Man of many parts

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In Conversation As he wins praise for playing a lovable drunkard in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, Pankaj Kapur speaks about his commitment and concerns

High on MandolaPankaj KapurPhoto: AFP
High on MandolaPankaj KapurPhoto: AFP

At present Mandola is on the top of the mind of the critics and Pankaj Kapur is excited at the opportunities being created for actors like him by the new wave of directors. “As an actor I feel more interesting stuff is being written for us. I have been fortunate to get different types of work but by and large till 90s for actors like me there were not many opportunities besides playing brother of the heroine or friend of the hero or young college villain after the earlier new wave was consumed by television.”

He rates Mandola high on his list of most satisfying roles. “Unlike Abbaji (the character that he played in Maqbool ), it is larger than life…on the louder side.” In terms of performance, he says, it is more in “ Karamchand zone…slightly stylised”. “There is an issue at the core but this time Vishal has kept the humour on the surface. Mandola is a ruthless businessman but when he is drunk he becomes too sweet. He is cutely negative and I feel people will fall in love with him.”

On the foreign influence on the form, Pankaj reflects, “Today’s cinema reflects the concerns of present day society. There is nothing that has not been said before. These days presentation has become more in-your-face but they existed from times immemorial.”

Pankaj is concerned that we have lost touch with our rich cultural past and look towards West for approval. “As we lived under colonial rule for 300 years, we have forgotten the cultures that existed before. Perhaps that’s why we used to say laat sahib ki tarah baat mat kar (Don’t talk like the lordship). Laat sahib became the benchmark. We compare everything with what is being done in the West. Even the film reviews are written like that. It is sad because we are trying to belittle ourselves.”

On directors like Vishal Bhardwaj using stars for roles which are essentially meant for solid actors, he says it is to take care of the commercial part. “I see it as a need of creativity or you can say leap in creativity. If you have to make a story in 10 rupees or you know that at this stage you can get only 10 rupees then you cut down on your expenses. But when one has made four-five films one likes to broaden the horizons. The fact is that here people are enamoured of stars. You have to take their support to ensure first three days of attendance and then it is upon the talent of the director how he places these stars in characters. Directors like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani have worked with stars in the second half of their career.”

The same, he adds, holds true for actors like him. “After playing two-three kind of characters I wanted to do some larger than life characters as well. And I was asked why did you do that not realising I could have my aspirations as well. I might not do it again and again but I would like to test waters which are considered forbidden for me. It is a human tendency. For me Philips Top 10 was as satisfying as doing a Dharam .”

That Imran Khan learnt Haryanvi to play Matru became big news but nobody bothers that Pankaj also speaks Haryanvi in the film. “We are in show business and we will showcase what is the highlight of the film to bring in the audience. In this case it was Haryanvi, in another it could be item number, in some other case it could be poverty. If Imran was asked about the dialect, I was asked ‘Oh! You can dance as well! Where did you learn to dance?’ because people have not seen me doing something like this?” says Pankaj, adding he felt younger by doing things that he used to do during his theatre days. ”

“Even today when I start working on a character I am as nervous and frustrated as I was when I used to be during NSD days. The first six-seven days are very difficult and I tell the director that I will be not be easy to handle for a week. I have to create a new person. I have to dig into his life, understand it, imbibe it and then shape it in a way that audience could understand it.”

He admits one doesn’t always find references and that’s when reading comes handy. “When I was in NSD, our director Ebrahim Alkazi once suggested reading books. I asked him about the link between acting and books. He said, ‘Son, you won’t be able to see all the characters and cultures of the world. The only source is good literature.’ I love travelling and fortunately I worked with some really good writers.” He points out Neem Ke Ped . “Budhia’s character owes a lot to the writing of Rahi Masoom Raza.”

Watching Ek Doctor Ki Maut on television, one used to mix the doctor’s frustration with Pankaj’s. Both were unable to find an audience despite their integrity and talent. “You are not wrong. I did use to feel that hamare saath hi aisa kyon ho raha hai (Why is it happening to me), particularly when I am giving it all but over the years I learnt life is like that. Today I feel I am blessed. There are very few actors in this industry who could talk about their four-five roles after 20-25 years.” He says for years he felt bad some of his best works could not reach the audience. “But later it was seen through television. Films like Ek Ruka Hua Faisla …. There is only one film, Ketan Mehta’s Kisi Ek Phool Ka Naam Lo , which has got lost. There is no copy of it.”

When he shares space with actors who don’t dig as deep as him, he looks the ‘odd’ one out and the film gives an uneven feel. Many have felt this about Matru Ki Bijlee… as well. “I try to create my space within the form of the film but it doesn’t always happen. Perhaps I was out of sync with the rest of the characters in Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon . But I no longer correct anybody. I have stopped thinking about it because more often I get a reaction like ‘I know more than you’. So I do my work with honesty and go home.”

His attempt at direction didn’t find many takers but Pankaj is not perturbed. “I have learnt my lessons. The marketing team could not create the right kind of perception about Mausam . There were problems in the screenplay in the second half. I should have given myself two-three months to look at the film objectively and dispassionately. I am not defending myself but I do feel that a section of the media was unduly harsh,” says Pankaj, suggesting that he might return to director’s chair by the end of the year.


On the portrayal of women in the media

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. The devil is inside us. Instead of looking within we are looking for excuses outside. I am appalled by the kind of arguments that are being given. It is like saying you dress according to my wishes otherwise the devil inside me will leap out.”




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