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Monday, April 19, 2021

Pankaj Kapur: I am a work-in-progress actor

Ace actor Pankaj Kapur on the climax of SonyLiv's JL50, working in the digital medium and more.

Written by Arushi Jain | New Delhi |
Updated: September 10, 2020 2:07:28 pm
JL50, pankaj kapurPankaj Kapur has made his digital debut with SonyLIV web series JL50. (Photo: SonyLIV)

Actor Pankaj Kapur plays a scientist in Shailendra Vyas’ web series JL50. His character of Subroto Das is someone who will leave you thinking about his motivations and intentions even when the series is over. The 66-year-old actor says he likes every aspect of his character and especially how it has been given an edge by writer-director Vyas.

In a recent interview with, Kapur explained the climax of JL50 and shared why he thinks “it’s time for filmmakers to tell stories where the audience is left to decipher what is what”.

Excerpts from the conversation.

JL50 is your debut on the digital platform. How does it feel to make a debut after working for 40 years in the industry?

It’s an accidental debut because I shot this as a film. Later, because of COVID-19, producers realised that they can probably release it as a web series and get a bit more money. Actually, I think I made digital debut decades back when I did television. That was also electronic media. But, yes, today it has become amazingly sophisticated and the whole format has changed for the good.

JL50, pankaj kapur Pankaj Kapur in a still from JL50. (Photo: SonyLIV)

Your character Subroto Das appears in various shades. At one point, he seems to be the antagonist and the other moment, it seems he is innocent. What according to you was the most interesting aspect of the character?

All of it. Because, if these aspects to the character were not there, or if we were unable to create these aspects for the character, Das would have ended up as a single-dimensional character. I am grateful to Shailendra Vyas, the writer and director, who was very forthcoming in his discussions about the subject and characters. He explained to me the whole concept of time travel, which is wonderful. And then we had discussions to make the character more real, with a sense of mystery around it, which will create a hook in the series and people will continue to watch as to see what happens next.

How did you approach the character? How did you prepare for it?

I approached it as any other character. There’s no set rule, but when you look at the script, you start thinking about this person and how to create this human being on screen. You dig deeper into a script. As an actor, I have always felt, everything is available in the script. If there is anything you feel the script lacks, you can have a discussion with the director and point out those. Then it’s up to the director if he wants to take those things or not.

Towards the end, don’t you think the climax got a bit confusing with all that chase sequence and gunshots?

I don’t think it was confusing. It just reflects the ambition and the passion of all human beings involved in the series. The last scene, where Abhay Deol’s character is sitting in the aircraft and his wife wakes him up, indicates that all that happened could be only in his head and it may not have ever happened for real. It’s more like a dream within a dream kind of a situation. It makes the audience think.

I think it’s time for filmmakers to tell stories like this where the audience can decipher what is what. We have been spoon-fed for decades. When the audience like you tells me that you were wondering whether it is this or that, it makes me happy that now films are made where you can exercise your mind and make a decision about what this was all about. And, each individual can have a different take on it.

JL50 was completed in 2018, but it released now, that too on OTT. What was the wait like?

I do a project and then I forget about it because the release of whatever work you have done, is not in your hand. As an actor, it took me a long time to learn to not to get involved with, ‘oh, what’s going to happen to my film,’ because it’s not in your hand. Sometimes you might do a film accidentally or maybe because a friend asked to, and it gets a huge release. And, sometimes you might have put your heart in a project and it may never see the light of the day or might come on a platform that you never thought, like JL50.

If we look at your work of the last 40 years, it seems you have been quite selective about your projects. Do you think there is a lack of good, meaty roles?

No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a matter of chance. It’s a matter of destiny also. It is not that they were not offered to me. Either, I was caught up in doing something else or the marketing people found that the subject is not worthy of being made, or the director did not have the strength to take it forward. There are a lot of factors. But there has been an increase of interesting character writing in the last 20 years, and one of the persons responsible for that is Vishal Bhardwaj.

So, are you planning to work more in the digital medium?

My job is that of an actor. As long as I get to act, get some interesting parts to play, get to be a part of interesting stories, I would certainly want to do it. Also, we have to realise here that, in today’s time, whatever is happening in terms of development, we have to become a part of it and not say that, ‘oh, I don’t do this, oh, I used to do those things.’ Those times are gone. Twenty years back, we didn’t have mobiles and computers. The way of communication was completely different. So, things have changed and one should be ready to adapt oneself to the situation.

Read | Abhay Deol on JL50: It is not the kind of narrative you see often | JL50 review: Abhay Deol series has a wobbly landing | Piyush Mishra: Haven’t seen a show like JL50 being made in India

Do you plan to return to directing movies?

You never know. I am very optimistic. I would love to and I have subjects with me. But until COVID-19 is around, I don’t want to get into direction. Let all this subside, then I would love to because there’s no dearth of subjects.

How is it to see your work as a reference for budding actors?

I feel embarrassed because I’m a work-in-progress actor.

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