Actor Pankaj Tripathi believes films like Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl can trigger a thought that has the potential to bring about a lasting change in our society. Tripathi, who plays the supportive father to Janhvi Kapoor’s titular character in the Netflix release, said he agreed to do the film because he liked the story.
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is based on the life of India’s first female Air Force officer to fly in a combat zone during the 1999 Kargil War. Also starring Angad Bedi, Vineet Kumar Singh, Manav Vij and Ayesha Raza Mishra, the Gunjan Saxena biopic has been directed by Sharan Sharma.
In a candid chat with indianexpress.com, Tripathi threw some light on playing the progressive father Anup Saxena, working with Janhvi Kapoor and Boney Kapoor’s reaction after watching Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
You’ve always been confident about Gunjan Saxena and kept saying that everyone needs to watch it. How were you so sure from the beginning?
I saw the film in its rough cut. I wanted to watch it with the audience when it released. You become part of some stories thinking the audience will like it, while some you do because you like it even if you aren’t sure about the audience’s feedback. Gunjan Saxena was a story that I thought everyone would like. It’s a beautiful film written with simplicity and is also entertaining. I wish to see more fathers like Anup Saxena in our society. I have become a better human being after doing this role.
The film unfolds as a father-daughter story. Do you think that was a wise choice by the makers?
I look for soul and emotions in a film. I don’t pay attention to the graph and technicalities. And that soul is very strong in Gunjan Saxena. That makes it a family film.
You and Janhvi share the kind of onscreen bond that is rarely seen. What do you think was the core of this affection?
Janhvi and I met on a flight six months before we started work on Gunjan Saxena. We were going to Goa. This girl walked in and greeted me. She then told me that when I was sent the script for Gunjan Saxena. She prayed and pledged to God that she will become a vegetarian so that I agree to do the film. The day I agreed, the director called her to share that I was onboard. I had gone to my village where there’s little internet, so it took me around 10 days to respond to the director’s message. I told her she should’ve informed me about her pledge before. I would’ve then said a yes without even reading the script (laughs).
Janhvi was the one who kept running after me. I used to return home from a shoot and see Janhvi already sitting there, chatting with my daughter or doing something with my wife in the kitchen. I would give more credit to her for developing that bond. She is a very sincere and hardworking girl. She has a different level of maturity and sensitivity. And this bond is for real, not for the film. Now, if I get to work with her again, where I need to be harsh on her, or trouble her or harm her, I’ll need to reboot myself.
How much did meeting Gunjan Saxena’s real father help you in preparing for your character?
I have met Gunjan’s father and her family. I adapted his thoughts. I hadn’t seen his videos then, neither did I want to adapt his physicalities. I believe while playing a real character, one should hold on to his outlook, his internal thoughts, not his external traits of how he walks or talks. Of course, now we have more supporting fathers, but to be someone like Anup Saxena in those times was a big thing.
When Gunjan tells you she is going on a mission without revealing much, you know it is war. A lot of times your character speaks in silences. What was your state of mind while shooting such scenes?
When I was playing Anup Saxena, Jhanvi wasn’t Janhvi Kapoor for me when the camera rolled. To me, she was Gunjan, my daughter. And as true as that phone call would be for any father, it was for me too. Being an Army man, he knows where his daughter is going even if she isn’t revealing.
Which sequence did you enjoy shooting the most?
I liked shooting the training montage. We used to run around the Gomti river, then go to some park early in the morning. I also liked the lawn scene. I loved all the scenes actually.
Your character breaks the mold of a typical Indian father. What was Boney Kapoor’s reaction after seeing you in the film?
Boney Kapoor called me at night after watching the film. He said, “You are a better father to Janhvi than me.” He said he hasn’t ever seen a father-daughter movie that’s so truthful. He was very emotional and I could completely understand his state of mind. So many of my fraternity friends also told me that after watching the film, they went and hugged their daughters.
How much of Anup Saxena is there inside you in real life?
There are a lot of similarities. The only difference being, the on screen Gunjan agrees to what I say but in real life, my Gunjan (daughter) doesn’t listen to me (laughs). Whenever she asks for anything, I have a habit of quickly getting it for her. Be it teaching her cycling or getting her a lawn tennis racquet. I give more weightage to sports than to studies. I wasn’t getting to spend time with her for the past two years. I used to leave in the morning for shoots and come back very late in the night, or travel for 2 months straight. I was missing the time with her. Now, in the lockdown is when I got to be with her and I realised she has an amazing sense of humour.
Do you think films like Gunjan Saxena affect the audience’s outlook?
I always believe that films don’t change a person or the world. But they definitely plant the seed of a thought. It might take 6 months or 2 years, but it does eventually change a person’s thought process. The purpose of storytelling is to put forth an idea, presenting another way to look at the world. A thought is necessary to bring change. As an actor, I believe I can provide that thought through my acting.
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