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Acting is like a journey into unexplored terrain, says Pankaj Tripathi

Pankaj Tripathi   | Photo Credit: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Anaarkali of Arah, Gurgaon, Bareilly Ki Barfi—2017 has proven to be a many-splendoured year for actor Pankaj Tripathi. And the icing on the cake — Amit Masurkar’s Newton — releases this Friday. He is in spectacular form yet again as an arrogant, cynical and compromised CRPF commandant, Aatma Singh, in charge of assuring safe elections in the jungles of tribal Chhattisgarh even as he locks horns with the idealistic polling officer, Newton, played by yet another wonderful actor —Rajkummar Rao. Tripathi is happy that his on-screen avtar in the film has shades of grey: “I can’t understand characters in black or white.” Tripathi is soft-spoken as ever when he talks to us long distance from Chennai where he is shooting for a Tamil film — Rajinikanth’s Kaala. The film is set in Mumbai so his character does lapse into Hindi. However, he admits it’s tricky to work in a language he doesn’t know — to get the emotions right, to hold the scene and say the lines in Tamil so that they lip sync correctly for dubbing later. Our rapid-fire questions get answered in a free-flowing style that is uniquely Tripathi’s own.

1) Acting is...

It is difficult for me to define acting in just a few words. If you would have asked me a few years ago I would have said acting is my oxygen; that I will die without it. Not any more. Now, for me, it is like a journey into an unexplored terrain or landscape. Some journeys are fruitful and gratifying, like Masaan, Newton. Others [commercial films] are luxurious and convenient. But, as in real travel, you grow in these journeys.

2) The most rewarding thing about being an actor...

The love that you get. When a stranger smiles at you, appreciates your work, praises you quietly, gently and then doesn’t ask for a selfie. That feels like real recognition [rather] than getting congratulated for getting a photo shot with you later.

3) The most frustrating thing about it...

There’s a long list. I used to hate discussing money, now the manager does it on my behalf. Waiting on the sets for long hours in all kinds of bad weather. In these times of social media people get upset with us very easily. They don’t get distressed by the netas (politicians) so much as the abhinetas (actors). We just entertain, they [politicians] write the fate of the public and the country.

4) The one quality an actor must possess...

Sensitivity. Otherwise acting would just become pretence, a deception. An actor has to be aware of the society, an actor should get affected by and respond to what’s happening in the world around.

5) One trait an actor should absolutely not have...

An actor should not be a fraud even in reality, as an individual. Even in personal life he or she has to be truthful and honest. Too much slyness and wiliness is not good.

6) Instinct or method? What do you go for?

I don’t go by the prevalent notions about craft. Every actor has a unique method, every individual deals with the craft in his or her own way. I won’t go to the lengths of staying awake all night if my character is an insomniac. Craft is important but the real battle is that it should not show in a performance. A performance is praised for being effortless but a lot of effort goes into making it seem so.

7) Actors are born/can be trained?

Training is necessary for any profession. You don’t become doctors and engineers just by passion. Emotions are ‘created’ in life; they are ‘recreated’ by acting for which some amount of training is necessary.

8) What do you recollect of your first film audition? Or any other memorable audition?

The first audition is a haze for me. But I remember auditioning with [casting director] Mukesh Chhabra for eight hours for Sultan Qureshi in Gangs of Wasseypur. We must have done almost all of my scenes in the film. I also remember it because that film brought a dramatic change in my life as an actor. It was the turning point.

9) Auditions are crucial/a waste of time?

Wo jaanch ka paimaana hain. They are a measure to test [the actors]. They are like an examination. You have to say your lines against a white wall, without costume and co-actors, without the atmosphere. You can get an idea and figure [the acting]. But it should not be the only measure.

10) What inspires you to pick up a role and reject another?

These days I want to be part of a good film. It should have a good story, should engage, there should be something about it. A good role should make me stay awake at night, it should scare me, challenge me. I reject it if the role is very bad or if the money is not good [in projects where it should be good].

11) Actor is a puppet in the hands of a director. Comment.

Yes and no. The director is the captain of the ship, overseeing the entire film while the actor is focussed on the role. I don’t like the use of the word puppet. It is an inanimate object whereas the actor has his own thoughts. He may or may not have six-pack-abs but he has to have beliefs and value system. A director-actor relationship should be like that of two lovers.

12) An actor is a director in progress, a director in the making. Yes or no?

I do have those dreams but there’s still time for it. I am a storyteller at heart.

13) An actor you would love to direct were you a director...

That’s a very difficult question. Not so much the well known actors, I would like to direct a good actor who is not so known to the world. I like folk artistes a lot. I worked with tribal artistes in Newtonand kept wondering if I’d be able to match up to them.

14) The dream role...

My references here won’t be from the world of films so much as literature. Srilal Shukla’s characters, [Phanishwar Nath] Renuji’s Mare Gaye Gulfam that has already been made into Teesri Kasam.

15) If you were not an actor...

I may have gotten into politics [he was into student politics for a while in Bihar]. Perhaps not. Because truth has become secondary in politics now. Rasoiya ya khansama hota (I would have been a chef). On a day off I can spend hours in the kitchen without getting hassled or irritated. Cooking food is like creating a character. Or I would have been a musician. I feel all these crafts are similar. There are notes in music that have to be in a certain pattern. Similarly, in cooking the spices and ingredients have to be used in the right proportion; have to be roasted for just the right amount of time. Acting is about the right measure of emotions. I love cutting and chopping vegetables. Slicing onions finely feels like creating a refined character.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 2:15:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/acting-is-like-a-journey-into-unexplored-terrain/article19715919.ece

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