal leader.

What kind of research did the show require from you?

I read up a little bit more about the actual jailbreak incident and the real person Ajay Kanu on whom Deepak Kumar was based. Also, I had to work a bit on the Bihari twang because there’s a certain singsong in the Bihari way of speaking. This man is someone who can switch to a very polished Hindi and can speak in English as well but when it comes to speaking to people from his own community or strata, he can easily switch to a very rooted dialect. All of this I had to get into my system.

Parambrata Chattopadhyay in a still from the Sony LIV web-series 'Jehanabad'. Parambrata Chattopadhyay in a still from the Sony LIV web-series 'Jehanabad'.

You started your career with Bengali cinema but have gradually done several films and shows in Hindi. Tell us about this crossover?

I never thought of working in the Hindi film industry. It all happened by accident with Kahaani (2012) and even after that I did not immediately move to Mumbai. My second stint with Hindi started only with Pari (2018), Ramprasad ki Tehrvi (2019) and Bulbbul (2020) and then came the shows Aranyak (2021) and Mithya (2022). It’s a default situation that I am a Bengali and I started with the Bengali film industry. My second stint in Hindi has been more of a conscious choice and, in the last two years, I have been very careful about the projects I have chosen. Everyone wants to enjoy a wider audience and it goes without saying that Hindi is spoken by more people than Bengali. The moment the audience is widened, for any artist that is a gratifying experience.

You are also a director. Do you think working as a director has made you a better actor and vice versa?

I think being an actor has made me a very good director. After working with a lot of directors I have understood that while they are pretty good when it comes to their craft, when it comes to directing performance, they don’t really understand what performance or acting is. For them, performance is just emoting, but it is not. Actors are very important vehicles through which you reach out to the audience with the information or message you want to pass on. So, directing a performance is something else — something that I am pretty good at and I think that has come from me being an actor.

You are a prolific actor working in different film industries. How do you manage to juggle hectic schedules and travel and still come up with quality content?

I hope that I have managed to hold on to that quality. I realise it has been really hectic for me, ever since the first wave of the pandemic waned. I love all the juggling and travelling but while I want to still keep busy in 2023, I have decided to make a little more time for myself. I want to concentrate a bit more on the scripts I am writing, the films I want to make or just spend time at home, reading and chilling. As an artist, one also needs to take in rather than just producing output.

Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist who writes on movies, shows, music, art, and food. Twitter: @DeepaliSingh05