Voices Anirban Ganguly Sathya Saran Anand Neelakantan Anuja Chandramouli Amar Bhushan Mata Amritanandamayi Buffet MAGAZINE People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI december 6 2020 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Primary Character Pankaj Tripathi is the star among a new wave of actors who bring with them the experience and essence of India’s reality, reducing the distance from the Bollywood bubble and signalling the rise of a less self-referential storytelling By Kaveree Bamzai W hen luck suck everyone f*ck, says Pankaj Tripathi aka Sattu Bhaiya in the colourful Ludo on Netflix. Well, there’s nothing wrong with Pankaj Tripathi’s luck. He’s had an exceptional year even by his own recent standards. A role in Netflix’s global action film Extraction, based in India but shot in Bangladesh; important parts in Gul Makai, Angrezi Medium, Gunjan Saxena, Ludo, as well as the yet-to-be-released 83; and a much-appreciated return as the fierce but mostly silent strong man of Mirzapur, Kaleen Bhaiya. Despite the lockdown, the next year looks equally busy with Mimi, Kaagaz and Romeo. , About time too. Tripathi, 44, has been in training for stardom for several years, beginning with a, by now, well-publicised hotel management degree from Institute of Hotel Management, Hajipur; a two-year stint as chef in Maurya, Patna; almost a year as a shoe wholesaler; and then finally a coveted diploma from the National School of Drama (NSD). Along with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, his older colleague from NSD, he is part of a group of character actors who have made it from the margins to the mainstream, going from roles as hero’s best friend and heroine’s uncle, to parallel leads. Once used as garnishing for typical Bollywood entertainers, they have gradually taken over the plot, leading from the front, rather than wilting by the sidelines. With websites dedicating entire segments to his best dialogues and finest scenes, the little boy from Belsand in Gopalganj has become the king of Bollywood’s scene-stealers. The democratisation of talent mirrors the diversity of ethnicities and accents in Mumbai cinema, the stories they tell, as well as the talent behind the scenes. Actors and performers from smalltown north India, the hinterland, are increasingly finding a place onscreen. The industry itself, notes film scholar from the University of Hyderabad, Hrishikesh Ingle, has become embedded in popular culture. Earlier, he says, access to the actor’s screen persona was limited to the local cinema hall, film posters, and magazines/newspapers. But since the 2000s, the performance of an actor is broadcast in multiple ways, from conventional theatre screens, to streaming services, to advertisements, to events, and to social media. This has led to the increasing demand from the film industry for actors who can provide a certain local authenticity especial, ly for the north Indian spaces depicted in films. This is also a kind of stereotyping, but Tripathi, Siddiqui, Manoj Bajpayee, who broke through before them in Satya (1998), Piyush Mishra and Richa Chadha, are actors who have an unmistakable connection with the local. They have this characteristic performative ability to fit into serious, witty or , specific roles quite easily . The stereotyping is also a factor in screenwriters developing moments that are sarcastic when spoken or performed with a regional flair. This is a spatial fix, points out Ingle, which was also observed in the 1970s, when actors like Om Puri could evoke a special sense and smell of the earth. EXPANDING ROLES The minor characters with their local quirks and regional eccentricities have attracted audience attention and expanded in scope as a result. It happened with Siddiqui. He began as a minor character actor in movies such as Peepli Live (2010) and slowly grew as he got more screen “It is not easy to get audiences to love you. It takes time, effort and hard work. But it is all too easy to get them to fall out of love.” Turn to page 2 Pankaj Tripathi, Actor Interview ‘Acting is like Cooking’ Pankaj Tripathi is almost as accomplished at his interviews as he is in his scripted roles. Each interview is a conversation full of knowledge, practical and literary, with the added advantage of humour. Here he talks to Kaveree Bamzai on the similarities between the work of a chef and an actor, and the forces that transported him from Belsand, Gopalganj, in Bihar, to stardom in Mumbai. What goes into making a character like the recent Sattu Bhaiya in Ludo? Trust between the director and actor. Given that I was playing an internalised gangster in Kaleen Bhaiya, I had to play Sattu Bhaiya as flamboyant. His dress—the leather jacket, kurta, dhoti, revolver tucked into his garter, and his song. It’s pretty much what Dada (Anurag Basu) imagined. Just as a chef I can decide to chop, dice and julienne the vegetables, I can vary the ingredients of acting required. But a lot of it has to do with the director. Until I watched Ludo, I didn’t even realise that Dada had a black and white colour scheme in mind for Sattu Bhaiya. When did you realise you’d become famous? After I’d done Gangs of Wasseypur, I remember going into the gym one day and meeting actor Gautam Rode. He told me I should go to every film production office now and just get in. I wasn’t on social media then. I didn’t have a smartphone and didn’ read trade papers either. It was only after I played Atma Ram in Newton in 2017 that producers started calling me. Between 2017 and 2019, I worked on auto-pilot, 340 days of the year. It takes a long time for the audience to be attracted to you but very little time for that aura to end. Do you enjoy your fame? Yes, I’m happy that people know me for my craft. It is humbling. What else are the ingredients of an actor? All the experiences he has had to the point he stands in front of the camera—all the literature he has read, the travelling he has done, the situations he has found himself in. You have to first live your life before you can live another’s. Doesn’t fame distance you from reality? No. I observe even my Labradors and how they behave. My wife recently replaced the sofas in our home, and there was something wrong with them. So I had a long conversation with my sofa mistri about it. Which actor in Bollywood do you think has a carpenter’s number on his speed dial?
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