Pankaj Tripathi on working with Rajinikanth in Kaala and his eclectic mix of upcoming films

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Jun,10 2018 15:34:17 IST

A seven-day jail term in 1993, when he was an 18-year-old student, awakened a dormant passion in Pankaj Tripathi. Discovering the jail library, the student activist spent hours reading books, making journeys in his imagination. His fascination with the world map and colourful countries with complex histories persists even today. Jail unearthed a desire to see the world, acting became a means to do so.

Reminiscing about his college days, the 43-year-old actor says, “I was in a student group and we were protesting something for which we got jailed. In jail you are completely alone with your own thoughts, so you get time to introspect and in that solitude, you have no choice but to get acquainted with your true self. While reading in the library I began to understand myself better. First I understood that I am not cut out for politics and protest. Then I learned that I wanted to see the world. In my imagination, I have travelled the world multiple times."

Sometime later he saw a theatrical performance in Patna which made Tripathi cry. “I was so moved and taken in by the fact that this art had such an impact on me that it made me cry. So for two years I watched every musical show, visited every art exhibition, dance recital and play.”

Read: Pankaj Tripathi in Newton to Akshaye Khanna in Ittefaq — Bollywood's breakthrough performances in 2017

Though a career in movies has given the Bareilly Ki Barfi actor many opportunities to visit new and unusual places, on top of his bucket list is to see all the rivers of the world. “I have seen all the rivers of India from north to south, and before I die I want to see all the rivers of the world,” says Tripathi who has come a long way from his home in Belsand, Bihar and from his early amateur performances in the local theatre.

Pankaj Tripathi in Amit Masurkar's Newton. Facebook

Pankaj Tripathi in Amit Masurkar's Newton. Facebook

Last year, when Tripathi was in Los Angeles for screenings of Newton, as he swam in the swimming pool of his Beverley Hills five-star hotel, he reflected on how he learned to swim in the river that flowed behind his house in Belsand village. “Life has given me so many experiences. I have travelled by general class on trains and business class on planes,” says the National School of Drama alumnus, adding, “As much as I think it is important for an actor to be trained and to learn the craft, I think it is equally important for an actor to travel and sometimes to journey without purpose. Travelling is also a part of training — meeting people, reading books, learning about history and current social scenario. Every world, every society must be observed.”

Several bit parts later, his performance as Sultan Qureshi in Gangs of Wasseypur put Tripathi on the map. His rising position as a character actor was cemented with performances in Fukrey, Masaan and of course Newton, which bagged him a National Award. His diary is full of eclectic projects such as the recently released Kaala and the upcoming Drive, Stree, Super 30 and web series Mirzapur. “I am also very excited about the political satire Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai and the Indian adaptation of the BBC crime drama Criminal Justice,” says Tripathi.

Was it an opportunity to work with Rajinikanth that convinced him to be a part of Kaala? “Actually, I chose this film when I was not very choosy and was going with the flow. After Newton, things have changed. I got praise for the role of Atma Singh and I thought now I can be more selective. All the films releasing this year are the ones I signed on pre-Newton. As for Kaala, director Pa Ranjith had seen two of my films (Nil Battey Sannata and Gangs of Wasseypur) on the basis of which he wanted to cast me, and I thought that was a good indicator. I like Rajinikanth a lot because he has no pretence. He is simple in real life and changes only when he’s on screen, to become almost anything.”

Tripathi believes he shares certain qualities with Rajinikanth – both are down to earth, simple and know their roots. “A leaf falls off a tree and with the wind, it ends up floating across the Arabian Sea, but the leaf should always know that it belongs to a rain tree in Mumbai. I have not seen any of his movies, maybe a song or two on TV, but I have been impressed by Rajini sir’s personality. Whenever I got a chance between shots, I would ask him about this journey.”

Rajinikanth, Pankaj Tripathi and Nana Patekar on the sets of Kaala. Facebook

Rajinikanth, Pankaj Tripathi and Nana Patekar on the sets of Kaala. Facebook

Speaking about his craft, Tripathi confesses that he has a “problem with lines”. He prefers to ad-lib and improvise but when the director requires precise dialogues he memorises the lines verbatim. “I read the scene four times at night and then four times in the morning before coming on set. Else my method is not to remember lines. My method is to get the essence of the emotion and the needs of the scene.”

He mentions Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, Anurag Kashyap and Shanker Raman as directors who have given him the space to explore and improvise. “I take cues from my directors. For example, during Gurgaon, Shanker said the script is a map now you have to make the journey, so decide your own journey. There is a magical moment between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ when your brain works on two-three layers. But I don’t remember what I have done once the take is over. For me, each take is new.”

From his impressive repertoire spanning 14 years, Tripathi picks three titles he feels are under-rated: Gurgaon, Powder (a crime series) and Mango Dreams. “I always wished these films had been seen more widely. But now all three are on Netflix and that makes me feel that they will get seen more.” Personally, he does not watch more than five films a year – excluding his own. His downtime is dedicated to the family, reading, travel, cooking and study.

Whether as Atma Singh (Newton) or Kehri Singh (Gurgaon) or Ram Vijay Tripathi (Phamous), no matter how dark the situation, how strained the environment, Tripathi’s characters seem to be enjoying a little inside joke. He admits that this mischievousness is indeed intentional.

“A performance should be realistic, truthful and genuine, but it should not be bloodless. I believe that if a director wants to convey something to the audience, then it is our responsibility to keep the audience engaged, only then will they listen. There is a distinction between effortless acting and bloodless acting. The person you are watching is living and breathing. His kidney works, he has acidity and no matter how depressing the day is, he too is hoping for a moment's respite when something will lighten the mood. That's life, and acting is about recreating life,” he says.

Updated Date: Jun 10, 2018 15:38 PM