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Interview: The talented Mr Pankaj Tripathi

Author: India Weekly
by India Weekly
Posted: Apr 23, 2024

PANKAJ TRIPATHI’S journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of India’s most sought-after actors is a remarkable story.

He began his acting career with small supporting roles, and later went on to carve a niche for himself with his wide-ranging performances in major films, and popular streaming shows such as Mirzapur and Criminal Justice.

Tripathi’s versatility is undeniable. His talent shines through in every role, be it comedic, dramatic, emotional or the darker characters he has portrayed. He captivates audiences worldwide with his gravitas.

Last year alone, Tripathi followed up hit sequels such as OMG 2 and Fukrey 3 with a lead role in the unpredictable thriller Kadak Singh.

This year, he took on the daunting task of portraying former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Bollywood biopic Main Atal Hoon, currently streaming on ZEE5 Global. This challenging role further cemented his reputation as a versatile actor.

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In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, Tripathi discussed his remarkable trajectory as an actor, pivotal moments, diverse characters and his biggest influences. The 47-year-old also spoke about how the streaming space made him a star, hopes of bringing the story of a forgotten freedom fighter to life, and his desire to take a break from his super busy work schedule.

You’ve been in films for 20 years now. Looking back, how has your journey been, from your uncredited role in Run (2004) to characters that have become part of pop culture?

It has been a persistent journey. From an uncredited role in Run to playing Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Main Atal Hoon (2024), it has been quite an inspiring journey. It again instils a feeling in my heart that if you work with honesty, you can achieve anything in life. There is still a long way to go.

I am learning and exploring new things. I am waiting to be a part of fresh stories. I also might be making some mistakes along the way, and hope my audience corrects me if I go wrong anywhere. Their feedback is always welcome. I’m open to any criticism to improve my work.

You recently starred in Main Atal Hoon. Did you ever meet Atal Bihari Vajpayee in real life?

No, never. I just happened to see him from far during a political rally. His face was not clearly visible from where I stood, but I could listen to everything he said in his speech. He was my favourite politician, orator and poet.

Did you ever feel like giving up on your dreams when things were not working out for you initially?

No, I never thought of giving up. I would always tell myself, ‘Stay focused. If not today, things will definitely fall into their place tomorrow.’

See, I am a farmer’s son. I literally toiled in the field with my father for 15–16 years. So, I knew it very well that if you plant a seed in the soil, water it regularly, let it soak in enough sunlight, and maintain other favourable conditions, it will soon grow into a healthy sapling.

Similarly, I knew I would only grow and not die if I remained persistent. So, yeah, I never thought of giving up no matter how difficult things got.

What do you consider to be the turning point of your career?

There is no such turning point, I would say. I am like a river that originates from a mountain and decides its own course. My journey has been very organic. I don’t think that I have made my career.

I credit my success to all those wonderful characters and stories I have been a part of. I have just been doing my work with utmost honesty ever since I joined the industry.

But there must be a project that you think changed things for you overnight?

If you are talking about commercial success, then yes, it has to be Newton (2017).

I started getting more attention from the media after the film turned out to be a success and after I received the prestigious National Award (conferred by the Indian government) for it.

The audience is waiting for the third season of hit web serial Mirzapur. What should they expect from the new season and your character, Kaleen Bhaiya?

They should expect complete entertainment. The teaser is out and I can sense the excitement around the show. I hope the audience has not forgotten Kaleen Bhaiya.

I even say at the end of the teaser, "Bhoole toh nahi hain hamein?" (Hope you have not forgotten me) It is going to be an interesting watch.

Is it easier or harder to play a character you have already portrayed?

Technically speaking, it is easy because you have lived that character before.

You know its ins and outs. But, at the same time, there is a risk of mundanity, a risk of getting bored by playing the same character again and again.

As I said, you know the character in and out, so what’s new? But overall, it is easy to get into the skin of the same character again.

Do you believe the streaming space has contributed a lot to your popularity and recognition?

One hundred per cent. I give full credit to the streaming space for my popularity and recognition. Be it ZEE5 Global or other popular platforms I have worked with, they have catapulted me to stardom.

They put my face in the centre of hoardings you see all around. I wonder what I would have done had there been no OTT platforms (laughs). I seriously don’t know.

As an actor, do you feel streaming platforms offer more opportunities for diverse and inclusive storytelling compared to traditional media?

I feel that OTT platforms are more democratic in their approach. There is no lack of screens now.

If we have worked on an OTT project, it will surely see the light of day, no matter what. In addition to that, your work reaches a broader audience compared to traditional media outlets. If your film is released in just about 200 screens, how many people will see it? OTT space has no such restrictions. If your content is good, it travels the world.

How do you think easy access to content on streaming platforms has affected viewers?

Our audience has evolved a lot over the past few years. And, it is because of them that actors like me have attained whatever popularity or recognition that we have today. The audience has contributed immensely in making us who we are.

After playing Vajpayee, is there another historical figure you’d be interested in portraying?

Yes. If not a film, I would like to bring the story of Mahendra Misir to the audience through a play.

Tell us about him

Misir was a legendary man from Bihar. He was a freedom fighter and a great songwriter.

The British thought that he was involved in making fake currency and supplying it to other freedom fighters so that they could continue their revolution against the regime, so they arrested him and put him behind bars.

His was a very contradictory personality, to be honest. I want that his story be told to the audience in any form.

Which actors have had an impact on your approach to acting?

There are many, right from Pankaj Kapur and Naseer Saab (Naseeruddin Shah) to the late Om Puri and Irrfan Khan. I recently saw Vikrant Massey’s work in 12th Fail (2023). It really inspired me. He was phenomenal. There are some books that have inspired me and contributed to my growth.

Could you name a few of them?

Currently, I am reading Renu Rachanawali by Phanishwar Nath Renu. I devote a good amount of time to literature.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not acting?

I will either be reading books, gardening, or cooking something in the kitchen. I have been quite busy over the past two years, so I hardly got time to indulge in these activities. But I am planning to take a break (from work) and devote some time to them.

Apart from acting, is there any other aspect of filmmaking that excites you?

I may end up exploring direction one day. I might also turn producer.

What are your five favourite films you can watch over and over again?

Teesri Kasam (1966), Guide (1965), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Newton (2017) and Main Atal Hoon (2024). What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

There are several projects that are lined up for release.

Apart from Mirzapur 3, there is a web-series called Gulkanda Tales. The fourth season of Criminal Justice is also up for streaming. In films, there is Metro…In Dino and Stree 2.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?

Work on your craft, learn acting as much as you can, do theatre and always know who you are. There is nothing you cannot achieve.

Main Atal Hoon is available to stream on ZEE5 Global.

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Author: India Weekly

India Weekly

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