Everything Pankaj Tripathi touches turns to gold. The versatile actor has explored the entire gamut of characters, from a progressive small-town father in Bareilly ki Barfi to a spine-chilling bad guy in Mirzapur. He speaks about his travel dreams, hospitality stint, and biggest critic. By Sumeet Keswani
From Gangs of Wasseypur to Mirzapur and now Ludo, how has the bad guy in you evolved? What’s your process of getting into character?
I approach every character afresh. There is no formula. Formulas belong in science, not art. Also, there aren’t positive and negative characters for me. We all live in grey areas. In fact, I expect some positivity even from my most negative characters. I have evolved the same way a traveller does. Novice travellers go to the popular spots in the most visited destinations. But experienced ones choose to explore the interiors.
What does travel mean to you?
I originally took up acting only so that I could travel! In the films of yesteryear, even if the story was based in India, a song or two would be shot in exotic locations like Switzerland. I came to cinema for those locations! I’m a hardcore traveller. I want to see the world.
You also had a brief stint in hospitality before entering NSD, didn’t you?
Between 1998 and 1999, I was a trainee cook in the kitchens of Hotel Maurya, Patna—and later, the kitchen supervisor. That was also the first place where I saw famous cinema personalities, like Manoj Bajpayee and Pankaj Udhas. I used to peek at them from a small window of the kitchen. I still visit that hotel to meet my friends in the kitchen.
What does your family think of your work?
My wife sees all of it; she is my biggest critic! However, back in my native village [Belsand in Bihar], my parents don’t own a TV set and they don’t want one. People show them certain scenes on a laptop or mobile phone. But they don’t have any interest in cinema.
Do you tap into your farming, hospitality, and other career stints in acting?
All of your experiences add up. For instance, acting is like cooking. Just like the measurements of ingredients, you have to know the right proportion of emotions in acting. Farming teaches you to sow seeds in favourable conditions and then wait for six months. My struggle in Mumbai was a long wait too—it took 10 years after sowing the first seeds. Similarly, student politics in college gave me speech training, and sports trained me physically. In fact, everything I’ve done in life has been preparation for acting.
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Most memorable holiday
Spending a moonlit night at the Rann of Kutch with my wife and daughter around seven years ago.
In India, I want to visit Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, the interiors of Uttarakhand, and more of Kerala, Rajasthan, and the Northeast. Abroad, I’d love to visit Athens, Greece.
Favourite travel writer
A show that inspired you to travel
Outlander (Netflix) inspired my wife. So, we holidayed in the Scottish Highlands.
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