Pankaj Tripathi’s journey of becoming a film star 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.
Pankaj Tripathi is an actor who needs no introduction. He’s known to play characters with such nice ease, rarely raising his voice, yet dominating the scenes. He’s one of the actors who has mastered the subtle art of non-verbal communication. His performance is a portrait in the art of restraint. This man could recite the entirety of Mahabharat just by moving his neck.
During an actor’s round table interview, he was asked how does he act so effortlessly, to which he replied along the lines of, “When Animal Planet is shooting a documentary of a leopard, the leopard doesn’t know he’s being documented. He is being recorded in his natural habitat. I try to be that leopard in the movie.” Thank god he used the analogy of a leopard and not a blackbuck. Or else his career would’ve ended even before starting or as Circuit says it “Bhai, yeh toh shuru hote hi khatam hogaya.”
In Class 12, he saw the play ‘Andha Kuan’ where the performance of the actor Pranita Jaiswal lead him to shed tears. Tripathi took such a liking to theatre, he used to religiously cycle his way to watch all stage performances held in Patna from 1994-95. By 1996, he found himself on the opposite side – he was no more the audience, he became the artist. He moved for higher studies to Patna, where his life eventually took a turn.
“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.”
After eight years of him making fleeting appearances in several films, he finally gained prominence with Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ in 2012, the movie which holds 50% of Indian memes (In tie with Hera Pheri). This modern-day cult classic changed the actor’s life, it gave him the much-needed credibility as an actor. He went on to star in movies such as Stree, Newton, Super 30 among many others and recently in web series such as Sacred Games, Mirzapur and Criminal Justice.
One of my most favourite stories of Pankaj Tripathi is from his struggling days when he used to give a lot of auditions for work.
As a National School of Drama graduate, Pankaj would walk into random casting offices with his photos for auditions. When Asked for a reference, and he would say, “Ishwar Ji (god)”.
“The maker of all and the ultimate reference – God. I never had any reference and I knew nobody. After a few disappointments, I realised no one cross-verifies references. It was an informal norm that people held on to, for longer than they should have. I decided to take Ishwar’s name and much to my surprise I started getting roles!” Pankaj said.
Pankaj still believes it was God who led him into the industry.
“It was years before anyone could spot my bluff and by then I had already done a few memorable scenes. I still believe it’s God who led me to this industry. I am not even remotely from the film world. I had no reference and I knew nobody. But doors kept opening for me like the universe was conspiring to make things happen,” he added.
“It has been a dream journey so far and I will eternally be grateful to God. If anyone asks me now for a reference, I’ll say Ishwar Ji in a heartbeat. It always works!” he said
In an industry that is notoriously toxic and is a cesspool of controversies, Tripathi has stood out for his unproblematic nature and, most importantly, his craft. There are only a handful of actors who own every role they’re offered, the way he does. Even Hollywood couldn’t stop itself from savouring some of this man’s talent. It is extremely difficult to find a man as self-aware and humble as Pankaj Tripathi because he is that rare, simple and sincere human being who really deserves all the love and appreciation that comes his way. His acting prowess is the icing on the cake. The actor embodies good vibes to such an extent that even when he spouts the coarsest of abuses — especially as Kaleen Bhaiya — they feel like music to our ears. He truly is a national treasure that must be protected at all costs.