A graduate of the National School of Drama, Pankaj Tripathi’s acting career began with commercials. He found his way into a few television soaps before he bagging his breakout role in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). He then went on to establish himself as a streaming star with shows like and . Whether it’s a comedy or a tragic drama, Tripathi is an actor who brings sensitivity and nuance to his performances. Here are five films that give you a sense of his gift.
Of family feuds and gang wars, the film was the turning point in Tripathi’s career, earning him fame and recognition. His Sultan Qureshi is a butcher by profession and a henchman by choice. After his reign over Wasseypur ends with Sardar Khan’s arrival, Sultan makes it his life’s motive to kill Sardar. Tripathi was pure vindictiveness and the conviction with which he played the role showed him to be an actor who was confident enough of his skills to play a really bad guy.
In Masaan, Tripathi plays the role of Sadhyaji, a man who works for the Indian Railways and lives with his father. He’s Devi’s (Richa Chadha) colleague and someone with whom she forges an unexpected friendship. The two of them find solace in shared tiffins and stories, both trapped in a town where 28 trains halt and 64 don’t. “Yaha aana aasan hai, yaha se jaana mushkil hai (It is easy to get here, but difficult to leave),” Sadhyaji says during lunch. There’s a simplicity to Sadhyaji that is charming along with hidden reserves of strength that we glimpse when he hides his dissatisfaction with the world behind a small smile.
Directed by Amit Masurkar, the film’s protagonist is Rajkummar Rao who plays the role of a government official sent to a volatile region on election duty. Initially, Tripathi as Assistant Commandant Aatma Singh, who is responsible for Newton and his team’s safety, seems almost like Newton’s adversary. Singh is bitter with disillusionment and his cynicism is a stark contrast to Newton’s idealism. Ultimately, Tripathi has a redemption arc, but more importantly, despite only a few scenes worth of screen time, his is one of the most enjoyable performances in the film.
Inspired by Indian Air Force pilot Gunjan Saxena, this film has Tripathi playing the role of Anup Saxena, Gunjan’s father. Anup always roots for his daughter and is the kind of father everyone would want in their life. Tripathi plays the part with unwavering sincerity, elevating a supporting role to feel central. The reassurance he gives Gunjan is key to her remaining determined to pursue her dreams. If Anup’s support for Gunjan holds a mirror up to those who evaluate people by their gender, it’s Tripathi’s performance that makes Anup charismatic. Plus, his monologues are great pick-me-ups for a rainy day.
In this Laxman Utekar film, the titular character (Kriti Sanon) is brought a proposition by Bhanu (Pankaj Tripathi), a taxi driver who tells her that an American couple is willing to pay her Rs. 20 lakhs to carry their child to term. Tripathi performs a balancing act, transforming from an astute businessman to an unlikely friend. He’s the kind of man who sees motherhood and pregnancy as a divine miracle. At one point, he even tells Mimi that if he could, he would be a mother. The actor adds dynamism and complexity to a role that could easily have felt flat and unconvincing.