As far as I can remember, I have always been a fan of Pankaj Tripathi. The man has something about him that makes you gravitate towards his work, sit with it, and really look at the nuances he has embedded into it. Not many actors are capable of doing that. And ever since I’ve started to officially write about movies, shows, and short films, and started conducting interviews, I’ve this urge to talk to him, even if it was for a few seconds. Thankfully, that opportunity arrived all of a sudden and I found myself sitting face-to-face, albeit virtually, with the man of the hour i.e. Pankaj ji and had one of the most unpredictable yet wholesome conversation of my life.
How’s your day going?
“Bahut badhiya, bahut accha.”
You’ve started off the year pretty well with Kaagaz and Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors. How’s the reception been and are you satisfied with it?
“Accha aaya hai, badhiya aaya hai. Of course, I am satisfied with it. Very satisfied with it.”
What are your overall views on film criticism? Do you think there’s too much of it nowadays?
“I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I don’t pay too much attention to it. I haven’t really thought about it. It also depends on where the criticism comes from. Who is the one analysing it? How sincere and sensible are they? I think that criticism is healthy. But it’s also important that the one who is criticising knows all there is to know about the art form.”
What’s the most educational piece of criticism that you’ve received?
“[contemplative pause] Abhi yaad nahi hai.”
You have played a wide range of roles which are black, grey, and purely white. Yet you manage to infuse a sense of relatability in them that’s unique to you. Is that a very intentional creative choice?
“[chuckles] I haven’t really put a lot of thought into this. I don’t, what I think is… [momentarily distracted by his dog, Pucchu] …kya tha sawaal? [intently listens to me explaining the question] I try to make my performances good, engaging, and entertaining. But I don’t intentionally try to appeal to a global audience or anything like that. I do my work honestly. I keep my audience in the back of my mind. And if you do your work sincerely, the audience will engage with you. You don’t have to do anything extra to achieve that effect.”
At this point, people know about how you get into your roles but they don’t know about how you prepare yourself on a technical level. During the BTS of Kaagaz, its DOP mentioned that you are very aware of the production design, lenses, etc. When do you do that and how does that help you as an actor?
“It comes with experience. I have 15-16 years of experience of being on film sets. And it helps me in the sense that if the DOP is using a 75mm lens, I don’t have to ask that what’s the magnification going to be like. As soon I hear the lens type, I know what’s the shot going to be like. Although, my acting is not entirely dependent on the framing. I act from my foot to my toe. But if you’re aware that how much is visible and how much is not and how does it look, thodi sahuliyat ho jayegi. You know the field, you know where’s the boundary line. Sometimes during a scene, I do tend to flow freely and not bind my body a lot. But if I know the frame, I won’t go out of it or else I’ll keep talking and end up going out of the frame [mimics going out of the frame quite literally]. If I know where the frame ends, I’ll know my limits. That helps the actor. Cinema is such a medium where you’ve to hide as well as show. Some of the things that you’re hiding, should be visible as well. So, when an actor is aware of the camera, the light, the positioning, it helps, and that only comes with experience.”
Do you fear that the more prominent you become, directors are going to give you more and more leeway and not be as brazen with you as they were during your initial acting days?
“No, it’s not going to be like that. It shouldn’t be like that! Yes, they do trust me more nowadays. I don’t like directors who are harsh. When I was new, I wanted to work with people who would do so lovingly. And even now I want to work with people who work in a loving fashion. I don’t like noise. I don’t like directors who shout. I want the set to be as silent as possible. Ekdam kam awaaz ho set pe. Nowadays they bring walkie-talkies as well P.A. systems and loudspeakers. I don’t understand the point of that. Ya toh loudspeaker mangaa lo, ya toh walkie-talkie manga lo. Dono ki kya zarurat hai? If you don’t have to control a crowd of a thousand people, it’s a scene in a house, you’re putting a loudspeaker and you’ve walkie-talkies as well. It’s beyond me.”
How do you manage to not let your age get in the way of your sensibilities and harm your sense of relatibility?
[long contemplative pause]
For example, your Instagram post where you thanked your fans after you reached three million followers warmed the heart of a cynic like me. How do you do that?
“[smiles] Abb ye toh rahasya hai dhande, ye thodei bataunga? The thing is that you need to be aware of what’s happening in the world. Let me show you, chhodo interview [literally chhodo’s the interview and switches to his rear camera to show the view from his balcony, the birds flying outside, and the sunset, while the wind chimes melodiously]
Show this to the audience. Kya interview karna hai? So yes, you need to be aware of your surroundings and what you need to do in it. I have fans hailing from the eighth or ninth standard. I remember that a CEO of Walmart said during a conversation at Indian Express Adda that he himself, his daughter who is in the ninth standard, and his parents, all three generations are fans of my work and asked how is that possible? I said that even I don’t know that. I don’t do anything extra. Zindagi ka anubhav hai na, baba. Zindagi ka experience sab kuch hai, aur kuch nahi hai.”
That’s so sweet! Alright, I have a final segment where you’ve to answer the most Googled questions about you. Feel free to answer it as literally or metaphorically as you want to. The first question is, who is Pankaj Tripathi?
“Indian actor, bas aur kya? Motivational speaker. Spiritual man. Wise man. Nonsense man.”
What’s Pankaj Tripathi’s 2021 line-up like, personally and professionally?
“Nothing much. Professionally, films and series. And personally, rest.”
Who launched Pankaj Tripathi?
“Who launched Pankaj Tripathi?! Ohhhh Pankaj Tripathi himself launched Pankaj Tripathi [laughs] Pandit Banaras Tiwari and Hemanti Devi, matlab father and mother, they launched me.”
Favourite characters of Pankaj Tripathi?
“Newton, Gurgaon, Powder.”
If not an actor, what would Pankaj Tripathi be?
Do you like cooking?
Please start a cookery show then.
“Karta hoon, karta hoon. Bula rahe hai, matlab baat chal rahi hai. Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hotstar, I am going to do a cookery show on one of those OTT platforms. Comedy cook! Kuch aisa kuch bana denge.”
Motivational speaker + cooking?
“[enthusiasticaly] Haan haan haan! Motivational speaker plus cooking plus dietician plus meditation. Ajkal toh kuch bhi pack kar do organic toh bikk jata hai. Baatein alag kar do. Detox hoga. Hum sabko detox hona hai.”
The net worth of Pankaj Tripathi?
“Oh! Net worth of Pankaj Tripathi. Roji roti, dal roti chal jaati hai [laughs]. That’s it. [after a brief pause] My net worth is my journey. My net worth is my entire journey and it can be studied and analysed if they are interested in it. The money that I have earned will stay here. But my journey, my experience, that’s going to go with me. Jo aakhon ne dekha hai, jo zabaan ne chakha hai, that is not transferable. That’s going to go away with me. So, that is somebody’s actual net worth, i.e. what they’ve made and what’s going to go with them. Ye rupaiya paisa toh haath ka mael hai, woh bhi Corona ke time pe bohot saaf ho raha hai.”
Is Kaleen Bhaiya dead?
“No, no. I don’t know. Those who’ve watched it will know what happens at the end [laughs]. I don’t know, I don’t know.”
What’s going to be your reaction when you see Ali Fazal sitting on your throne?
“Mera kuch reaction nahi rahega. He’s my friend. He comes to my home. So, what’s going to my reaction? I am going to say, ‘Come, sit’. All that is in the world of cinema.”
Is Pankaj Tripathi a Guruji in real life?
“[brief contemplative pause] No, no, no. Nope.”
On that note, I concluded the interview with Mr. Tripathi and arrived at the conclusion that he is one of the smartest people alive. Allow me to digress. There’s a scene in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse where Miles Morales purposefully tries to fail a test in order to go back to his original school. The teacher tells him that even if one blindfolds themselves and does the test, they’ll get at least 50 percent of the answers right. So, to get all of them wrong, one has to know what the correct answers are. Where am I going with this? Yes. Pankaj Tripathi is like Miles. He knows how to hide his smartness, his craft, and only show the stuff that he wants to show. Nothing about him is accidental and if that’s not worthy of all the respect, I don’t know what is. Also, here’s Tripathi ji blessing everyone with an ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ after I told him how eagerly I’ve been waiting to interview him…