‘Still nervous while facing the camera’

Veteran actor Pankaj Kapoor on his films, Indian cinema, and why he is still prefers a pen over keyboard

“I like the romance of the pen making its mark on the paper,” says Pankaj Kapoor as we are ushered into his office in Versova which is devoid of any latest gadgets. “When people see me writing, they advice me use an Ipad or a laptop as it is easier. I don’t belong to that world but I am trying to cope up and keep pace with it.” Dressed in casuals, he sips a cup tea and politely offers us refreshments as we sit for a quick chat about his upcoming film ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’. His directorial debut 'Mausam' may have failed to impress the audience but Pankaj Kapoor is still unfazed with the failure. "I think the film was 15 to 20 minutes longer for today's audience," he feels. At 60, the actor is choosy about the characters he portrays and is a self-acknowledged stickler for perfection. After graduating from the National School of Drama, Pankaj came to the limelight with Gandhi where he played Gandhi’s secretary Pyarelal and also dubbed for Ben Kingsley but it was Tarneja’s role in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro which made the audience and the critics take notice.

Despite his stellar performances in films like Mandi, Ek Doctor Ki Maut, Maqbool and the awards these films have drawn, Kapoor has always shied away from the limelight, preferring his work to speak for him instead. But unlike his other art house colleagues, Kapoor doesn’t mind being a part of a commercial cinema. “For me, the script and the character have to be rich enough for me to dig in and unravel the layers,” he says.

Excerpts from the interview:

When you consider a role, what excites you as an actor?

For me, the most important thing is that the story has to be exciting and how the character is placed in the story. Also, the character should be challenging enough to bring out the best in me as an actor.

In terms of fleshing out a character -- his nuances, his eccentricities -- how much of it is actually down to the script and how much is down to improvisation?

Primarily, it is the script which is the bible for an actor but there are times when the director expects you to improvise on certain things. As an actor, you naturally improvise while reading the script and you draw the attention of your director to certain things to make the character richer. But you leave the decision to the director and the writer.
Pics: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

Which has been your most challenging role till date and what kind of preparation went into it?

Every role is challenging and whenever you play any character, a fresh role is a fresh role. So there is a sense of discovery as to where he comes from, what does he do and thus begins the journey for an actor. In ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’, I am playing an alcoholic while in real life I am teetotaler in real life. I don’t go to discs and night clubs and dance but here, I am supposed to dance and sing. I have done these when I was a young boy and lately at my age, one has not indulged in those kind of sequences. So these were fresh set of external challenges as a part of the character I was to play.

But when you do a Blue Umbrella or Maqbool and you’re talking in a voice or an accent that isn’t your own, does that need a significantly different approach?

First of all, you have to have the knowledge about the character and the next thing is to rehearse and rehearse till you get it right.
Pics: Cast promotes Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

Which has been your most challenging role till date and what kind of preparation went into it?

It is difficult to point out because for me each role is different. For me it is a difficult proposition to point out which was the most challenging. I would like my audiences to know me for the body of work I have done as an actor. Everyday, I wake up and think what do I do next but I know that I have not done enough. There is so much more that is still left to do. I am looking forward to discovering the lives of people I would play and translate them into performance.

You have tried your hand in big screen and small. Which was more satisfying?

If it is a good project, whether it is theatre, films or television, it can be equally satisfying. Apart from the rehearsals, in theatre, there is an excitement of live performance and instant gratification and immediate response is intoxicating. In cinema and television, the response is not that immediate but the amount of hard work needed for each medium is the same.
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Have you ever been unsure when you're on the set? What's your level of confidence versus insecurity and doubt?

I am nervous like hell. I am extremely nervous during the first few days and it takes me few days to get used to the director and the set. I have done two films with Vishal and am comfortable working with him. Despite that, whenever you are approaching a new role, you need to find your feet because unlike theatre, you haven’t rehearsed with the rest of the team for a month while you are trying to discover the character. I depend a lot on the script because I feel that whatever the writer has written and the director has accepted is what will provide me with all the information. It is a matter of how deep can you dig into your character and the layers you can uncover which will leave the audience satisfied. For me, acting is like painting a miniature, the closer you get, the clearer the strokes are. Similarly for an actor, the god lies in the detailing.

Is there any role which has stayed with you even after you have stopped shooting?

It might have happened during the theatre days but as I graduated to films and television I learned how to move on.

Television has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Do you think the medium now is not as progressive as films?

There has been a kind of role reversal. If you look back, the television in 80s and 90s was fantastic. Today’s television is like 70-80s  South Indian cinema in terms of dressing and dialogues whereas in cinema, there is a wave of experimentation in terms of subject and story telling. It is sad that the medium like television is not used to its optimum level.

Earlier a film entering silver and golden jubilee was a big deal. Despite the 100 crore club , do you think the charm is lost?

The times have changed. Earlier, when we used to talk about Silver Jubilee, it meant the same thing in terms of box-office result. But in society and in life, historically things are going to change but the romance of the old will always stay. There will be a certain section who will always feel that the beauty cannot be replaced by anything other than the one that existed.There use to be romance in writing letters now we have email. Change is constant.

Making of 'Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola'Here's a sneak peek at all the action during the making of 'Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola'