From Gangs of Wasseypur to Mirzapur, from Run and Omkara to Ludo and most recent release Mimi, Pankaj Tripathi's journey from theatre to the big screen is astounding. He has become the go-to actor for many directors who are writing roles specifically for him.
Last year, the actor had back-to-back releases, and in fact, when the world was on a standstill, Tripathi continued to entertain the audience with his diverse projects, such as Mirzapur 2, Ludo, Extraction, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, and Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors.
The year 2021 began on a good note with the release of Satish Kaushik-directed Kaagaz, in which the actor played the lead role. Tripathi has several projects in the pipeline including Ranveer Singh-starrer '83, Bachchan Pandey and OMG 2 featuring Akshay Kumar, and Yashraj Film's Bunty Aur Babli 2 among others. Currently, Tripathi is shooting for a web series which is yet to be announced.
In Mimi, a comedy-drama which released on Netflix on 26 July, Tripathi plays a funny and witty man who introduces the idea of surrogacy to the lead protagonist (Kriti Sanon) and also becomes her support as things go awry.
Excerpts from a chat with the versatile actor:
What made you say yes to Mimi ? How is your character different from the other characters you have portrayed so far?
The demand for the role was different. The emotional scenes were difficult to perform because I usually control my performance to make it look more realistic. I used to hold myself back in emotional scenes in order to look believable and be realistic. So here I have done an experiment which people have not seen me do earlier. Let's see how the audience reacts to it. You will see a new Pankaj Tripathi in Mimi. The first reason to do the film was the director Laxman Utekar and working with producer Dinesh Vijan with whom I have had a successful association. Phir script kamaal ki thi (the script is superb). It revolves around a girl called Mimi and is about surrogacy. Mimi is wholesome entertainment. There is a message, it teaches you lessons of life, makes you laugh and cry.
Pankaj Tripathi in Mimi
You and Kriti seem to be forming a team after working in Bareilly Ki Barfi, Luka Chhupi, and earlier on in Arjun Patiala, Dilwale..
It becomes easier to work with the actor then, and Kriti and I have a great equation. It is fun working with her. When you see Mimi, you will not even realise that we once played father-daughter. It is a unique bond which is rarely seen in Hindi cinema. Kriti has done a great job. We will be seen together again in Bachchan Pandey.
You recently said that you shoot six to seven films and two to three web series every year. Don't you feel overworked, and isn't that feeling of burnout seeping in?
I must admit that I have reached that stage of burnout. I get tired of acting and sometimes I feel like taking a break for two to three months but then I have committed to so many projects. I try to make it interesting so that I don't get bored and the audience doesn't get bored. I keep searching for little elements, little moments and nuances to bring something interesting so that excitement remains. I usually get motivation, I have been trained in that when I was in theatre. While being entertaining the content should look truthful and meaningful and not unreal. Acting is a difficult job though it may look easy. On a personal front, there were moments where I felt that I needed to take a pause from work and rethink my journey; to assess if maybe I was working a bit too much. I also tried some self-discovery and exploration.
Pankaj Tripathi, Sai Tamhankar and Kriti Sanon
Don't you get stressed doing so many projects?
No, there is no stress about the work. The only stress I have is that I should get eight hours of sleep but I don't get enough sleep due to shoots. I have stress from getting up early in the morning, I need more rest. And due to lack of sleep I sometimes go mad, I get irritable. But I take up so many projects so that I can get other things in life easily. My main work is not acting, my main work is travelling, eating.. I like travelling and I get to do that through my films. Otherwise there is nothing else, no other motivation. I stay away from the city, I don't attend parties and I am not spotted anywhere. My pictures can be found only with those who I have done films with¦on the set or during promotions. Earlier, when I wanted people to invite me and I wanted to do some networking nobody called me then. I used to wait for phone calls. But now if I can get so much work and offers without networking then I don't need to do that (laughs). I live a quiet life. I just do my work and forget about it because then it is not in my hands. I don't worry about it and leave it to the audience.
For the last few years filmmakers have been focusing a lot on small town story-telling. Do you feel there is a risk of getting repetitive?
We have over 700 districts and so many villages and kasbe (towns) in India, so there are fewer chances of going wrong but the story has to be interesting. Yes, we will tell urban stories that are based abroad but we also need to tell stories that dig deep into the roots of our nation. So many stories have been told but there are thousands more waiting to be explored. But the problem with the Hindi film industry is that they start making formula films if a couple of stories in small towns work. Whatever has worked they keep repeating that. Obviously once it becomes formulaic it will be rejected by the audience. Film has to be good whether based in a village, or city, or London..Everything depends upon the audience, they will accept or reject.
How has your thought process in choosing a script changed now? There are many filmmakers queuing up to sign you..
I refuse scripts looking at the changing scenario, or if I don't find it very exciting. I also refuse if I find the writing low on sensitivity unless it is for pure entertainment purposes. I need to understand the intention. But if you are saying something important, you are giving a message then you have to do it with more sensitivity. In Mimi we are entertaining, making people laugh but at the same time we are not losing out on sensitivity. It is a very sincere film with the correct soul and it will also entertain.
How do you keep improving upon your craft? Do you do any riyaaz?
I don't do any riyaaz as such but I observe and see what's going on around me. Sometimes I read..it could be a new novel, stories, books... But you see, actors are very lazy people. We only observe people walking, watch their chaal dhal...body language and we feel our work is done and that too for free (laughs). It is people who are into music, dance.. who do a lot of riyaaz. So you can say that one group does riyaaz in the gym by lifting iron, and the other group just reads books, observes people and they are done (laughs out-loud).
Tell us something about your forthcoming films..
Kabir Khan's '83, it is a beautiful film and I will be seen in the role of Man Singh, manager of the 1983 World Cup-winning cricket team. It is an extremely interesting part. I play a very different character and I really enjoyed playing it. Bachchan Pandey is fun, it is a mazedaar film, I have a cameo in it. Then, there is one Yashraj's unannounced, untitled film, and OMG 2.
When OMG was released wa>ves of protest had erupted all over the country claiming the film was guilty of being disrespectful to religion. Do you fear any controversy again?
No, I don't have any fear because I am here only to act. Paramparik (traditional) ways have changed, so it is more important to become daha ke rahee. Anyways, it is really too early to say anything about this film.