• Thursday, June 13, 2024

Arts and Culture

Vinay Pathak: A man for all seasons

By: Asjad Nazir

Whether it is live theatre, film, television or the web space, Vinay Pathak has consistently shown that he is one of India’s finest performers.

That versatility has enabled the chameleon-like actor to effortlessly transform himself for roles in varied genres, be it comedy, high drama, and everything in between. Although he has added depth to major Bollywood blockbusters like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, he is perhaps at his best leading smaller independent films like mega-hit comedy Bheja Fry.

The many independent movies have perhaps given him one of the most varied and interesting body of works. He continues that with a key role in the new film Bhagwan Bharose, which has its world premiere at this year’s UK Asian Film Festival on Saturday (13). He is clearly passionate about the story of two village boys caught in a communal crossfire and trying to understand the world around them.

Eastern Eye caught up with the acclaimed actor to discuss his distinguished journey, Bhagwan Bharose, inspiration, secret of a great performance, the importance of supporting independent cinema and why he doesn’t have a dream role.

How would you reflect on your action-packed acting journey?

I don’t consider it action-packed at all. As a matter of fact, for me, it’s very smooth. It’s been 20-25 odd years as far as my acting journey is concerned, and it’s still going very smoothly. There’s no action. There are films and other work, including my theatre company I work and travel with. It has been smooth. I wouldn’t have
it any other way.

You’re a versatile actor who does comedy and serious drama equally effectively. But do you have a preferred genre?

It would be really unfair to say I only like doing comic or dramatic roles. Unfair in the sense that my attraction to my job is the story I like to tell. Whenever there is an interesting story, I just try to get on board that boat and tell that story, become a part of the journey of that story. For me as an actor, it’s how exciting the story is. And how could I be one of the storytellers?

Does the fact that everyone sees you as a really great actor ever put pressure on you?
(Laughs) I don’t know what review you’ve been reading, but thank you for the kind words. No, it doesn’t put pressure on me because such praises don’t reach me and if they do, I don’t take it too seriously because I also know my limitations. And I’d like to stay within that. I know that what people consider a success, but for me, success is getting to tell different kinds of stories in many different genres, and mediums. That’s why I still do theatre and TV if there’s something interesting. That is why I did this film Bhagwan Bharose. It’s a great story by a wonderful cinematic brain, my director Shiladitya Bora, who has weaved it into a film language, which is so exciting.

One thing that really defines you is your support of these small, hidden cinematic gems. How important is it for you to be part of films like this one?
It’s very important, but I’ll tell you why I do this. I think I get more out of it than anybody else. With a first-time director like Shiladitya Bora, they will always put 300 per cent in. But for me it’s the excitement of a new vision, a young team, and a film being envisioned by somebody who’s never made one before.

And you have worked with a lot of firsttime filmmakers…
Yes, actually if you look at my career till now, 80-90 per cent of my films have been with first time filmmakers and I love it. No complaints at all. Maybe with your media platform, I’d like to coax more new filmmakers to come my way and give me different stories to tell.

Vinay Pathak in ‘Bhagwan Bharose’

What did you like about Bhagwan Bharose in particular?
I loved the script. It’s very special because the director is a friend of mine. He was very generous and said, ‘pick whichever role you want.’ It doesn’t usually happen that way. He had produced earlier but was directing his first film. He is a film person and, I believe, an auteur in the making. When I read the script, I realised he was telling something so massive in such a simple manner. That reminded me of great writers I grew up reading, like famous Indian novelist and short story writer Premchand, who is like the Shakespeare of Hindi literature.

It is also a timely subject…
Yes, he is saying something so significant, and so timely at a time we need such stories. We need such films like Bhagwan Bharose. Yes, everybody needs a Marvel film as well, no doubt about that, but we also need this as well. That’s why I was very eager to be a part of this film.

What’s the key message of this film?

It is about love and compassion for the others, not just for yourself. For example, you are doing this interview and know many things about me, but I would like to know your story as well, where you come from and what excites you most. So, it is about compassion like this for others. That was there behind the scenes of this film also.

Tell us about that?
Everyone working in the film, from costume and makeup to the camera department, were young, enthusiast and committed to their jobs, along with each other, without having had that massive experience. It was a very lovely experience working with them because that compassion was there.

How much are you looking forward to Bhagwan Bharose premiering at the 2023 UK Asian Film Festival and attending yourself?
(Laughs) Well, I’ve already given my winter clothes to the laundry. I’m keeping an eye on the UK temperature for sure. But no, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been to the UK on many occasions, for different jobs, and vacations, but this is my first trip for a film festival. I’m really, really looking forward to it.

Like you, the UK Asian Film Festival supports independent cinema. How important is it to do that?
Very important. I can’t stress that enough. If we don’t support such films, audiences won’t get to know that there is such a thing as independent cinema because they don’t get big releases. If you want to see a big superhero movie like Iron Man they will have countless shows in a day, but independent cinema doesn’t have that kind of attention. So, it’s important for audiences to have this awareness and sample this type of great cinema for themselves. Then try to make it, I’m not saying mainstream, but not too niche. Important festivals like this help do that.

You’ve played a wide variety of roles. But is there a dream role that you would like to play?
Honestly, I don’t have a dream role. I just have dreams and aspirations for a great story to come my way. I sincerely believe that a wonderfully written script has a great story, and every character is fantastic. Like if I want to be cast in The Tempest, I could play Ariel, Caliban, Prospero, or Ferdinand. I could be any of all those myriads of characters and still enjoy it. So, for me it’s not the role, but the script and story.

Vinay Pathak

What do you think is the secret of a great performance?
I’ll tell you from my experience as an audience. When watching a very wellmade film, you acknowledge things like the technical genius, and background score. But I think a great film has brilliant performances that draw your heart and connect so strongly with you emotionally, that somewhere it makes a difference. It changes the temperature within your own palate when you’re watching it. And I think that’s what a great performance does. It makes you
emotionally involved in the story. I think that’s success as a performer.

What inspires you?
My two daughters. They really do. Ever since I’ve become a father, everything I do, and everywhere I go, in the back of my mind, I feel like I have to do it right. I must do it with love because I have to set an example for my daughters. I have to tell them indirectly sometimes what’s the right thing to do, and how to do it you know, with all your heart. So, they are a huge inspiration for me to do anything, actually.

The UK Asian Film Festival is about celebrating cinema. So, finally, why do you love cinema?
Good cinema motivates and inspires me, but most importantly, it moves my heart and connects to me emotionally. It inspires me to tell more stories and get connected to storytelling. And it’s just that. It’s not that I live in a fictional world all the time in my head. But for me, if there are no stories, there is nothing of worth.

Bhagwan Bharose has a world premiere at the UK Asian Film Festival on Saturday (13) at the Kiln Theatre in London. Visit www.tonguesonfire.com

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