I simply had to be myself for ‘Kadak Singh’: Pankaj Tripathi

It so happens that when one is speaking to Pankaj Tripathi, be it over the phone or in person, one is bound to feel as if it is his character who is talking. The resemblance between his off-screen personality and on-screen characters is so strong that one often ends up talking to the actor through the lens of the characters he portrays.

In his latest, Kadak Singh which airs on ZEE5 on December 8, Tripathi admits that his character as Kadak Singh, is the closest one will come to see him being himself, that is, Singh is so much Tripathi himself, in the way he talks, walks, gesticulates and flashes that shy, side grin, so typical of the man himself.

“I really didn’t have to do much so as to get into Kadak Singh’s shoes. I simply had to be myself and the camera roll. This is the first such film that portrays my character as being closest to me,” said Tripathi in an interview to THE WEEK ahead of the release.

The actor is a busy man as of now, given his next, Main Atal Hoon, a biographical drama based on the life and times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is also releasing soon. Ask him about it and Tripathi’s soft and mellow voice turns spirited and peppy.

“I think it is a privilege to portray the eminent Vajpayee on screen. I have grown up watching his political rallies, which were the only political rallies I ever attended in person back in my hometown of Bihar,” he said. Prod him further and he enthusiastically recites one of Vajpayee’s very famous poems over the phone, ‘Geet naya gaata hoon.’

Over the course of almost half an hour of our conversation, Tripathi talks about his veneration of the man whose shoes he wears on the big screen and about who he’s been reading about a lot, lately. “I have his books of poems at my home and I’ve read them over and over again,” he says, delightfully. Does he also believe in his politics and principles? “Well, that is a discussion for another time,” he says steering the conversation back to Kadak Singh.

National award-winning director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Kadak Singh—a crime thriller cum family drama cum love story has Tripathi playing an investigating officer A.K. Shrivastav who suffers from retrograde amnesia. Lying on a hospital bed in full consciousness, he struggles to recall his identity as a father, an investigator and a lover, trying to come as close to the truth as possible. Helping him is his daughter (Sanjana Sanghi) who takes it upon her to help him recall his life before the accident that impaired his memory.

During the ongoing 54th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), the makers had launched the trailer of the film at the opening ceremony, along with the world premiere of Kadak Singh, under ‘Gala Premiere’ category, ahead of its release. Tripathi was teary-eyed when he watched the film for the first time from the start to the finish.

However, after having watched the film’s screeners, one is bound to feel that although the plot is striking and different, the screenplay is rather slow; making it challenging for the viewer to remain with the story. Soon after the film begins, it is natural to feel that watching Kadak Singh might be the equivalent of listening to a lullaby that helps you fall asleep.

However, Tripathi defends the slow pace of the film as something that is both, “essential” and “thoughtful” and also, an aspect he had little control over as an actor.

“My job is to act and perform. The scripting, screenplay, direction and production is in somebody else’s hands and I am far from it,” he says.

“I have myself been striving to life a slow life, to really channelise my energies towards slow living. And in that sense sometimes it is essential to watch a slow paced movie in order to enjoy it to the fullest and take back maximum joy from it,” he says.

But just how does one hope to live life in the slow lane, when juggling over seven to eight projects simultaneously back to back? Some of his forthcoming projects include Main Atal Hoon, Gulkanda Tales, Stree 2, Mirzapur 3, Metro in Dino, Murder Mubarak and Criminal Justice 4. “I’m trying to find my own pace. Soon, I will streamline it all and take up less work in the coming years.

Sometimes, when you’re really hungry, you tend to overeat. I didn’t even realise when I became so busy, but I realise that one cannot and should not be working 365 days a year. I want to slow down now,” says the national award winning actor who was most recently seen in Mimi with Kriti Sanon and OMG 2 with Akshay Kumar.

The first time Tripathi saw a professional camera in operation was on the set of Kannada film Chigurida Kanasu (2003). The 26-year-old National School of Drama (NSD) graduate played a cameo as the hero’s friend. A year later, he came to Mumbai with his wife, Mridula,looking for work. In an industry where everyone has a story of struggle to offer,Tripathi talks about his with wit and wordplay, acknowledging fortunate strokes of serendipity. Upon arriving in Mumbai, he noticed that “the doors to the Who’s Who would not open easily”.

So, Tripathi formulated what he calls his “ingenious access trope”. He would gently tell the security guard outside a studio that he had been sent in by “Ishwarji” to meet the assistant director. Soon the trick started working. While conversing with the person that he got to meet, if he is asked who Ishwarji was, Tripathi would smile and point up, saying that he was referring to God. With an unwavering belief in his craft and a strong determination to succeed, Tripathi made inroads as an outsider.

We meet for the interview of Kadak Singh, after a gap of a few months, but Tripathi recalls our last conversation instantly. We had met at his residence in Mudh Island, at a time, when he would travel from Versova to the Film City in Goregaon, everyday for shoots. Ever since he played Sultan in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2013), after “hanging around with nothing for nearly a decade”, Tripathi has gone on to become a celebrated actor.

Besides his fans, memers love him, too. His characters are a regular in reaction GIFs and memes on social media. “Because of OTT service, I have been able to consolidate my reach within India and overseas, which would not have been possible through mainstream cinema,” he says.