Actor Pankaj Tripathi remembers the phone calls from his friends after they saw “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl”. As fathers to daughters, they were moved by the bond he shared with Janhvi Kapoor’s Gunjan in the movie.
Tripathi, a versatile performer who has played characters of all shades, loved playing Anup Saxena, a man who doesn’t believe that aspirations should be gendered.
“It’s a very important role in my career because the way I am or want to be as a father, the film represents that. ‘Mujhe gunda, mawali bana dete hai’ (I often get villainous roles). But playing Anup Saxena was close to what I am in real life with my daughter or aspire to be. I want the world to have more such fathers,” he told PTI in a Zoom interview.
“I remember when people who know me watched the film, they called me and told me, ‘Yaar, after seeing your film, I went home and hugged my daughter’. This solves my purpose,” Tripathi added.
The 43-year-old actor maybe more famous for his negative turns in movies such as “Gangs of Wasseypur”, “Gurgaon” and web series like “Mirzapur”, but he has also mastered the art of playing progressively uncomplicated men like Indian Railways employee Sadhya ji in “Masaan”, a math teacher in “Nil Battey Sannata”, and a doting father in “Bareilly Ki Barfi” and now in “Gunjan Saxena”.
Tripathi believes films can help make people aware about a good idea.
“I know that films don’t change people but films can put a thought in one’s mind and if you have that thought then maybe you will change a little. It is important to have that thought. I hope I have managed that in the film,” he added.
His co-star Janhvi shared that her father, producer Boney Kapoor, messaged Tripathi after watching the film.
“Boney ji sent me a message late in the night. He was very emotional after watching the film. He wrote, ‘You are a better father to Janhvi than me’. It touched me,” Tripathi said recalling the conversation between the real and reel fathers.
His dynamic with Janhvi’s Gunjan in the upcoming movie runs parallel to her aspiration to become a pilot, a dream that her father fuels despite opposition from his wife and son, who believe it to be job unfit for women.
The film is based on the life of Gunjan Saxena, then a flying officer, who became the first woman combat aviator to fly into a war zone during the 1999 Kargil War.
Tripathi credits Janhvi, 23, for putting in the hard work to become familiar with him and his family.
“She would call me ‘Sir, where are you? When do you finish shooting? Should I come?’ I would say, ‘Haan, aa jao. Poochhna kya?’ (Sure, why the formality?) She would be there eating with my family by the time I reached home. She spent five-six days and lived like a family member with my wife and daughter,” the actor said.
Tripathi said as professional actors they could have directly met on the set in Lucknow but with Janhvi going an extra mile to know him before the shoot changed their equation, making their scenes feel more natural.
Janhvi said she was just happy to learn from Tripathi.
“Gunjan ji looks up to her father and idolises him, this is how I idolise Pankaj ji. Even on the sets, I would watch him perform and seek his guidance. Basically, we had a similar relationship off camera,” she added.
Tripathi said he had become attached to Janhvi while working on the film, and if they do a film in future, he will have to reboot completely.
The actor said he trusted director Sharan Sharma a lot while working on the film, including in a crucial scene, the only one in the entire film when father and daughter have a conflict.
“I trusted Sharan a lot. I am a director’s actor. I tell every director ‘If something is not working, you have to tell me. Don’t think that I will mind it. I will change if you don’t like something in my performance’. I am glad the scene has been liked so much. I did not prepare for it. We did a rough take and then completed the shot,” he added.
Also starring Ayesha Raza Mishra, Vineet Kumar Singh, Manav Vij and Angad Bedi, “Gunjan Saxena” will start streaming on Netflix from August 12.
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