With one terrific performance after another, Pankaj Tripathi has become for Hindi films what potato is among vegetables—you can put him with any combination and he will nevertheless steal the show.
Currently gearing up for the release of his forthcoming film Luka Chuppi, the 42-year-old is looking ahead at a super eventful 2019. Here, in a freewheeling conversation, he discusses films, favourite actors, the pressure that comes with being loved, the rise of small-town India in Hindi cinema and more.
Seven films in 2017, eight films and two web series in 2018—you are everywhere. How does it feel to be one of the most wanted actors in Bollywood today?
Achha lagta hai. But my entire 2019 is blocked. There are several good stories, films that are being made this year that I want to be a part of but I can’t. It’s taken me really long—15 years—to reach here.
I feel my journey gives motivation to other actors. A lot of them who are trying to find their way here in Bombay message me saying they feel really inspired by my positivity and struggle, that I give them faith ki agar aapme baat hai toh ruke raho, zaroor hoga. This, I feel, is my biggest achievement.
How was it working with younger actors—Kriti Sanon, Kartik Aaryan and Aparshakti Khurana—in Luka Chuppi? Do you find their working styles, approach to the craft different from yours?
All these young actors are very sincere and hardworking. Luka Chuppi also has five-six other brilliant actors who will be seen for the first time in good, meaty roles. The process of filmmaking has changed a whole lot. It’s a great time for young talent in cinema, be it actors, directors or anyone else.
What, according to you, was your career’s turning point? Which films do you think changed the game for you?
Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) established by name, Newton (2017) spread it further. Mirzapur (2018) made sure that I was everywhere. Baap re baap! I never thought I’d be known as Kaaleen Bhaiya (his character’s name in the Amazon web series) one day! People from across the world—the UK, the US—send me texts for Kaleen Bhaiya.
Your struggle has been long and hard. Now that you are in a position where you can choose your projects, what kind of films and shows you want to do?
Jo kahani samajh me aa jaye, achhi lag jaye. I like a few directors with whom I want to work. For instance, Anurag Basu and Kabir Khan. And I am working with them now. Every year, I work with three-four new directors. Like Luka Chuppi—it is Laxman’s (Utekar; director) first film. New talents have a different perspective of storytelling. I want to work with them too.
A lot of actors are turning directors and producers. Are you planning to branch out too?
I can’t say about the future, but I have no such plans as of now. I may want to direct sometime later though but nothing is on cards yet.
There was a time when most Hindi films were based in Mumbai. Then Delhi came in vogue. Now it is small-town India. What do you think of Bollywood’s current obsession with basing films in India’s hinterland?
It’s because a lot of these storytellers are from small towns. If you look at it, directors earlier used to be primarily from Bombay. Now, they are from everywhere. An Anurag Kashyap is from someplace else, so is an Imtiaz Ali or a Tigmanshu Dhulia.
More and more people—writers, directors—from small-town India are entering cinema. These are the ones who used to go to Bijnor and Belanki to visit their grandmothers during holidays. Hence, we are seeing more such stories now.
Don’t you think the same holds true for actors as well?
Absolutely. Look at me, I am a live example of it. Forget small town, I come from a non-descript village.
How important are film promotions? Do you think a line needs to be drawn? How much is too much?
We definitely need to set up limits much like in the South because audiences can smell a good film. AndhaDhun ka koi andhadhund promotion nahi hua lekin andhadhund business zaroor hua. We may talk as much as we want about our film on every comedy show there is, the audience will know about it, but they will come to watch it only when they find out that it is a good film and that happens only after the release. It’s the public that needs to promote a film.
Do you think actors should be paid as per their contribution in a film and not their stardom?
Ye bazaarwaad hai. In capitalism, your branding—how big a brand you are—supersedes your film. But what we often forget in capitalism is that cinema is an art and not commerce. However, I don’t have any opinion on this. I used to get paid less earlier, now it’s decent.
But you are contributing significantly to your projects now. People associate you with good films.
Haan, logo ka bharosa ban gaya hai. Chinta bhi hoti hai. I have begun to feel the pressure of not wanting to disappoint people. This is why with every project I try to put the message across while entertaining the audience. When more people love and value you, your responsibility gets bigger—that you shouldn’t do any wrong and perform well each time.
A current actor in Bollywood whose work you find aspirational?
I don’t watch Bollywood films at all. The last that I watched was Aamir Khan’s Rubaru Roshni. But I do watch regional, independent films.
I don’t have that kind of time. Of 365 days in a year, I am shooting on 300 days. The reaming 60 days, I am either dubbing or travelling. But from the time when I used to watch a lot of films, I really like Irrfan Khan, Pankaj Kapur and Om Puri’s work.
Are you friends with anyone in the industry? Who is your go-to person in Bollywood?
Richa Chadha, Ali Fazal, all the Fukrey boys. Though we don’t meet too often, but I share a connect with Nawazuddin Siddiqui too. Vikrant Massey is also a really close friend.
If a remake was to be made, which character would you want to recreate?
I’d love to play Raj Kapoor’s role from Teesri Kasam. I really like the writer Phanishwarnath Renu on whose short story the film was based.
Tell a bit about your character in Luka Chuppi?
It’s very interesting. He is an unmarried real-estate broker who is on the lookout for his probable bride in the entire film. He is naughty and humorous. You’d find him irritating but also sweet.
Starring Kartik Aaryan, Kriti Sanon and Pankaj Tripathi, Luka Chuppi is slated to release on March 1.
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