An actor since he was 13, Nirmal Pandey has come a long way. He speaks to Madhur Tankha about his institute for training the youth in theatre and sound, his journey as an actor through films like “Bandit Queen” and “Daayeraa”, his upcoming films and his chance at being a part-time musician and designer as well.

Nirmal Pandey is not just another actor but a specialist who has honed his craft in the field of theatre since the age of 13. And despite making a mark for himself in Bollywood, theatre continues to be his first love.

His passion for theatre has compelled him to do something for budding actors. “Artistes with theatre backgrounds are more proficient in acting. Theatre brings out the best in you, though it is no longer financially lucrative,” he laments.

Nirmal has started the Fresh Talent Academy of Film and Television Arts in Ghaziabad. “We are imparting training in theatre, folk arts, editing and sound at the academy that opened in May.”

Nirmal has been immersed in theatre for the past 32 years. While studying in Class VIII in Nainital, he developed a fascination for theatre. “I remember my father used to scold me for spending so much time on theatre. Theatre gave me a chance to brush up my acting skills and also to become a singer. Besides doing my Masters in History and Economics, I studied at the National School of Drama where I did a Masters in Arts. With Tara Arts I got a chance to do theatre in London, Japan, Manchester and Ireland. I not only worked as a professional actor, but also became a part-time musician and designer. In ‘Heer Ranjha’ I composed and sang 40 songs with musicians from Kerala.”

Acknowledging that Shekhar Kapoor’s “Bandit Queen” catapulted him to instant fame, he says: “Instead of asking me for a screen test, Shekhar observed me and told me to look at the chart and the dates for shooting the film. He was familiar with my theatre background. My role of Vikram Lala, the bandit queen’s husband, was an important one.”

Speaking about his performance as a transvestite in Amol Palekar’s “Daayeraa”, Nirmal says the role was difficult but he was able to pull it off because he got into the skin of the character. “The role should have easily fetched me the National Award but it went to Southern superstar Kamal Hassan for his hit film “Indian”. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I received the best female actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. This was perhaps the first time that a male actor received an award in the female category there. It was a proud moment for me.”

Shedding light on his upcoming film “Lahore”, Nirmal says it deals with the current political scenario of India and Pakistan. It has been directed by Sanjay Chauhan.

Nirmal has also pinned a lot of hope on the Punjabi film “Jaasa Singh Ramgariya”. “I am playing an Afghan warrior Zakariya Khan. The film is about Afghan warriors Mohammad Ghazni and Ghori.”

He says the actors had to learn horse riding. “Handling heavy swords was tough, but every precaution was taken. Shabaaz Khan who played Haider Ali in Sanjay Khan’s serial ‘Tipu Sultan’ is playing the main character. During those times, Afghans used to fight with Chinese swords. Therefore, we brought a sword from China for the film,” adds Nirmal, who has featured alongside actor Shabana Azmi in “Godmother” and also acted in “Train to Pakistan” adapted from Khushwant Singh’s novel.