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Interview Hindi

Characters are bigger than actors, says Pankaj Tripathi

The artiste plays a selfless village headman in Srijit Mukherji's recently released satire Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga.

Roushni Sarkar

Actor Pankaj Tripathi plays a village headman Gangaram in Srijit Mukherji’s upcoming Hindi film Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga, which is inspired by an actual incident. The social satire revolves around the character's decision to sacrifice his life so that his villagers can receive the compensation that victims of tigers are entitled to.

Also starring Neeraj Kabi and Sayani Gupta, the film primarily addresses the issue of man-animal conflict.

Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga review – Pankaj Tripathi leads this interesting satire

Ahead of the film's theatrical release on 24 June, Tripathi revealed how his experience of living in a village for years helped him get into the skin of Gangaram in a group interview. The actor also shared fond memories of shooting in the forest and cooking for the filmmaker and spoke about some of his aspirations.

According to the director, the film is a social satire. What is your take on this approach?

The real incident is quite tragic. We can tell stories either with a stark cinematic depiction or in an entertaining and satirical way. Satire has a lot of impact after providing immediate comic relief. A man going to die on his own cannot be funny!

Gangaram considers himself to be the village headman. He is a simple man with a lot of passion to sacrifice his life for a greater cause. Neeraj Kabi and Sayani Gupta both have important roles to play in the film and they are brilliant actors. There are twenty to twenty-five amateur actors and village people, who will appear in a film for the first time as well.

Srijit Da had a young team and all put an amazing collective effort into the film.

How was the experience of shooting the film in the forest?

Both Srijit Da and I love forests and it was fun to spend our days there. It was so peaceful. We used to set out early in the morning and would go about shooting for the entire day in different locations, according to the sunlight. Srijit Da rather found a beautiful place in an old tea estate in North Bengal. I would like to go for a vacation there someday. We have beautiful memories attached to the place.

The film is inspired by a real incident. How connected do you feel to the story?

See, I have spent half my life in villages, and I am quite familiar with the harsh realities of rural life. I have experienced the conflict addressed in the film up close. Yes, we did not have wild animals frequenting our village in Bihar, but we used to have trouble because of nilgai. I didn’t have to read about this issue in newspapers to prepare for the role; I have faced it myself.

Did any of Gangaram's traits rub off on you?

As actors we contribute to characters and the characters affect us too. I think after working in the film, I have grown much more sensitive to issues related to nature and the environment.

You have created your own brand in the past few years. Do you feel any kind of pressure to live up to expectations?

See, actors do not do magic. That credit should solely go to the script and the stories. Characters are bigger than actors. I am nothing in front of Gangaram. I can hardly ever think of making the same sacrifice for the sake of my fellow villagers.

You are known for your prowess in the kitchen. Did you whip something up for Srijit Mukherji while working in the film?

Yes, I cooked for him quite a few times. Food was an important part of our shooting schedule. We used to get very good food, which is rare in the catering service in Mumbai. We had many Bengali dishes, including aloo posto [potato in poppy seeds], chochori [a vegetable dish] and kosha mangsho [mutton curry].

Would you ever be interested to star in the biopic of an inspiring artiste from Bihar?

I come from Chhapra, the village from which the poet, playwright and actor Bhikhari Thakur belonged. I love his plays, including Bidesiya, Gabargichor and Beti Bichhuya, and I have acted in some of them too. Batohi, a play by Rishikesh Sulabh on Bhikhari Thakur has come out as well. Yes, if I ever get the opportunity, I would like to work on something associated with him. Also, I harbour the wish to make a good entertaining Bhojpuri film in the future.