Video interview of Anirban Chakrabarti, the star of Hoichoi original series Eken Babu
West Bengal's actor Anirban Chakrabarti portrays the eponymous bumbling detective in Eken Babu, a Hoichoi original comedy-detective series. The third season of Eken Babu is set in Dhaka, and has been available for streaming on Hoichoi since Thursday. In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Faruque Ratul, Anirban reveals why Ekendra Sen is so eccentric, and why one should watch the third season
You have mentioned that you have lived in Dhaka before? How does it feel returning to this city?
I did not live just in Dhaka. I stayed in the areas surrounding Dhaka as well. I have visited Dhaka on many occasions. Whenever I come here I see that buildings are increasing. Green (nature) is becoming rarer. Pollution is increasing. These are actually characteristics of all metropolitan cities. I can see these changes, like traffic has increased a great deal. However, the warmth and nature of the people is still the same.
Eken Babu is a very comical detective. While designing the mannerisms of Eken Babu, did you research other famous comical detectives which were portrayed by Peter Sellers or Steve Martin?
Well, this is actually a funny story. When I was first offered the role, maybe because of my own ignorance, I had no idea about the two collections of stories on Eken Babu. The way the character is described in the novels is not the way we have depicted him in the series. Even the way character appears in the novel- he is very skinny and he has a full head of hair- none of it matches with my appearance. Therefore, some changes were made in the script after my casting.
Among the Bangali detectives such as Feluda or Byomkesh, whom I have read about in Bangla Literature or watched films, I have seen that they are very serious detectives. A detective who also makes the viewers or readers laugh while solving mysteries, is not that common in Bangla Literature and films. In that sense Eken Babu as a comical detective is a very new concept for Bangali viewers. However, I have not used any characters outside of Bangla Literature as reference for Eken Babu. From the script that I was given, I tried to portray the character in my own way. I did not try to model Eken Babu against any of the other comic detectives we see in Western media.
For those who do not know who Eken Babu is, will you please tell us what he actually does for a living? It is mentioned early in the series that he works for the government.
Well, Eken Babu’s background is revealed by the end of season one. We are now working with season three. Throughout the first season we wanted to keep Eken Babu’s background a mystery, so it works as a shock reveal by the end of the season. What was revealed then is that Eken Babu is actually a police detective. But he appears the way he does intentionally. The way we see him, some of it is part of his character- such as his minimalist nature. However, some of the other things such as when he acts dumb are all an elaborate act to stop people from guessing what his detective mind is really thinking. That is how he solves the mystery. Since he appears so unassuming, no one can guess from his appearance that he has such a sharp mind.
So, we were able to keep him a mystery only in season one. Hence, as per the reveal, he is an appointed detective of Kolkata’s police force. Season two was based on a different story. Season three will show a story set in Dhaka.
In season three will we see anything that Bangladeshis will able to relate to, besides solving of the mystery?
To be honest, it was not like we explored many aspects of Bangladesh in depth in season three. However, when an incident happens in a locality and it is visually shown on the screen, we get to see a lot from the society of that locality, such as the infrastructure and the interaction among the locals. Eken Babu and his friends came to Dhaka for a different purpose than solving a mystery. As soon as they arrive they get embroiled in the mystery. They came to visit an affluent businessman, and the incident occurs in his home.
With the way the show is structured we did not get the chance to explore Bangladesh in great detail, but the societal aspects of Bangladesh would be on display as part of the story of a mystery being solved.
How was the experience of working with Bangladeshi actors?
Very amazing. Very enjoyable. I have already mentioned this many times to our Hoichoi team and SVF that their decision to cast actors from Dhaka for the Bangladeshi characters was a very good decision. As a result of this, the show’s authenticity increases. If Kolkata’s actors were cast, maybe they would have been able to imitate the mannerisms, but the spontaneity of Bangladeshi people would not happen. Therefore, the casting of Bangladeshi actors was a massive boost to the overall story of Eken Babu. And the skill of each Bangladeshi actor is very good. I am hoping that the viewers will feel fresh about Eken Babu stories, due to new characters.
Is the feeling of working with Kolkata’s actors different from that of working with Bangladeshi actors?
Not that much. With Bangladeshi actors, they seem so familiar that I do not feel like I am among foreigners. When someone comes from Bangladesh or Dhaka, we automatically feel comfortable with them. Specifically, in terms of acting, if an actor is from a certain locality in Bangladesh, to which I am not that familiar with, maybe I would feel like I am working with an actor from a different nation. But they were from Dhaka and I am familiar with the people here. So, it did not feel different. We all worked in such a cooperative manner that we became friends off-screen. Our interactions were really friendly off-screen. I feel that both set of actors enjoyed working together in this story.
When you act in a story of comedy, do you ever get worried about whether the viewers are actually seeing the humour of the actions that you are committing?
No, I do not get worried about that. What I feel is that, and I assume most actors playing a comic role would also have the concern, that is whether we are trying too much to make them laugh? To ensure that the comedy is kept within a certain limit is probably the hardest task. Because, sometimes there could be a temptation to do something ‘over the top'. That is very bad for comedy, as then it is not a good comedy. Therefore, it is important to have the control of keeping the comedy limited within a certain scope. In modern acting, comedy needs to be very subtle. So that is what I have to be careful about- doing something ‘over the top'. So that no one thinks that the character is simply a clown.
As a character Eken Babu must have grown over the three seasons. What changes were brought about by you and what were preferred as a whole by the team?
There were not that many changes within the character. Since, he is just one character his basic mannerisms are retained in all three seasons. Since, the character is accompanied by Bapi and Promottho in all three seasons, my chemistry with my co-actors have become very strong, and therefore very visible on the screen. Outside of Eken Babu team, we have become friends in our personal lives as well. So, that helps us a lot, as we each can understand who will react in what manner in which situation. In the first season we were all unfamiliar with each other. But as the days went by, in season two and three as well, now we ourselves can see on the screen that the chemistry has developed a great deal. So this is one factor that leads to the character’s growth.
Another thing is that whatever changes the story demands, is needed to be incorporated. And one should not try to control that. I would say that Eken Babu’s characteristics have been retained the same way in all three seasons. And as I have mentioned before, that in season one our extra responsibility was to slowly reveal who he really was. So, now Eken Babu fans know who he is, and no one really has the question as to what other new secrets does he have. His mannerisms remain the same.
Have you received appreciation for the character from your Bangali friends living abroad?
I have received a lot of appreciation from such friends. Since, Bangla speakers are not only in this Bengal delta, but spread around the entire world, I have received appreciation from everywhere. This is the best aspect of an online platform that, there are some places in the world where Bangla feature films may not reach. As such Bangla speakers of that area will not see Bangla films in theatres of that region. Then they can see Bangla content such as Eken Babu through an online platform like Hoichoi, and due to social media they can connect with the actors as well. I have received appreciative messages from many strangers on social media, who say that they have watched Eken Babu, liked it, and want to know when the next season will come. Both Indian Bangalis and Bangladeshis, who live abroad in places like Canada and Australia, have knocked me to show appreciation.
What other projects are you busy with? Are there any feature films in the work?
I have worked in feature films, and some of them have been released. There are some currently in the works. I have some more work planned in the future. I am also working on other web series. Feature films are also in the works now. And there is also theatre work. I do not work in television, but I work in this three mediums- theatre, web series, and feature films.
Did you learn acting from any institutional setting? Did you go to acting school?
No. I actually never trained to be an actor. I used to act in theatre as a hobby. My studies were on a completely different subject. Acting became a profession very recently. Before that I have been acting in theatre for a long time as a hobby. As a professional actor I have began to work only recently, and I am fortunate to have been able to work in so many mediums.
Which characters interest you more?
I actually like all kinds of characters. I do not like playing the same character over and over again. Among the characters I am working on now, there is much diversity. There are some comedic roles, and then there are some serious ones. There are some negative roles as well. So, I am very lucky in that regard as well, that directors are giving me so many different characters to work with.
If any Bangladeshi production offers you a role, would you be willing?
Of course. If I like the script, and if I like the character then why not?
Do you feel that there are a lot of challenges to being an actor, as the industry is very saturated?
Well, I actually try not to think too much about the industry, and I try to focus on my own work. I have always avoided trying to tell people how things should be. I believe that if one does their work well and honestly, then people will like it. Then they will get more work.
Please reveal something for your Bangladeshi viewers, so they will look forward to season three?
I bet they are already looking forward to it. I have received appreciation from them already, and I am sure they are waiting with bated breath. I would only say as much, that the story is set in Dhaka. It is a story of Bangladeshi people, and you will definitely get a fresh Eken Babu story in this season, and enjoy it as much as you have the ones before.