Pankaj Tripathi, this name is enough to bring a smile onto any cinema aficionado. For the actor just doesn't stick to playing one role in every film. He has, in fact, ensured that his career pathway boasts of unique characters in all his offerings. Be it films like Stree, Newton, Mimi or acclaimed web series such as Mirzapur and Sacred Games, each of his roles have been diverse. The highly anticipated Ranveer Singh-starrer 83 and Bachchan Pandey with Akshay Kumar and others are among his upcoming film releases. Excerpts from a candid conversation.
Pankaj starts off by talking about his role in Gurgaon (2017), which he feels was the closest it came as far as a tough role is concerned. "To be honest, a very difficult role is yet to come my way. I had acted in Gurgaon a few years ago. It was slightly difficult," Pankaj says. He had essayed a character named Kehri Singh, an impoverished farmer-turned-real estate tycoon in the movie.
More than his roles, he considers the craft difficult as it involves turning a fake world into a real one. "Actually, acting itself is a difficult job. It looks like the actor is playing a role easily, but creating a fake world in front of 200 to 250 people, is a tough job. You need to show bonding with someone who'll play your mother, sister or lover whom you don't even know. It takes a lot of effort to look effortless. But yes, there are some roles that are more difficult to learn the nuances, so my character in Gurgaon was one of them," he says.
Still, he likes to practise a lot and prepare himself before facing the camera. "I practise a lot despite having years of experience. Now also, a day prior to the shooting, I read the scene before sleeping. It's my ritual. And then, when I get up in the morning, I read the same scene. I do my reading, but there's also a fear of what will happen on set," says the actor whose career got a major push after starring in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012).
Even though he learns his lines by heart, there are times when he improvises on set, and directors laud him for it. "I improvise so that the scene looks more interesting and the content becomes stronger. Sometimes it happens by mistake, like if an actor gives a wrong cue, then to handle it, something good comes out. Then everyone says, 'It's great, let's keep it.' Sometimes when I forget a line, to manage it, I say another line. Its meaning is more or less the same as the one I was supposed to deliver," confesses Pankaj.
For his choice of roles and playing diverse roles with finesse, he was recently honoured with the Diversity in Cinema Award at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. "It came as a surprise to me. I hadn't expected it. But it's nice; there's cinema, diversity, and Melbourne in one sentence. Being an actor, I do want people to appreciate my work. So whenever I get honoured, it feels good," says the actor whose role in the 2017 black comedy-drama film Newton earned him the National Film Award – Special Mention.
But audience appreciation and keeping the cash registers ringing are equally important for him. "Getting love from the audience in the form of box office collections is as important as awards. If you look at my filmography, I have done meaningful films that have been entertaining and successful too. In the last three to four years, there's been no film of mine that didn't do well at the box office," says Pankaj. "I wish to entertain my audience and also send across meaningful messages through my work," he adds.
Pankaj is quite popular on OTT platforms thanks to a slew of his films like Mimi, Kaagaz, and Ludo, which were released there. The actor is more than happy and grateful for the way things shaped up for him digitally as well. "Digital platforms have given a lot of opportunities to showcase my talent. As far as series are concerned, the characters are written in great detail. Writers have the time, and actors also get a chance to go in-depth. OTT has contributed a lot to my career. Now, even films are getting released on OTT, and they got great acceptance there. Mimi was trending online even a month after it released," says Pankaj.
Quip him about his web series like Criminal Justice, Mirzapur and Sacred Games belonging to the crime genre, the actor shares, "I never thought about it, but yes, my web series have been related to crime. But I don't get bored. The thing is, in crime series, there is more human conflict." He then promises that his next web series has nothing to do with crime. "My lips are sealed," he says about the project for which he shot in Ladakh.
With more than a dozen films released in the past few years, Pankaj feels this is the right time to slow down and enjoy life a little more. "Earlier, I was happy about getting work, but now I feel like taking a break. Acting is a hectic job, and working for 12 hours every day gets difficult. Maybe, I'll do less work in the coming years. Right now, I am doing around eight films in a year, so I might reduce it to three or four movies. I can't do only one film in a year because a film gets completed in 50 days or so. What will I do for the rest of the year? Pareshan ho jaunga main (it will upset me)," he says with a laugh.
Hectic work hours is why he didn't do another TV show after Sarojini — Ek Nayi Pehal, despite being in high demand. "I got many TV offers, but I didn't do them because it is difficult. There is hardly any time to think. I can't be mechanical and work for long hours every day. That's why I didn't do more TV shows," says Pankaj.
When not donning the greasepaint, Pankaj has a few unique hobbies. "I like to watch birds. There are 20 to 25 wild parrots that come to my house to eat. We haven't domesticated them, but they just come and go. I enjoy walking as well. I also like to catch hold of kids and tell them stories," Pankaj signs off.
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