Pankaj Tripathi lays bare a 'dead' man's plight in 'Kaagaz'
The film highlights the tricky importance of official papers in modern life.
Pankaj Tripathi has truly come a long way since his Bollywood debut in 2004’s Run. An actor whose range and artistic brilliance have shone through in whatever part he took on, whether it was a mysterious ‘Godman’ in Sacred Games, a mafia boss in Mirzapur, or even a South Indian superstar in Shakeela, Pankaj is now at a stage in his career where critical acclaim as well as fan adoration are at their peak.
So where does he go from here? Only uphill, we concluded over a Zoom call with the Gunjan Saxena actor, who made us realise that while appreciative of all the plaudits coming his way, he is someone who remains extremely humble and down-to-earth, radiating a simplicity and positivity that you can’t help but admire.
Perhaps it is these qualities that make him portray a common man with so much conviction in his first release of 2021, Kaagaz. Based on the true story of Lal Bihari, an Indian farmer and activist who, after being declared officially ‘dead’, battled bureaucracy for almost two decades in order to prove his existence, the film, directed by Satish Kaushik, is streaming now on ZEE5. Pankaj revealed he was happy with the initial response to Kaagaz and the fact that it was relatable to people of different backgrounds. “I feel very good. It’s being liked a lot here in India. This is perhaps my first film that was reviewed by so many different people; on YouTube there are reviews in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese, Bengali, Oriya, and other languages...people are watching it and doing their own reviews!”
While Kaagaz has received mixed reactions from critics, praise for Pankaj’s performance seems to be unanimous. When asked why he took on this role, the actor said he felt the story was an “important” one that “needed to reach people”.
“It’s the story of Lal Bihari, whose death certificate was made despite him still being alive. He fought a battle for many years to prove that he was not dead. In the course of that struggle there were many dramatic events, for example, he fought an election, that too from Rajiv Gandhi’s constituency, he organised his own ‘funeral’ rally.”
Pankaj believes the film showcases the value of ‘kaagaz’ (papers) and how without a particular document (or with the wrong one) you could land yourself in a soup. “This is the case not only in India but around the world. There is a poem at the end of the film that says ‘in the whole world, the fight is about papers’. Papers are important everywhere. For example, you reach immigration and if your visa is not completely correct then you will not be allowed to enter that country. So in this modern age, in a democracy, the use of papers and their role is huge. And that is what the film says, that sometimes a paper becomes bigger and more important than a person!”
Pankaj remarked (jokingly, perhaps?) that he was attracted to the film also because it was a ‘lead’ role. “Before this no one gave me a lead role. But for me, every role however small, is a lead role. Plus I felt this was a perfect opportunity to showcase my craft.”
Kaagaz is produced by Salman Khan Films, which is a solid backing for any actor. Pankaj said he was thankful for the superstar’s support. “He is a very popular actor with a really strong fan following and his films make big money at the box office. People love him a lot. I’ve only met him once for about five minutes, then last week we met again. So I don’t really have any personal connection with him. I wouldn’t say we are friends or meet often but I am very thankful to him and Satish Kaushik, who has been wanting to make this film for the past 15 years and it finally got made, that they gave me this opportunity back in 2018, when Salman liked the story and decided to come on board to make the film. He is to me what he is to you and to fans, a popular star.”
Citing Irrfan Khan and fellow Bihari actor Manoj Bajpayee as major influences in his acting journey, Pankaj joked that if Bajpayee, who hailed from his neck of the woods could become ‘Bhiku Mhatre’ (an iconic gangster from hit 1998 crime drama Satya), then he could do something big too.
“I was a fan of Irrfan Khan and he inspired me to do something different with my craft. And as far as coming to Mumbai is concerned, it was Manoj Bajpayee who inspired me. I felt that if this guy from across the river where I stay can do this then so can I!”
Pankaj, who had a successful 2020, hopes for the best in 2021, not only for himself but everyone. “I hope things get better, not only for me but the whole world, and the pandemic ends. I have two great films that will release this year, ’83 and Mimi, both of which portray me in a very different light.”
He concluded with a message for his fans in the UAE. “I would like to send a lot of love to all of them. I get a lot of messages from Dubai fans, many of whom are from my district in India. Happy New Year and please keep watching; I will continue to entertain you genuinely and with sincerity and along with entertainment I will also convey some important messages!”