An actor par excellence, Pankaj Kapoor has been around since the early days of soaps and comedy shows on television in the country. Generations who have grown on Karamchand and Zabaan Sambhaal Ke are still hooked on his Office Office, currently running on Sabe TV.
Although largely identified with comedy, the hugely talented actor has regularly shunned mainstream cinema for fear of being slotted. He is choosy about the characters he has to portray and is a self-acknowledged stickler for perfection. Despite his stellar performances and the awards these have drawn, Kapoor has always shied away from the limelight, preferring his work to speak for him instead. Hetal Adesara spent time with Kapoor between shoots to find out what makes the actor tick. Excerpts -
What brought you to acting ?
I completed my engineering course in 1973 where I topped my college before joining the National School of Drama and bagging the 'Best Actor Award' in 1976. I did theatre for four years till a point when Gandhi came my way. I was to play Gandhiji's second secretary in the movie and my character was called Pyarelal. In the same movie I also dubbed for Ben Kingsley. I have worked in over 74 plays and a score of movies and television serials. As a director, I have serials and plays like Mohandas B.A.L.L.B, Wah Bhai Wah, Sahabji Biwiji Ghulamji and Drishtanth, Kanak Di Balli, Albert's Bridge and Panchvan Savaar to my name.
Are you a method actor or do you go by your instincts?
In our country, people do not understand the term "method actor" and they don't know much about it. In India, actors who wanted to find out more about the characters they were going to play were termed as method actors! This is a completely wrong way of looking at it. Every actor has a way of working. Those actors who speak only the lines given to them are surface performers who by a stroke of good luck have become successful. Actually, the term method actor comes from a book An Actor Prepares written by a Russian actor-director Stanis Lewesky, in which he writes about how he prepares for a part and that is what is called method acting. In our country people use this term very loosely.
"I believe in projecting people as they are and not presenting a fantasized version of human beings"
You've tried your hand at parallel cinema and after that small screen serials like- 'Karamchand', 'Zabaan Sambhaal Ke', 'Philips Top 10' and 'Office Office' - all comedies. Was this intentional?
It wasn't intentional. Apart from doing comedies, I have also done a lot of different roles. I thought I might get slaughtered in main line cinema. I might have had to do roles of a villain, an uncle or the typical typecast roles, which I did not want to do. In a serial called Kab Tak Pukaroon, I had a very serious role. It was about the life of one man and went on for 26 episodes on Doordarshan.
At that point in time, it was rated the second best serial. Then I have played characters like Phatichar. The story line was very good, but unfortunately it did not run for too long. Then I did a serial called Lifeline with Vijaya Mehta in which I played the character of a guy who was an MBA returned from London. Then came Zabaan Sambhal Ke, which was very popular. In my own opinion, the character I played in Neem Ka Ped was one of my best performances on television. Then I also did Mohandas B.A.L.L.B, which was a serious detective serial. But maybe most of the roles I have played of late have been comical because the common man relates to comedies more easily.
How do you plan your schedules? How many days in a month do you shoot?
I usually do one serial at a time. On an average, I work around 20 days a month. This is intentional, as I don't want to do too much at one time.
Due you ever suffer a burnout due to your hectic schedule?
Television is very taxing. We work one and a half shifts a day and the conditions that we work in are not very good, so I do feel tired at the end of the day but since I don't take too much of work at one time, it's not that bad!
Which has been your most challenging role till date and what kind of preparation went into it?
For an actor, each role that he is given is challenging. For me, I think the character I played in the serial Neem Ka Ped has by far been the most challenging role of my career. Also, the characters I played in the movies Raat, Rui Ka Boj and Ek Doctor Ki Maut have been very tedious and difficult. All these roles require the actor's understanding of the characters he is playing and there is no set method of enacting them.
Acting according to me is "selective realism" because you coincide the life of a character and portray it on stage. The characters you play have to be believable and communicable. Whatever analysis I have achieved in life is what I bring together to put into the part that I am going to play.
At present, apart from 'Office Office', what other projects are you doing?
At present I'm working on a serial called Duniya, which is produced by Rajiv Mehra and directed by Shrikant Sharma.
While the saas bahu sagas are ruling the TRPs, why do you think 'Office Office' is being rated the most successful show on Sabe TV?
Everyone can relate to the situations that have been shown in Office Office, especially the common man. After a long day's work when one comes back home, this humour appeals to the masses more than the family dramas. The simple fact that the character of Mussadilal is the representative of the common man. The audience relates to this character and everyone sees himself as this character.
"Acting according to me is "selective realism" because you coincide the life of a character and portray it on stage"
What are the natural instincts required of a successful actor?
Actually all of us are actors and we tend to act in our daily lives. One should have the ability to refine and apply the ability on stage. An actor should have a modulated speech, a well-read mind, and a good sense of humour, a good voice and a good body. An actor should put in a bit of intelligence in what he is doing and feel responsible to the audience. Acting is not just about fame and money, they just come with it. There is no parameter to the ability to act; if one can become a passable actor it is enough.
What goes into enacting a character? How easy or difficult is it to act?
It is very difficult to act well but it's easy just to act! A lot goes into enacting a particular character. There has to be an approach of completeness and an actor has to be aware of what acting is all about. There is a whole lot of research that needs to be done before one takes up a role but sadly nowadays directors are not asking for intensive research which is really bad and that's the reason why sometimes performances by actors don't do justification to the characters they are playing.
It is said that doing comedy is very difficult. Is this true?
It is very difficult to do comedy. To make an audience laugh at your antics is a difficult task. One has to be exceptionally good at what he is doing to get a favourable response from the viewer.
What do you look for in a script?
It should be a well-told sensible story and there should be a good part in it for me to play. The director is also very important. There should be something new in the content that the director has to offer.
How would you describe yourself?
As a person I am short and half-bald!!!! I am also a bit stubborn as far as the kind of work I have to do. I am a stickler for an attempt towards perfection.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself as an actor?
I would say five or six. There is still so much to learn.
What is your dream role?
There is no specific role that I have in my mind as a dream role. I would like to play different kinds of people. I believe in projecting people as they are and not presenting a fantasized version of human beings.
How do you perceive the television industry as a medium?
It is a great medium but unfortunately since the last couple of years what is being show on television has appalling content and is very mediocre. Television has been converted into a dwarf brother of the hard-core commercial cinema. It is a version of a pale kind of bad commercial cinema.When you're not working, what do you do?
When I'm not working I am holidaying and spending time with my family. I like writing so I also spend a lot of time writing scripts.Doesn't television acting become monotonous and tedious beyond a point?
It does tend to get monotonous after a while. Some kinds of curbs should be kept so that a serial goes only up to a particular number of episodes. This would help in television serials not becoming monotonous for the audience as well as for the actor.What is your advice to aspiring actors?
(Laughs) I am one myself!!!! It is my humble request and not advice to aspiring actors that they should not take on anything just because of the fame and money involved. They should feel responsible for the society and not merely be copycats. Aspiring actors should do something original that would bring out the best in them. One should not copy the success of others. If people can do that, a lot of good actors would come about in India, which will give us some placement in the world of cinema and acting!