Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How do you like Pankaj Tripathi

I remember seeing Pankaj Tripathi for the first time in Gangs of Wasseypur as Sultan; How can I ever forget Nawaz's immortal rendition of "Sultan, M***", with that quiver in his voice, long before Arjun Reddy made the cuss word mainstream. Anyway, I noticed Tripathi in that film, and we know he was very good because if he was anything but he'd have gotten more popular with the thrashing he'd be received on social media for ruining a film that had Manoj Bajpai, Richcha Chaddha and Nawazuddan Siddiqui giving the performance of their lives. He shone brightly but, sadly, everyone else was more eye-catching. The next time I remember seeing him was in Masaan. I must've seen a couple of his other minor performances in the interim, because that was the period when I was truly obsessed with all movies coming from that UP-Bihar, and he is the sort of guy who inevitably is in those movies like Deepak Dobriyal or, during a short period, Pitobash Tripathy.

I was spellbound by his character in Masaan. I didn't like the movie very much but I fell in love with his character. Not just because he vocalized a dream I had since I was a kid, and which I later built on a 27 Down scenario, of just getting in and out of trains, traveling across India with no destination in mind - "Bas train mein chadhenge aur jahaan mann kiya utar jaayenge." - but also because he'd found the essence of what I think of when I think of a middle-aged male government employee from UP and found things in that stereotype to turn it into a living, throbbing being. Sadhya Ji doesn't seem like an easy character to inhabit and I was awestruck by the ease with which he played this gentle, romantic man who may have fought with life at some point but now has completely given up.

JM Coetzee, in his review of VS Naipaul's Half a life, writes that the thing Naipaul hates so much about the India psyche is the fatalistic view of life. The quintessential Indian man, according to him, does not want to take responsibility for his own betterment, does not dream because then he'd have to work towards it and to validate his inactions has invented the most convoluted of explanations in Hindu philosophies. I see some truth in that analysis and I see it manifest in Sathya Ji's character. He proclaims grand truths and poetic visions and yet he lives an unfulfilling life, timid and afraid of life itself. I realize that the previous statement is quite a turn from the earlier statement of him being a "gentle, romantic man" and it is because its hard to pin down his intentions or feelings. When you live long enough away from the core of your being, it becomes hard for you to really remember what it is like to be genuine. Sathya Ji could've had his reasons and maybe he did the noble thing by choosing to live with his father and stay unmarried but atleast part of it was fuelled by his fear and lethargy. The morality he follows is top-down, tradition-oriented, right simply because its socially approved.

It is a compliment to Tripathi's acting that he manages to turn this weakling into a character you care about, sympathise with, maybe even grudgingly admire. Then a few weeks ago I saw him in Barreily ki Barfi, and really was excited to see his performance, but he hardly had an inspiring moment. I really liked how Seema Pahwa infused a bit of charm in her equally small role but that film belonged to Rajkumar Rao. Man, what an actor! BR wrote that Tripathi was excellent in Gurgaon but I won't watch it because the trailer put me off. Talking of trailers though, Sriram Raghavan's Andhadhun's trailer is outstanding.

Off to more movies.

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