Kay Kay Menon: The man behind the masks in 'Bahrupiya'
The actor talks to us about playing an impersonator in 'Bahrupiya', part of the 'Ray' anthology on Netflix.
It’s impossible to watch one of Bollywood’s most versatile actors, Kay Kay Menon (Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Life In A Metro), in his latest role of a ‘Bahrupiya’ (impersonator) and not come away completely mesmerized.
One of the four short films from the newly-released Ray anthology, Bahrupiya tells the story of a middle-aged loner who dabbles in make-up (Indrashish Shah, played by Menon). He considers himself empowered when he comes into a surprise inheritance and starts living life in disguise, going on a vengeful spree which eventually gets out of hand.
Helming a brilliant psychological thriller based on acclaimed auteur Satyajit Ray’s short story Bahuroopi, director Srijit Mukherji (Begum Jaan, Dwitiyo Purush) draws the viewer in slowly with an increasingly dark tale that will leave you lost in contemplation long after you have watched it.
Mukherji as well as original writer Satyajit Ray inspired Menon to take up the intense lead part in Bahrupiya, he reveals in a Zoom interview to City Times, saying that “the makers, the writer and the person who has thought about it was what was more important to him”, and, “of course the screenplay and the way it was panned out in terms of the text, kind of gave me a feeling that this is worth attempting, and (I wanted to) see where it goes.”
A story with myriad meanings
Menon is one of those actors who seems ever-willing to take a risk with his craft, and yet, does not delve too deeply into an “analysis” of his work. Any “interpretations” that could be derived from Bahrupiya, he says, are up to the viewers and critics to thrash out.
When asked if he feels Bahrupiya is in any way a comment on loneliness or a person’s vulnerabilities, he responds, “I don’t know, that’s all post-facto thinking. That’s something that the analysts could do better, more than the participants. Because we were telling just a story, and there can be myriad meanings to it, which can be derived afterwards. So one of them, yes, as you rightly said, could be this, but that was not thought about earlier. It’s just a manifestation - and it kind of gives you the feeling that this could be one of the possibilities.
“For me it was basically a story about a person who has low self-esteem and how he takes refuge in other people’s characters and thereby gets away from his complex. Plus the fact that it involved certain elements of prosthetics made it interesting, even in the mechanical sense.”
Menon dons several disguises in Bahrupiya, with the last and most menacing only adding fuel to the story’s macabre twist. The actor says he was aware that using prosthetics was “physically tough” but only realised it fully when he shot the film. “You can’t wear prosthetics for long because it tends to peel away, and of course because it’s not actual skin, you perspire underneath that mask. But all those things are worth it when you are doing something interesting.”
While Menon is leaving it up to us to decide what Bahrupiya, in the end, is all about, he did share his personal takeaway from the film and how in our public lives, we humans, more often than not, tend to put on masks.
“I guess everybody in life is trying to put their best foot forward - that’s normal social behaviour. When they are alone within four walls they might be slightly different and I also mean here the four walls of the mind. We do put our best foot forward invariably and who says that he or she doesn’t, is lying! We try our best to be as affable and as impressive as possible outside, which is something that is always there within a human being.”
‘Complexities are intriguing’
Satyajit Ray’s works are known for not creating conventional heroes or villains, or portraying the world in black and white; the wide range of human complexities is given prime importance and that, Menon says, is what keeps any form of art from slipping into oblivion.
“Whether we have done justice to Ray’s original story with Bahrupiya, is for the analysts to say. And of course the mandate by Netflix was to push it to the edge, in the darker sense. So Srijit did make a screenplay out of Ray’s short story which is his interpretation of what he thought it was. And yes, complexities are something that are most intriguing in art. If it doesn’t have complexities it becomes mundane and boring. This includes human behaviour and character; the complex stuff that that comprises and makes us human beings, are to be explored in art. That’s what I think is the ‘summum bonum’ of even being in cinema.
“So Satyajit Ray definitely used to explore those (complexities) and explore them beautifully. And we have tried our best to give Bahrupiya a 2.0 kind of treatment. The rest is up to the audience and experts to decide.”
Bahrupiya is just under an hour long and yet it is obvious that Menon invested a lot of time and effort in his character. As an actor, how hard was it to let go of something so absorbing, and move on to the next part?
“That’s the boon and the bane of the profession! You really can’t complain. I think that’s where actors are blessed because they can live the life of a person for the duration of the shoot, without carrying the baggage of that character.
"So that’s a blessing. And at the same time, you get to search through the spectrum that you have as a person as well. Because a character will become believable only if you draw it out of yourself. Otherwise, it seems fake. If you are genuine about it then you have to dig deep and take that particular aspect of your spectrum as a human being, and bring it out.”
‘A true yardstick for merit’
OTT platforms continue to grow exponentially, putting emphasis on content and talent rather than star power. As someone who has been part of the industry for over two decades, does Menon feel streaming services like Netflix have given talented actors who were perhaps overlooked, a newer and bigger platform?
“Emphatically, yes! When you had theatrical releases, before the lockdown, the avenues for release of a film were very constricted. Mainly because you had exhibitors and distributors and big production houses and limited number of theatres and they used to hog everything that’s possible (laughs)!
“So if you had an actor’s film, it would get a very sparse release… one morning show somewhere and one night show some 50 miles away! So automatically that film would not be seen and would get killed. Those things were a problem. But once you have OTT platforms, the button is directly in the audience’s hands. So that makes it kind of a level playing field, and also a true yardstick for merit. Now the moment you have released something on OTT the entire world gets to see it. So nobody can curb your release. You will see a lot of faces (on OTT) which deserve to be there.”
While Menon has been a part of many memorable films he hesitates to choose a “best” or “favourite” role from his repertoire.
“I have a difficulty answering this because I’ve often said that you go with an intention to do something in the arts so that it outlives you. Most of the time you fail, sometimes you succeed. But the idea is that whatever films have a greater shelf life, in terms of appreciation - not box office - and live beyond you, you know that that work is worth it. From all the films that I have done, I am sure around 10 per cent of them are worth keeping, that’s a percentage that I think would still be there for people to relish after many years. None of them are my only favourites. I think if it sustains the test of time it becomes my favourite automatically.”
In parting, when asked what he would want the audience to take away from Bahrupiya, Menon insists he would never dictate to the audience, or vice versa. “We are storytellers. We tell a story the way we think at that point in time is most appropriate to say it. That’s what we have done (with Bahrupiya). I would expect the audience to continue to watch good work and appreciate good work - it helps us to do more good work. When you appreciate merit it gets propagated automatically.”
Ray is streaming now on Netflix.