Role Play with Pankaj Tripathi | Verve Magazine
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April 09, 2021

Role Play with Pankaj Tripathi

Text and video interview by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

The popular and critically acclaimed actor – who may have remained an overlooked supporting performer under the pre-streaming cinematic normal – discusses how he shaped some of his memorable characters

01:34 Gangs of Wasseypur (1 & 2)
04:16 Stree
07:21 Mirzapur (1 & 2)
11:25 Criminal Justice & Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors
14:41 Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl
19:55 Kaagaz

Under the old cinematic normal, before streaming platforms broadened the pantheon of star performers, Pankaj Tripathi may have continued to ably play his part as an underestimated supporting actor. But, in the last few years, he has earned the spotlight as a much-loved and critically acclaimed player and recently even toplined a “solo hero” film, Kaagaz.

The actor’s wide-ranging performances – be it in movies like Gangs of Wasseypur I and II (2012), Stree (2018), Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020) or web series like Mirzapur (2018, 2020) and Criminal Justice (2019, 2020) – all demonstrate the National School of Drama graduate’s philosophy of making the “maximum impact with minimum melodrama”. The 44-year-old Tripathi exudes a quiet confidence and owns any space he steps into; in front of the camera, he often punctuates scenes with silent, emotive pauses, emphasising the dialogue’s subtext. 

His well-honed ability to mine the human experience brings an understated intensity to each character. This quality is in part grounded in his humble upbringing in Belsand (a village in Bihar) and his early struggles, which have perhaps also influenced his unpretentious mindset of viewing every casting as an opportunity to fine-tune his craft, regardless of screen time. Take the example of Rudra Bhaiya in Stree. When shooting commenced, Tripathi had felt his role wasn’t very substantial, and he simmered with frustration for a couple of days, wondering what he was going to do in this film. But he implemented his natural comedic skills to flesh out the character and make his cameo memorable – a clip of his improvised satirical one-liner about Aadhar even ended up going viral. “One usually finds humour in the more serious aspects of life. The actor should not have to bend over backwards to demonstrate his effort,” he says. 

Tripathi’s brand of masculinity broadly conforms to traditional values, yet it is introspective and constantly evolving; it exists in a cinematic grey area that hasn’t been fully explored. For him, acting is a cerebral pursuit. The layered portrayals of Indian “manhood” that define his filmography have been shaped by a deep curiosity about his surroundings and interpersonal relationships, and each character becomes a medium of self-growth. “You can’t change the world,” he reflects. “You can only change yourself.”

Videography: Joshua Navalkar
Styling: Vineet Chauhan
Video editing: Mallika Chandra and Wamika Gera
Subtitles: Yooti Bhansali

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