NewsGram presents an exclusive tête-à-tête with the cast and crew of this year’s National Award winning Maithili film, Mithila Makhaan. In the third part of the series, actor Pankaj Jha gets into a freewheeling chat with Shillpi A Singh and successfully manages to clear all the confusion regarding his other creative pursuits — painting, poetry, singing, composing and photography. He takes his dalliance a notch higher with every character that he essays on screen, and in his upcoming films, he is bound to spring another surprise.
“I know where I’m going, and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.” This quote by late boxing legend Mohammad Ali sums up the free-spirited, outspoken, multi-faceted and versatile actor Pankaj Jha. He has scorched the big screen with his performances in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday and Gulaal, Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and A Thousand Desires Like These, and Manish Jha’s Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women. He also starred in two of Ram Gopal Varma’s gangster trilogy, Company and D. His other noteworthy performances include Chameli, Teen Patti, Lahore, and Anwar, among many others.
For the uninitiated, Jha is also an accomplished painter, who has had two solo painting exhibitions to his credit so far, and will soon come out with a compilation of his poems. Is that all? No, there is more than meets the eye. Jha sings and composes as well and deftly handles the camera to capture the verdant beauty of nature.
For the naysayers, Pankaj has in a way managed to “clear all the confusion” in his last big screen outing, in 2015’s laugh riot Bankey Ki Crazy Baraat and may take it a notch higher in his upcoming Udanchhoo. Mithila Makhan, his next in the regional language cinema, has already created ripples by winning the National Award for the Best Film in Maithili this year. Directed by Nitin Neera Chandra, it is expected to hit the theatres after the monsoon. “But the best is yet to come. My today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will surely be much better than today,” he said.
The Fine Arts of Acting
Jha hails from a nondescript village in Saharsa, Bihar, and is the youngest of four siblings. “Our parents were simpletons, and they were always encouraging but never pushy when it came to education and career. I was fond of acting and mimicry from early years. In the village, I formed a small theatre group and used to stage and act in street plays.” After completing his schooling, he moved to Patna for his undergrad degree in fine arts.
He continued to dabble in theatre and went on to join the premier theatre training institute in the country, the National School of Drama in New Delhi, to perfect the art and craft of theatrics. At NSD, he was part of the Repertory. “The exposure and experience were quite enriching,” he extolled. They came in handy when he decided to enter the tinsel town with Monsoon Wedding in 2001. And the rest, as they say, is history.
A Portrait of the Artist
Having spent his early years in the company of nature, he yearns to be out there with it whenever he can. This longing is also reflected in his other creative pursuits — paintings, poems and photography; and the common thread in all three is nature that serves as the perfect muse. The actor has an art studio in Pune, Maharashtra, and he escapes from the humdrum of Mumbai to be in the company of colour, canvas and loads of creativity.
With two solo exhibitions to his credit, Jha often lets his paintings do the talking. He has also done on the spot paintings at various places and left the audience amazed with the nature of the artwork that he happened to produce in a jiffy. “It shows his mastery over the paint and brush,” said Nitin Neera Chandra, director of Mithila Makhaan.
In the past, Jha had contributed his illustrations for leading publications such as Navbharat Times, Hans and India Today.
The Word Smith
The stroke of creativity extends to poetry as well. A poem is the product of his everlasting love affair with words which dance to his thoughts to soothe the senses. The actor said that writing was his habit, and it soon turned into a hobby. His poems are mostly about nature and its beauty, myriad human emotions and, of course, the mortal being.
The thought springs from his minute and detailed observation of people and their behaviour, the good, bad and ugly, all three find a place of pride in his verses. “I ask questions that a poem won’t answer. But maybe they illuminate the question.” A recitation of his compositions titled Qudrat was held to a packed house in Pune in September last year.
He has an excellent collection of photographs that again show his closeness to nature — the blue sky, flight of birds, bright dawn, emerald green forests, water gushing down the rocks — beautiful moments beautifully captured on camera.
The Role Call
In Mithila Makhaan, he has essayed the role of Brahma Singh, an unscrupulous and ruthless fox nut trader in the village, who believes in “doing things silently and not violently.” About his portrayal, Jha said, “Brahma Singh is just a character in the larger picture. He happens to behave in a particular fashion because he feels threatened. There is nothing good or bad about a character to be called a hero or villain. And calling someone hero or heroine is highly misplaced.
An actor merely portrays a character onscreen.” He added, “I have come across people like him in real life so being one like them on the big screen wasn’t difficult. His mannerisms, body language, dressing, dialogue delivery, all of it happened effortlessly.” The select few who have watched the screening of the film in Pune, Patna, New Delhi and Toronto have appreciated his role in the film. “Brahma Singh’s character stands out because of Pankaj Jha. He has done full justice to the role,” said Amrita Jha, who watched the screening at the National Film Archives of India, Pune.
He is a mainstream actor and his outings in the regional language cinema have been limited to Mithila Makhaan in Maithili and Deswa in Bhojpuri, both produced by actor Neetu Chandra’s production house, Champaran Talkies. Jha told that he agreed to do these films for Neetu Chandra and her brother Nitin, who has directed Mithila Makhaan and Deswa. “I got this opportunity to do something in Maithili and Bhojpuri, and I lapped it up.
Today, I feel proud to be part of an Award-winning film in regional language.” He quickly added that language does not bind good cinema. “Sairat in Marathi is a beautiful movie. It is realistic and not a make-believe portrayal of an idealist world. Language becomes a second fiddle to creativity.” And not just Mithila Makhaan, Jha has been part of many award-winning films — Monsoon Wedding, Matrubhoomi, Very Very Silent Movie, etc. — in the past as well. “Awards give instant recognition, and they have a greater recall value,” he said.
In his next — Vipin Parasher’s Udanchhoo — Jha will be seen as a Haryanvi policeman Chatur Singh Sherawat. A con-caper, it also stars Ashutosh Rana, Rajneesh Duggall and Saisha Sehgal. Another two upcoming projects include Gun Pe Done that stars Sanjay Mishra among many others and Running Shaadi.com that will be directed by Amit Rai and will be produced by Shoojit Sarkar.
The actor, painter and poet may get into production and direction. “If things work out as planned, it may happen sometime soon,” he said.
He signed off on a beautiful note about success and failure. “Success and failure are nothing but an illusion. He who succeeds today had tasted failure yesterday and he who has failed today will surely succeed tomorrow.”
(In the next part, we will get up, close and personal with the male and female lead of the award-winning film. So watch out for this space!)
-by Shillpi A Singh, a freelance contributer at NewsGram and can be contacted at [email protected]