In 2018 when Amazon Prime Video's Mirzapur arrived on our laptop screens in an explosion of guns, swear words, and multiple plot twists, the one character that stood out from the crooks was Ramakant Pandit.
In a world of criminals, he was the lone voice of justice, fighting for the morally right thing, no matter the personal cost. And in a universe where violence is the norm, engaging the audience by being righteous is no mean feat.
Then again, Rajesh Tailang is not a newcomer when it comes to delivering relatable, impactful performances. No wonder his scenes from S1 went on to become viral memes!
In a career spanning a decade, Tailang has ruled the stage as a theatre artist, gifted us stellar performances in brief but memorable movie roles, and become a crowd favourite with his stint on OTT platforms.
In conversation with ScoopWhoop, he talks about debuting with a show like Shanti, the changing face of content on TV, and his belief that Delhi Crime will win an Emmy.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your journey, from Bikaner to Mumbai? How did that happen?
I was born into a family of artists - mostly are musicians, but nobody was an actor. But art ki field mein tha toh exposure tha art, culture, literature se. Toh kisi ne rok-tok kabhi nahi kari. My brother used to live in Delhi toh main Delhi summer vacations ke liye aata tha. NSD ki workshop hoti hai summer vacations mein for kids. Har garmiyon ki chuttiyon mein yeh kar liya karta tha. Toh bachhe ki taur pe I started doing theatre and mujhe pata chala ki yahan ek course hota hai for postgraduation, jiske kuch requirements hote hain. Then I did mature theatre in Bikaner, to complete my education and the requirements for NSD. After graduation, I tried for NSD aur luck ki baat thi first attempt mein hi mera ho gaya. Post NSD I got the first daily soap of India, Shanti. That was in '94. That's my journey from Bikaner to Delhi to Mumbai.
Q. From NSD to debuting in the industry with Shanti, how did the shift happen? Was it difficult to get that first break?
Strangely not difficult for me. First break was not that difficult but uske baad mushkil raha. NSD mein hi tha when one of the directors of Shanti met me. Unhone mujhe kaha ki "aap audition dijiye." Lekin uske baad the journey has not been easy.
Q. Could you tell us a little about why has the journey been so difficult, especially considering how successful, and for the time progressive, a show Shanti was?
Shanti was a very good show but mere saath problem kya hui ki, Shanti ke baad maine decide kia I won't be doing Television. I'll try for films only. Aur aaj kal jis tarah ki film banti hain, jismein har tarah ke log consume ho jaate hai, vaise tab nahi hota tha. (Tab) typical films banti thi. Toh mujhe zyadatar role offer hote the, hero ke dost ka, ya jab thodi age ho gai, toh doctor, inspector, iss tarah ke typical roles. There was a point jab maine socha yeh bhi nahi karna mujhe. Then again I shifted back to Delhi, started doing full-time theatre, and started teaching in NSD. And phir woh 2-4 scene karne se bhi mana kar deta tha.
Q. Over the last decade that you’ve worked in the industry, you've done movies, short films, TV shows, web series. But you've arguably got the most widespread recognition and love through web series like Selection Day, Mirzapur, Delhi Crime, etc. Why do you think that is?
Television ka ek woh daur aa gaya, jo hum log bolte hain 'post-Balaji', jismein humare jaise logo ke liye television mein bhi kaam nahin raha. Bilkul young logon ke liye raha aur humare jaise logo ke liye chacha-tau (types of roles), peeche khade rahe ho. Vaisa ho gaya. So, even if you wanted to do TV again for survival woh bhi option nahi bacha. Films mein bhi 2-4 scene ke roles aur kuch naya nahi. So for 4-5 years I didn't do any work for camera. Then Richie Mehta offered me Siddharth in 2012 and tab maine socha, ki it's a great opportunity to reinvent myself. Uske baad kuch kuch kaam milta raha, films milti rahi. Aur jab OTT ka time aa gaya toh aur better ho gaye roles. Filmon mein maine significant roles bhi kiye, par jab tak film is not a hit aapka role register nahi hota. OTT platform ne yeh change kia.
Q. Do you feel upset over how your work was not appreciated/ignored for so many years?
Feel hota hai but that is the reality of our industry. OTT paltform ki series ki baat bhi karein toh aisi series bhi hai jo register nahi hui (with the audience). Kuch pasand aata hai logon ko toh hi usmein log (i.e. actors) pasand aate hain. Aisi series bhi hain jismein kuch logon ne individual level pe accha kaam kia hai. Par acha kaam bhi kabhi nahi pahunch paata logon tak, humari field hi aisi hai. Thoda luck ki bhi baat hai. Maine 5 series kari, 3 hit ho gai. Toh haan, as an actor fayda hua hai.
Q. Taking that into account, how did it feel when Delhi Crime won an International Emmy? Were you expecting it to win?
Main nomination expect nahi kar raha tha. Par nominate ho gaya toh I was very sure we will win. Kyunki nomination hazaaron mein se hai. Agar hazaaron mein se paanch mein pahun gaye, toh paanch mein se toh win kar hi sakte hain, I was sure.
Q. And how was your experience of working with an actor like Shefali Shah?
Matlab kya kehna. It was a learning experience because acting is also reacting. Acha actor hai aapke saath toh aapka kaam apne aap acha ho jaata hai. Jaise do batsman hain, ek iss taraf aur ek dusre taraf. Agar ek batsman selfishly khelta rahege, bas apne run banayega aur dusre ko strike nahi karne dega toh match kaise jeetoge? Aise hi it was give and take. And jab aise actors (like Shefali) hote hain, then there is an intangible thing that comes across to the audience.
Q. But do you feel that shows like Delhi Crime, or in general, the content on web series can be better developed under a lack of censorship?
But for any content you create, uska canvas jitna bada ho utna acha hai na. Ideally toh jitna canvas bada ho utna acha. Baaki haan, every artist is responsible for his own work.
Q. But then what do you have to say about the kind of soap operas that pass for content on Indian TV shows today? In comparison to a show like Shanti, don't they appear regressive or highly melodramatic?
I would not like to mention any production house because there is a general tendency now. Ab kaafi cheezein humari aisi regressive, andh vishwas ko badhane wali hain. Even the news is like that. Delhi Crime ko dekhiye, jitna zyada non-violent ho paaya, and we didn't try being judgemental ya audience ko manipulate nahi kiya. Aaj kal filmmakers bhi try karte hai jitna kam manipulative ho, and the camera is just observing. It's not possible to be 100% like a mirror. Mirror aur camera ka fark rahega hi. Phir bhi woh jitna non-manipuative, non-judgemental, non-moralistic ho, aur as it is pesh karne ki koshish karein cheezon ko, toh woh acha hai. Then the audience has the onus to decide. I am not deciding on behalf of the audience. Shanti dekhiye kitna progressive idea tha uss zamaane mein. Kyunki uss dauran jo tv serials bante the, woh alag hote the. Literature pe based hote the. Tagore, Premchand ki kahaniyon pe the, shows like Malgudi Days, Nukkad. Dheere-dheere literature chala gaya humare TV se. Definitely pehle kaafi better kaam hota tha, content wise, which was more progressive than today's time.
Q. And what about your role in Mirzapur? Mirzapur is a world made of crooks, irrespective of which side they stand on, except for your character. What convinced you to play such a role?
I always say Ramakant Pandit is the hero of Mirzapur. In the classical sense, he is the hero. He's the only one fighting for truth and justice. But challenging ho jata hai aisa role karna. Koi comical ya violent role hai toh aap attention le sakte hain. Lekin aisa Bhagwan Ram type character in a violent show - to make it interesting is much more difficult. Violence is easy. It's much more challenging for an actor to make this character engaging.
Q. Is your character in Mirzapur close to how you are in real life?
Nahi nahi, itna acha kaun ho sakta hai? We all aim for him... we all want to become Ramakant Pandit but it's very difficult. Ramakant Pandit ne bhi jo actions choose kiye hain, usko (result) mil raha hai. If he wanted to be corrupt, toh woh masti se reh raha hota na.
Q. Okay, so apart from Ramakant Pandit, who is your favorite character from the series?
Mirzapur ke toh saare hi characters itne interesting hain na. Every character is well-crafted and well-written. But mujhe lagta hai Kaleen bhaiya.
Q. And as a father, outside the show, would you agree with the path that Bablu and Guddu take in the series?
What I believe in real life also, whatever actions we take, we should take ownership of it. If we take ownership of our actions, then nothing is wrong. Agar aap galat kar rahe ho toh aapko uski saza milegi, aur acha kar rahe ho toh acha milega. Toh Guddu-Bablu ownership lete hain and are ready to face whatever comes in their chosen path. Art ka kaam toh humesha yehi hota hai na, poetic justice pe pahunchna. Poetic justice toh yehi hai, ab real justice kya hai, pata nahi.
Q. Could you give us a little idea as to what can we expect from the third season?
Yeh mujhe bhi nahi pata. Really, I don't know. But I'm sure ki jaise first season ke baad dusra season bhi utna hi mann se aur honesty se banaya gaya hai vaise hi third season bhi banaya jaega.
Q. Have you watched the show with your family, considering its content?
Nahi maine family ke saath toh nahi dekha definitely. Vaise main koi bhi show family ke saath nahi dekhta hun but yeah my family has watched this show. Haan mera beta zarur bolta rehta hai "mujhe dekhna hai", but he is 12, toh obviously usko rok rakha hai.
Q. So if we take a look at your filmography, which is the one role that's closest to your heart?
Vaise toh saare roles mein koshish vahi rehti hai. Lekin I would name two roles. Mahendra Saini from Siddharth and Selection Day mein Mohan Kumar.
Q. And any role that your contemporary, or your junior or senior did, that you wish you'd played?
Main kabhi aise dekhta nahi generally, ki koi dusra kar raha hai toh kya main... main yeh dekhta hun ki inka interpretation kya hai aur usse se kuch seekhne ki koshish karta hun. Kyunki main karta toh definitely woh different hota. An actor is also a co-author. Bahut saari cheezein hoti hain jo unsaid hoti hain jo woh (actor) likhta hai through his body, his emotions, his soul.
Q. But do you feel that web series have helped bridge the infamous 'outsiders vs insiders' gap that afflicts Bollywood?
I won't say insiders vs. outsiders, but it has become more democratic because opportunities badh gai hain. And creating more opportunities is the solution. OTT has created many more opportunities for writers, directors, cameramen - every department. And not only OTT (as a platform) but also casting directors are to be thanked. Jab maine kaam shuru kia tha casting directors nahi hote the. Casting was not considered an art at that time... ki casting toh director ya producer kar dega uss time. Ab seedha director ya producer ke paas pahunchna was difficult. Casting directors ginti ke hi hain ache, but if you reach 10 good casting directors, you've reached 100 producers. Main Delhi mein tha, it was because of a casting director that I got a role in Mumbai. Casting directors bhi chahte hain ab ki suitable actors milein for the role.
Q. Is there a web series that you've binge-watched recently?
Yeh meri ek bahut buri aadat hai, I don't watch fiction. Main apna kaam bhi majburi mein dekhta hun ki agar koi sawaal puch lega toh mujhe yaad nahi rahega ki kya kiya tha! Mujhe humesha yeh lagta hai my art should have a reference from life. It should not have a reference from other art. Iss liye main zyadatar fiction dekhne se bhagta hun. Documentaries dekhta rehta hun. Matlab wildlife documentaries mujhe bahut achi lagti hain. Science, human psychology se related dekhta rehtu hun. Khud banata rehta hun because I believe in learning and creating things rather than watching things.
Q. Any advice that you might have for an actor planning to enter the industry?
Kisi bhi actor ya artist ke liye advice yehi hai...advice kya hai, jo maine kiya woh bata deta hun. And mere liye yeh (advice) kaam kia woh toh nahi keh sakta, par mere liye yeh ek satisfactory journey toh rahi hai. Main humesha kaam seekhne ke liye laga raha, kaam paane ke liye nahin. Aur main jab acting seekhne ke liye laga hua hun, toh uske raaste mein kaam ape aap mil jata hai. Agar kaam paane ke liye laga rehta toh kitna seekhne ko milta, I don't know. Toh young generation hai, jo aana chahti hai, mujhe lagta hai they should learn the art of acting. Agar aap kaam ke peeche bhagenge, toh art of acting reh jaegi peeche. Art of acting se pyaar kijiye, usko acha kariye, either on the job, or by training, but uss raaste mein apne aap kaam mil jaata hai.
A gifted artist, Rajesh Tailang proves that there is no greater contentment than staying true to your art and being passionate about your work. Success may follow at a slower pace, but it's guaranteed that it will follow.