Pankaj Tripathi: A gangster and a gentleman
Actor Pankaj Tripathi is more than Kaleen Bhaiya or his neck
No other actor’s neck has garnered as much appreciation and a fan following of its own as Kaleen Bhaiya of Mirzapur, aka Pankaj Tripathi. According to netizens, his neck deserves an acting award of its own. The viral meme even got the actor’s attention, who admitted that the particular gesture came “from the soul”.
It was in 2004 that this National School of Drama alumnus made his debut with a bit role in Run. It took eight years for Bollywood to sit up and take notice of his turn as the butcher Sultan Qureshi in Gangs of Wasseypur. While Tripathi courted critical acclaim for a number of roles in films such as Fukrey, Nil Battey Sannata, Newton, Bareilly ki Barfi and many more, it was his role as mafia don Akhandanand Tripathi in the Amazon Prime web series Mirzapur that made him a household name.
Mihir Desai, who directed the actor in the series, says, “Tripathi as a personality has always been very welcoming. He can blend in with the crowd and stand out when needed. He is well-read and well-travelled with a ‘pitara’ of experiences and observations that he constantly draws inspiration from. He likes making characters as human as possible and that adds a layer of empathy towards them.” Desai explains how once Tripathi walks into the sets, it’s not dialogues alone, but the mental state of Akhandanand is what he defines. This fluidity, stresses the director, helps him make Akhandanand a flawed, human gangster.
The gangster drama may have made him a known face with his hoardings dominating metros, but the actor insists that he does “not like crime dramas with guns and gaalis”. Tough to believe really, given that his next series on Netflix is Anurag Basu’s Ludo, a dark comedy, where he plays—guess what?—a gangster. Growing up in a family of farmers and priests in a run-down town in Gopalganj district of Bihar, Tripathi remembers how when he took up acting, his parents were surprised, but did not interfere. In fact, the famed actor has often said how his parents have not watched their son do what he does best. “They don’t even want a TV at home,” he says.
Perhaps it is this simple attitude to life that he has grown up with that shines through his work. His co-stars all have only good things to say about the man. Akshay Oberoi, who played his wayward son in the dark and gritty Gurgaon, says, “It is very difficult to see him perturbed by something as he also takes life that way. I don’t think he takes himself or life very seriously. He can take a really small role and turn it into an important one.” Desai admires how with his mutterings, and eye and neck movements, the actor can speak a thousand words. “He underplays himself but only we know how deep he dives into a character. His ability to not be overly analytical is what gives him the edge,” says Desai.
Nurturing a traveller’s heart, Tripathi wears many hats. A foodie, he is also a trained chef and a heritage scholar. Luke Kenny, who played the stone cold assassin for Tripathi’s Guruji in Sacred Games, recalls going sightseeing with the actor in South Africa. Even people who have not directly worked with the actor are somehow touched by his humility. Priyanshu Painyuli, who was part of two projects with Tripathi—Extraction and Mirzapur—didn’t have any scenes with him. But ask him about the 45-year-old, and he maintains that Tripathi is one of the warmest and friendliest persons one can ever meet. “He is the perfect example, that to be a good actor, first you should be a good person,” he says.
Meanwhile, the fact that Tripathi has recently become one of the most unlikely hottest stars at the OTT box office has not gone unnoticed by filmmakers who are queuing up with bigger paychecks. He was recently quizzed about it on Neha Dhupia’s talk show No Filter Neha. The actor was candid enough to admit that “with each film that I do, I keep breaking the record of the last film in terms of money”. All we can say is: Good Luck!