Pankaj Tripathi: We live in a world of illusions
In less than a decade, after his breakthrough role as Sultan Qureshi in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, Tripathi has become a force to reckon with
Pankaj Tripathi’s life can easily be a Bollywood film: A young man from a nondescript village in Gopalganj district, Bihar, makes it big in the Indian film industry without godfathers.
In less than a decade, after his breakthrough role as Sultan Qureshi in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, Pankaj has become a force to reckon with. Even as the industry reels under the pandemic, the actor is busy with films such as ’83, Bachchan Pandey, and Mimi, a web series. Considered one of the most accomplished actors of his generation, Pankaj is humble about his success. “My sincerity and hard work have paid off. Success has not made much of a difference in my life. Maybe because it came at the right age and time,” says the actor, who struck terror as Kaleen Bhaiya in Mirzapur.
Currently, Pankaj has been spending time indoors, keeping himself busy reading scripts and working on them. But he has a lot to look forward to in the coming year. “In ’83 I play cricket manager PR Man Singh. To understand the nuances of his character, I spent a lot of time with him. Then there’s Laxman Utekar’s Mimi. There are a lot of similarities between me and this young director. Like me, he too comes from a back of beyond place in Maharashtra. This common factor helped us bond and reach a mutual comfort zone. Then there’s Sajid Nadiadwala’s Bachchan Pandey. Working with young directors widens your perception as each one has a different vision. They understand actors and are ready to explore beyond their capabilities,” Pankaj says.
A travel buff, the pandemic has literally stopped the actor in his tracks. Though luckily for him, his professional graph soared with projects such as Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Ludo, Shakeela, Kaagaz and Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors. Gunjan Saxena, says the actor, is very close to his heart, particularly because of the father-daughter relationship in the film. “I have a daughter who is 14 and I wish I could be like the father in Gunjan Saxena. I wish every father could give his daughter her freedom to pursue her dreams and stand by her,” he says wistfully.
What does the future hold for this simple village boy who had neither watched films nor knew how to act? Tripathi shrugs, “I never expected I would achieve so much. Like a river that carves out its own path, I go with the flow. There were times when I had no work for months, but it never worried me. If you love your job, it doesn’t feel like a burden.” Today the versatile Pankaj Tripathi—who believes he has turned into a creative labourer, but one who enjoys the hard work nevertheless—is the undisputed king of character actors. His performance in two back-to-back films Ludo and Kaagaz has more than proved it. In the first one, he plays a trigger-happy gangster; while in the second he is a common man fighting against the system to save his identity.
Any advice for youngsters in the industry? “I know this success will not last long. Five years from now I may have no work. People will then say that I’m a failure. It does not bother me. We live in a world of illusion. It’s not necessary to achieve everything. Numbers and collections are not important. At the same time, I admit that I am enjoying this phase of my life,” he smiles, adding, “An actor’s life is all about learning. I have so much left to do.”
Despite being a powerhouse performer, Pankaj’s grouse is that regional filmmakers do not consider him for roles since language is one barrier he has not overcome yet. “I love watching regional films, indie and Hollywood movies, and films that are doing the festival rounds. Such wonderful work. I wish I could rework them in Hindi. I’m itching to do a variety of roles,” says the actor, whose trademark sideways nod is as good as dialogue.