The Many Faces of Pankaj Tripathi: An Actor with a Difference

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

By Murtaza Ali Khan
The Many Faces of Pankaj Tripathi: 1. Gangs of Wassepur 2. Nil Battey Sannata 3. Newton, Collage of his acting performances
Pankaj Tripathi as: 1. Sultan in Gangs of Wassepur 2.  Srivastava in Nil Battey Sannata 3. Atma Singh in Newton
Pankaj Tripathi's colorful character is easily the best thing about Luka Chuppi. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pankaj for Wittyfeed at the press conference of Anarkali of Aarah where he first told me about his pivotal character in Newton. Until then as per the reports from film's Berlin premiere we were only hearing about Rajkummar Rao. When I stepped out of the theatre after watching Newton I told everyone that the film in many ways is a Pankaj Tripathi film but few listened to me. Soon I attended a TV discussion with Pankaj and director Amit V. Masurkar to discuss the film's prospects at the Oscars after it became India's official entry for the 2018 Oscars. Then when the National Awards were announced Pankaj Tripathi won a Special Mention Award which confirmed my claim about Newton being a Pankaj Tripathi film in many ways. When I watched him in Gangs of Wasseypur I knew that I was watching a very special talent. Today everyone more or less agrees that Pankaj Tripathi is the most versatile actor in the country right now.

Going back to that interview, I remember him telling me how his role of Principal Srivastava in Nil Battey Sannata helped him in breaking the image of a bad man that Wasseypur had created for him. He also told me that size of a role doesn’t matter to him. He cited Masaan and told me how used his craft to make such a small role memorable. Anyone who has seen Masaan would agree. He also told me that his Bihari accent is actually an aseet when some may thing otherwise. “I can play 100 Bihari characters and all will look different. That’s the kind of range I can offer and I say this because of the faith I have in my craft. I am able to sustain myself in the industry only because of the hard work that I have put in over the years in honing my craft,” Tripathi had asserted.
Pankaj Tripathi as Rudra in Stree
Pankaj Tripathi as Rudra in Stree
Almost two years after doing that interview today I feel that his hard work is now finally paying its dividend and that too in abundance. He has proven time and again that he is capable of creating a memorable character out of literally nothing. Just think of Stree and the kind of impact he left in such a short screen time. His ability to improvise is absolutely mind-boggling. That’s the hallmark of a gifted actor. In a scene where he was supposed to convey that the evil spirit is all-knowing he cheekily improvised upon his dialogues to say that the spirit has access to everyone’s AADHAR details. Small things like this can make a huge difference. Again in Luka Chuppi he has a rather weak character to play but he makes it memorable through sheer acting brilliance. A lesser actor wouldn’t have managed to leave such a lasting image through the character of Babulal that he plays in the film.
Pankaj Tripathi as Babulal in Luka Chuppi
Pankaj Tripathi as Babulal in Luka Chuppi
In order to understand Tripathi’s versatility one just need to look at the vast array of characters that he has played over the last few years. His most famous character in recent times has been Kaleen Bhaiya in Amazon Prime Original Mirzapur. But he is equally remembered for his cameo in Sacred Games. His character called Guru Ji will have a much bigger role to play in the upcoming seasons. If we looked at his films, other than Atma Singh in Newton, there are so many memorable performances: Kehri Singh in Gugaon, Rangeela in Anarkali of Aarah, Narottam Mishra in Bareilly Ki Barfi, Tripathi in Phamous, among others. And the best part is that all characters are unique in their own ways.
Pankaj Tripathi as Kaleen Bhaiya in Mirzapur
Pankaj Tripathi as Kaleen Bhaiya in Amazon Prime Original Mirzapur
I remember when Kaala had come out a senior film journalist was commenting that Pankaj Tripathi looked uncharacteristically weak in the film. In the same thread I commented that’s it is a testament to Pankaj Tripathi’s acting brilliance that even a filmmaker from down south and that too of Pa. Ranjith’s pedigree chooses to cast him as a cop in a Rajinikanth film. There is no other way to explain this. He may not be doing different things as an actor all the time but he is not afraid to do the routine things rather differently. With each new role Tripathi is giving us something new, transcending the boundaries of positive and negative or arthouse and commercial, and today he is well on course to tread on a path that not many actors in Indian cinema have dared to walk.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!

Murtaza Ali Khan with Pankaj Tripathi, Oscars, TV Discussion, Newton
1. With Pankaj Tripathi at the press conference of Anrkali of Aarah 2. Live TV Discussion on Newton's Oscar Entry 

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