His road to success was paved with "many failures" but Pankaj Tripathi, who made his Hindi movie debut by playing an unnamed character in the 2004 movie "Run", looks back at his foundation years without any regrets.
Over the past few years, Tripathi has become the go-to actor for complex characters across mediums -- "Gangs of Wasseypur", "Gurgaon", "Mirzapur", "Sacred Games", "Masaan", "Newton", "Nil Battey Sannata", "Bareilly Ki Barfi" and "Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl".
Asked about the person he was during his first movie, the actor credited his struggling days and early roadblocks for where he stands today. "Those were my foundation years. Whatever I am today is because of the mistakes or the good things I did at that time. I am reminded of Baba Nagarjun's poem in Hindi: 'Jo nahi ho sake poorna kaam, unko karta hoon main pranam'. It was a time when I could not do a lot of things that I wanted to do. I'm a result of all those failures," Tripathi told PTI in an interview.
The actor, who hails from Belsand village in Gopalganj district of Bihar, said he always reflects about how he would not be the person he is today if he had a different childhood.
"Our past is always right. I feel whatever happens, happens for the best. So all those failures were correct," he added. This philosophy of hopefulness permeates everything that Tripathi does, even when he is playing a ruthless Machiavellian villain like Kaleen Bhaiya in "Mirzapur" in the Amazon Prime Video crime drama series.
The actor said he operates on the notion that every character, however grey, is redeemable. "I'm someone who likes to do things at a slow pace so I bring a 'thahrav' to Kaleen Bhaiya. He is grey. I play my characters with the hope that they are good somewhere or they can change for better. So I try to bring certain humanity and hope in all my characters. You will not find him bad on the surface; you have to go deep to feel that evil." As an actor, Tripathi believes, one gets a chance to think and empathise from different perspectives, a process that's enriching and helps one evolve as a human being.
"We are supposed to immerse ourselves in the life, complexities, crisis and love of our characters day and night. When you think about others, you improve as a human and become more empathetic because you are going through the crisis and pain of others. We are lucky that we get paid for this."
In a reply to a question about "Mirzapur" reflecting what ails north India, Tripathi said education should lead to personal evolution rather than being just a medium to get jobs.
"I talk to some of the people I grew up with and even those in the big cities and I feel that they somewhere stopped in the process of being evolved. And 90 per cent of these people don't even realise that there is something wrong with it. We have made education only a medium to get jobs.
"I am reminded of a satirical line by Harishankar Parsaiji. In this satire, a character says, 'Education helps a person recognise his/her real self (mool roop). This is why when I got educated I got to know the caste I belong to'. This person felt that his caste was his real self!" The show also offers a glimpse into how youth gets attracted to this one-way game of power, Tripathi said as he praised scribes Puneet and Vineet Krishna for their nuanced writing that has introduced people to words like 'bhokaal' (roughly translated as 'influence').
Initially, the show had drawn some comparison with "Gangs of Wasseypur", which also featured Tripathi and revolved around the unholy nexus of power, crime and strongmen in Bihar's coal town of Wasseypur.
Though this is a different story, Wasseypur's Ramdhari Singh (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia) is spiritually close to Kaleen Bhaiya in the way they both use people in their game of power.
"Kaleen Bhaiya's son thinks that his father is the way he behaves in public but that's not his true nature. This is how society functions. What is on the surface is different from what is real. Kaleen Bhaiya keeps telling his son to respect women but when he is with his wife, he does not respect her and is patriarchal in his behaviour.
"In this age of social media many people say this has come from my soul (antaratma ki awaaz hai) without realising that this voice has been planted in their head. It's difficult to identify the self unless you are an aware person in the true sense. The fight between our mind and heart is very dangerous." Asked about his process of working through the conflict between the heart and mind, Tripathi said he lets it resolve on its own.
"I don't think too much about ambition and other such things. I have spent my time in the company of books and people who have made me realise that these things are nothing but a mirage. It also helps me in staying grounded." "Mirzapur" became a pop culture phenomenon when it released in 2018 and there is a lot of anticipation around its season two premiere on October 23.
Tripathi said when he read the script, he knew that the writing was good and was backed by a great team in Excel Entertainment, and directors Karan Anshuman, Gurmmeet Singh and Mihir Desai, but did not anticipate that the show and his character will become a meme-sensation.
"I think youth connected to the show because there are not many censors due to it being on an OTT platform. A lot of characters express themselves the way they would do on roads. Maybe the language attracted them or the colourful characters. But I think when the audience loves a story or an actor, it is difficult to find a logic behind it because love is beyond logic."