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Exclusive! Indraneil Sengupta: I don’t owe an explanation but I want to portray myself as a responsible father despite the separation

The Broken News actor Indraneil Sengupta opens up to OTTplay about his separation from his wife actress Barkha Bisht

Exclusive! Indraneil Sengupta: I don’t owe an explanation but I want to portray myself as a responsible father despite the separation
Indraneil Sengupta

Last Updated: 09.37 PM, May 20, 2024


Indraneil Sengupta’s portrayal as Pankaj in The Broken News Season Two has been appreciated by viewers and critics. Meanwhile, his second outing as Feluda in Sandip Ray’s Nayan Rahasya was also released recently. In a candid chat with OTTplay, the actor talked about his appreciation for his co-actors Jaideep Ahlawat and Sonali Bendre and his separation from his wife Barkha Bisht. Read on…

There are many Feludas now. Do you think it is overwhelming for a franchise?

Yes, there are an overwhelming number of Feluda and that is diluting the iconic character. If there are hundreds of James Bond films, it will lose its charm. Now there is a Feluda multiverse in the Bengali industry. I don’t think it is a great thing. The same thing happened with Byomkesh as well. The only consolation for us is we are the only big-screen Feluda. 

Do you watch other Feluda series?

I don’t. I haven’t. But there is no agenda behind it as such. I feel Babuda’s Feluda will be the closest to the original work in terms of flavour. The others I somehow feel are improvised quite a bit. 

What are the challenges you face as Feluda?

There are two kinds of challenges. One is relevant. I can somehow work and overcome that challenge. The other one is something I cannot do anything about. The first one is the language barrier – I would not call it a barrier per se as I am also a Bengali. I speak in Bangla with my parents at home. However, since I am a probashi Bangali, and I stayed away from Kolkata for the longest time, my diction is not exactly like a seasoned Bengali man from Kolkata. I live in another city and most of the time I speak in Hindi or English. My Bengali practice is somewhat limited. However, when I am playing an iconic character like Feluda, I need to make it authentic with the character’s traits. Bangaliana is part of that trait. For that, I definitely needed to work on my language skills, etc. This started and intensified during Hatyapuri and for six-seven months I avoided watching Hindi or English films. I used to watch Bengali films and used to read Bengali books. I used to speak in Bengali with Bengali friends. By doing these, I tried to polish my Bengali. Every time I do a Feluda, I will have to go through this drill. In fact, playing Feluda has actually helped me improve my skills (laughs).

But you have been working in the Bengali film industry for a long time…

True. But I have always been given characters that are non-resident Bengalis – someone who is back from the US, or studies in JNU and came to Kolkata from Delhi, and so on. My characters are usually Bengalis with backgrounds that are suitable for the language I speak. I feel pretty sad about that because as an actor I believe if I get any character that is essentially Bengali I would work really hard and do it. I can act and I absolutely believe that I will be able to. I feel the casting procedure here is pretty predictable. It usually casts an actor the way they look or the life they live. If someone speaks more comfortably in English, they will be offered urban characters and if someone prefers to wear dhuti-punjabi, they will get characters of rural or rooted Bengalis. Casting people here need to get a bit more adventurous. I am thankful that I got a chance to play an iconic Bengali character. Babuda (Sandip Ray) thought I was good enough for it. This is a challenge I work on and I think the more Feluda I do the better it gets. There is no end to this journey.

What is the other challenge?

The other challenge is to meet people’s expectations and the absolute acceptance and non-acceptance of an actor in a role. It comes from some kind of mind block. Now I grew up listening to Kishore Kumar but does that mean Arijit Singh is a bad singer? If I claim that it was only Kishore Kumar and no one else that will only show my arrogance and mental block. Kishore Kumar was a legend and we still celebrate him. However, at the same time, we also need to celebrate newer and contemporary talents. Similarly, in sports, when I started playing cricket, I used to think Sunil Gavaskar was the best batter ever. Can I say Sachin Tendulkar any less? Or Virat Kohli any less? Different eras bring different talents. You need to open your mind and accept it. You will have your idols and they will continue to be there but the characters will change otherwise you will never grow. For me, Soumitra Chatterjee is the best Feluda, because he was the first Feluda. Then Benuda (Sabyasachi Chakrabarty) came and people were disgruntled. The Benuda proved himself. The only thing to follow to play the character is to follow the book. There is nothing other than that. No actor is the best Feluda. The actor who comes closest to the book is a good Feluda.

Why Nayan Rahasya? It is not that common a story from the series…

Babuda tries not to touch a story that he has already worked on television or film. That’s his attempt. There are only so many stories and there are only so many options left. That’s what he tries. However, this film is different. When we were doing Hatyapuri, Babuda found this little boy, Abhinav Barua. He plays a small part but he left a mark on Babuda, who decided then to cast him as Nayan before Abhinav grows up.


Did Sandip Ray give you any brief?

Feluda’s brief is to play Feluda. Same for Jatayu and Topshe. However, the only point was, in Hatyapuri, Feluda steers the investigation. Here, he also asks Jatayu to do a few investigations all in jest.

Which is your favourite Feluda?

I said this before that since I am an actor, I see a story from the perspective of the viability of making it into a film. Babuda and I both agree that cinematically Chhinnamostar Obhishaap is a very attractive option. It has a lot of potential and scale. At the same time, it will involve a lot of logistical challenges with circus, tiger, etc. These days there are no animals in circus troupes and if you want to use CGI, it will mess up and so on.

The Broken News season two has been a success so far. Your character Pankaj Awasthi seems more important this season…

I think the main three characters are Amina Qureshi (Sonali Bendre), Dipankar Sanya (Jaideep Ahlawat), and Radha (Shriya Pilgaonkar). Pankaj has been there in season one also. He is part of Amina’s life. In the second season, Amina is very central to the plot. And things happen in the story that are Amina-centric and since Pankaj’s character has a large association with her character, my character also gets a lot of focus. Pankaj addresses his married life. Because Amina becomes more important to the season, Pankaj also becomes important.

Indraneil Sengupta on The Broken News
Indraneil Sengupta on The Broken News

Both the seasons of The Broken News have direct references to real life and politics in the country. Did that help you as an actor?

I try to approach things from a neutral POV. I don’t approach any subject or a story from a political standpoint. I try to see it without getting judgemental. I see my character Pankaj Awasti or Jaydeep’s Dipankar, as two characters for the series. Otherwise, I will carry the baggage of opinion of the real character in my acting. I learnt this from Rituparno Ghosh. I was cast for Kaushik Ganguly’s Arekti Premer Golpo. During that time, I was doing television work in Mumbai. Ritu asked me if he could watch some of my TV works and I was very sceptical. I told him please don’t. They are bad, unintelligent, etc. I told him, ‘You will throw me out of the film if you watch those.’

He watched it and called me. He said, ‘You are really bad.’ And then he said, ‘But do you know why you were so bad? It is because you know the show is bad. You don’t believe in your character. You are biassed. You, as an actor, started judging the character. That’s why you are bad.’

In The Broken News, my character does not resemble any real character per se. However, even those characters that have similarities tried to stay away from the influence of the real characters. For example, if I play Jefferey Dahmer (American serial killer) thinking that he is an obnoxious character, I’ll have the wrong approach. Jefferey Dahmer believed that what he did was right and I will have to think like him while playing the character.

You don’t have many scenes with Jaideep. His performance is hailed by viewers and critics. How was your experience working with him?

I played a small character in a production called Bloody Brothers with Jaideep and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub. We did a scene and got together in an adda session and that’s how I knew Jaideep. I think he is a brilliant actor. There is one scene in the shoot where I sat at a table, he came and talked to me. He talked and I listened. I was in awe of him. In the shoot, I was just listening to him talking. I looked at him and his eyes were so intense. You know I love clicking photographs and I took some of his photographs during that shoot.

Then I bumped into him during The Broken News one and two. We did not have many scenes together. We used to meet during the launch events and everything. Jaideep speaks very respectfully to me because I was older than him (laughs). This time we came out of the screening (we had a screening of two episodes). It was a star-studded show. I saw him standing there and I felt that he was an actor from a different planet and we all are from another planet. This is my honest opinion about him. I came out and told him, ‘Jaideep, you are so good. As an actor, you are so evolved that you belong to a different league.’ He hugged me and said, ‘Oh, brother. How do you stay like this (in terms of fitness)? I have been seeing you for so many years and you remain the same. How can you look so nice?’ I told him, ‘Forget about the nice-looking thing and all.’ He lost weight and he said he was preparing for a character. He is a brilliant actor. Even in these two seasons of The Broken News, I saw the small things he does. The trapping of a good actor is they know that they are good and they exploit that. Then it shows. The need to show that I am a good actor becomes so big that it starts showing and I don’t like that. Jaideep, on the other hand, is unpredictable and real. As a professional actor, when I notice things that he does – small minute gestures like raising his eyebrows or twitching his lips – I get astonished. In The Broken News Season 2, he came up with those gestures. That’s not a director’s job. That’s an actor’s job.

You share a lot of space with Sonali though. She is stunning in the second season…

Sonali is a very sweet person. She was a star at one point in time. She is a very pretty woman. And as you said, she has been cast as a pretty woman in the films. She has no starry air. She is extremely friendly and she learns. She has made money, she is well settled, has a lovely husband, she is a mother and a survivor. For a person of her calibre of her career, she did not need to struggle. But I see that she understands that today’s language of cinema is different. She has the keenness to speak the language of today’s cinema. She is all ears to the director. She rehearses. She performs in accordance with the character and not as Sonali Bendre. The actors and actresses who are making a comeback with their second innings are doing a great job when they embrace this changed language. I think Sonali is one of them. She has grown so much from season one. She doesn’t need to do it. People would anyway watch the season because she is Sonali Bendre. As an actor, she has the hunger to grow and improve. In the first episode of the second season, there is a scene between Jaideep and Sonali. It is a good scene. I told her that it was a good scene. And she was all excited. She said, ‘You liked it? Thank you.’ I liked the excitement she had.

A generation of actors like Sonali and I grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan, who worked with Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, and others. Acting changes. And the language changes. There is no doubt that a good actor is a good actor and a bad actor is a bad actor. A good actor will still be a good actor if the language changes. The way Mr Bachchan used to deliver his dialogues in the ’70s, he doesn’t do that anymore. He understands what has changed. He is such a good actor that he acknowledges the change. I saw an interview with Amitabh Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor. Mr Bachchan told him, “I wish I had eyes like yours. You speak through your eyes. I wish I could do the same.” To be able to say that to a young actor shows the greatness of that man. He is so secure in his skin that he can actually learn from an actor younger than him. He can compliment a young actor. So those who embrace changes go for a long run. Along with Mr Bachchan, it is Anil Kapoor who understood the changes.

For the longest time, you kept your private life private. In the years of your separation from Barkha Bisht Sengupta, you never spoke. However, now you are opening up. Any particular reason for that?

It has been three years since we have separated. We have a daughter. In all three years, I do the needful as a father. What has happened is, that I kept coming across articles, or on social media, that suggested that I completely deserted everyone, including my daughter. It seemed that I was having a good time in my life without fulfilling any responsibility in my life. As a father, I did not like it. I somehow felt that the narrative that was being created was I didn’t do my part in raising my daughter. It is like if two people work on a project and one says that they are doing everything by themselves. The other person will feel bad. Same here. And I did not like that. I support my child financially and emotionally. How will I spend time with my child? I can only spend time with her when she is with me. Whenever I get a chance, I spend time with her. I travel a lot. Not all the time I am at home to spend time with her. It is not that she comes to me whenever I am in Mumbai. Not that I demand appreciation for What I am doing. I provide support to my daughter because it is my responsibility. However, I have a problem if it gets painted that I don’t take any responsibility and I leave two people to fend for themselves and have a gala.

I read something and I felt that. If I feel that then the outsiders will also feel the same. Not that I wanted to explain myself to others but I felt I should portray myself as a father who is, in fact, taking care of his responsibility. Why should I back out from that? Without any agenda or any attack on anyone, I wanted to clear my position.

I am not a person who talks about their private life. During my happier time, I also did not like to give interviews to say, ‘Look, we were so happy.’ I don’t call the media to talk about my project. I always felt if I did my job, people would come, talk, and write about it. I never allowed the media to come inside my home. I work on projects. If the projects are worth writing, people will. If it was just on me, no one would know till this moment that I was separated for three years. I would not have uttered a word. However, the news came out. I did not say anything and yet it is out.

I never understood the need to tell the world about my story. When I fell in love and got married, I did not tell anyone. Now that the marriage is not working out, why should I tell or explain it to anyone? I don’t see why I should have to explain, convince, or look for support. I can only discuss it with my family. Yes, if it is not a mutual separation, there are authorities to whom I will have to explain my side of the story. Why should I wash my dirty linen in front of other people? What purpose will it serve?

In her social media handles, Barkha still uses Sengupta. Does she find it difficult to process? Did you talk it out?

Two years back, I met a producer at a launch party. He told me that they met Barkha. She told him that her ex-husband was in that show. I was like, ‘Ex-husband?’ He said, ‘Yes. Did I say anything wrong?’ I said it was fine and I was not used to the term. Now it is three years. One year into the whole thing of separation. Then what is the farce about?

I went to a party where there was a Bollywood actor. I won’t name him. He was going through a divorce. He was drinking and he got a bit emotional. He told me, ‘Keep them happy. Once they turn back they don’t come back.’ He was talking about women. I smiled. My question is, why can’t it be the other way round also? When a person falls out of love they fall out of love. There is no man or woman here. But it seems that the world feels otherwise. It seems men can’t fall out of love. That’s not true. I feel there is a sense of inequality there.

I am a 50-year-old man, fairly educated and stable. I am a well-behaved man coming from a humble background. If I have made a decision it must have come from strong reasoning. I am not a fickle person. I don’t do impromptu things. If I make a decision, there must be things that went into it. The world doesn’t need to know. But I know.

How is your daughter Meira handling it?

Now I have all kinds of conversations with her. There was a time when I was a typical father and certain topics were out of bounds. Today I will discuss everything. She handles it very well. She has always been a neutral person. If you ask her who she loves more she will reply both. She doesn’t take sides. I think she is one of the strongest in our family.

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