Pankaj Tripathi’s journey of becoming a filmstar mirrors a Bollywood movie, there’s drama, dreams, rejection and hope and despite the fame he has earned, the actor holds all of this close to him to remain humble.
Tripathi made fleeting appearances in several films before gaining prominence with Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur in 2012.
Today, Pankaj Tripathi has a lot on his plate – he has a film running in the theatres, Kaala, and has big projects like Super 30 with Hrithik Roshan, Dharma Production’s Drive, Rajkummar Rao‘s Streee and remake of the web series Criminal Justice, among others in the pipeline.
“There was a time when I used to keep my phone at a spot in my house where the possibility of good network was the strongest, so that I don’t miss any call.
“I used to wait for phone calls from casting directors and ADs (assistant directors), but days used to pass without my phone ringing”, Tripathi says, reminiscing his early days of struggle for a toehold in Bollywood.
“Today, the situation is such that I cannot answer many calls. But I’m the same actor who struggled in Mumbai and waited for my phone to ring. I am still a villager who fell in love with acting”, he adds.
In an interview with PTI, Tripathi charts his life story, how a farmer’s son born in Bihar’s Belsand village made his way to becoming one of the most sought-after actors currently in Bollywood.
As a child growing up in the tiny village, Tripathi was part of two-three amateur level plays where he would play a girl and was far removed from the world of acting.
He moved for higher studies to Patna, where his life eventually took a turn.
In Class 12, he saw the play Andha Kuan where the performance of the actor Pranita Jaiswal moved him to tears. Tripathi took such a liking to theatre, he used to cycle his way to watch all stage performances held in Patna, religiously, from 1994-95.
By 1996, he found himself on the other side – he was no more the audience, he became the artiste.
“I used to work in a hotel kitchen at night and do theatre in the morning. After finishing my night shift — I did it for two years – I used to come back and sleep for five hours and then do theatre from 2-7 pm and then again hotel work from 11-7 in the morning”.
Then Tripathi began to look for places where he could be trained as an actor for free – as his father would have never given money for acting – and found out about the Delhi-based National School of Drama (NSD), where the basic requirement for enrolment was graduation.
“So now I thought I have to be a graduate if I want to continue acting. After 12th, I stopped studying and had done hotel management training. So I enrolled myself to a college again, completed my graduation in Hindi literature while doing night shift and also plays in the day,” he says.
In college, he joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s campus wing, and was jailed for a week for taking part in a student’s movement. The small jail barrack opened up an entirely different world for Tripathi.
“You don’t have anything to do in jail. No meeting, no cooking, not doing anything. You are completely alone. When a man is extremely lonely, he starts discovering himself. I met myself in those seven days.
“When I started reading Hindi literature, I realised how alienated I was to this world. That completely changed me”, he says.
When he finished his course at the NSD in 2004, where actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui was his senior by eight years, he made his way to Mumbai on October 16 that year with Rs 46,000 in his pocket, but a lot of dreams in his eyes.
By December 25, however, he had only Rs 10 left with him.
“I remember the date because it was my wife’s birthday and I didn’t even have the money to buy a cake or a gift. When people like me come to this city, after theatre training and life experiences, they always remember important dates”.
Tripathi says his first 10 years in the industry were solely driven by a will to survive. While he was part of several well-known films such as Run, Apharan and Omkara, success eluded him.
“I wanted to earn just enough to pay rent. I didn’t come here to become a star. I was clear that I wanted to act and run a family. I knew I can survive in the Hindi cinema through acting.
“So I was waiting, always, with every film to show what I am capable of. Survival is important, art is secondary. If you aren’t alive, how can you create art? I was constantly polishing my craft”.
After eight years of doing small roles, opportunity finally knocked his doors with Gangs of Wasseypur, which changed the actor’s life.
The gangster-drama gave Tripathi the much-needed credibility as an actor and from then on, he has been part of films such as Fukrey, Nil Battey Sannata and Bareilly Ki Barfi.
The 41-year-old actor had nine releases last year, of which he bagged a special mention at the National Film Awards for his performance in Newton.
“With the films I am offered today, I’m satisfied, in the sense that from the last two months, I have been choosing really good scripts. But I’m still searching for that one script which would truly amaze me, challenge me.
“It will take time and I’ll get what I want. I am an actor here but my approach is still that of a farmer. I’ve sowed the seeds, now I’m waiting for the plant to grow. I’m in no rush”, he says.
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