Actor Vinay Pathak is etched in our memory of Indian comedy, be it as a VJ on Channel V, on The Great Indian Comedy Show, on in films like Bheja Fry. Of late, he’s been leaning towards a more colourful palette and opting for movies that excite him
To say that Vinay Pathak is a versatile actor is an understatement. He was one of the few in the country to set a course in comedy when stand-up and improv wasn’t even a thing in India, and his repertoire of work in showbiz makes him an actor to remember.
From his comedy and cricket shows on TV to playing the irritating Bharat Bhushan in the now legendary Bheja Fry franchise of films, or literary giant Manto in the film Toba Tek Singh, or the closeted homosexual in the web series Made in Heaven, Vinay Pathak has always proved that he can’t be straightjacketed into any one kind of act.
Recently in Bangalore for the other love of his life, theatre, Vinay Pathak spoke to YS Weekender on what he’s currently working on, and how Bheja Fry 3 may not be too far off.
“In film, I’ve honestly been attracted to a different kind of tale telling,” he says speaking against the backdrop of theatre – he is currently doing a run of the play Nothing Like Lear written and directed by his buddy, fellow actor, and creative collaborator Rajat Kapoor.
It’s another platform for him to show off his acting chops and versatility as he holds his audience in thrall for a good 90 minutes in this solo act – flitting effortlessly from tragi-comic, to bawdy, to silly and emotional, angry and obsessed, and so much more in between. He’s performed over 100 shows of this solo act based on Shakespeare’s King Lear and he never tires of improvising his act through audience interactions.
“It could be a comedy or a tragedy but it better be exciting for me,” is how he sums up the kind of roles he’s currently picking in films.
And my! What rich pickings he’s had between end of 2018 and 2019 alone. In February this year, he worked in Dust, an Indo-German film set against the backdrop of Maoist conflict in India. It had its premier to critical acclaim at the Berlin International Film Festival 2019. By the end of April, he had wrapped up the shoot for a film titled Chappad Phaad Ke for director Samir Joshi, a dark situational comedy where he plays the patriarch of a Maharashtrian family that stumbles upon a bag of unclaimed cash.
His filmography seems to be growing endlessly. Vinay says there’s not one kind of role he’s been confined to, despite being seen as a comic actor.
“My comfort lies in the excitement and challenge of my job. Playing Manto was exciting. But so are tragic-comedies. Even if it’s a small role…like the one in Made in Heaven… in fact when I read it, (director) Zoya (Akhtar) had more faith in me than I did. It was a different, scary, and new kind of role, but I did it,” says Pathak, of his role as a closeted gay man in a heterosexual marriage. “But the end result was fantastic!”
He’s acted in actor Seema Pahwa’s directorial debut Pind Daan, and while the movie, The Tashkent Files may be getting much flak, his role as a spy came in for much praise. He was also in Atul Tripathi’s Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai. Just recently ZEE5 released Yours Truly, a romantic drama based on Annie Zaidi’s short story The One That Was Announced in which Pathak plays a role with leading lady Soni Razdan.
Somehow 2004 and The Great Indian Comedy Show seems very distant now, yet memorable. His great success stint with his comic twin Ranvir Shorey started on TV with being VJs for Channel V, to later doing Ranvir, Vinay, Aur Kaun? It led to a series of indie comedy movies like Mixed Doubles, Khosla Ka Ghosla, and Mithya.
“Bheja Fry became a cult hit. It went viral at a time when ‘going viral’ didn’t even exist,” he chuckles. “For all you know I might be coming back with a third sequel to Bheja Fry…it’s always in the offing,” he laughs, almost to himself.
Pathak later even produced and starred in Dasvidanya in 2008; this is the only film that the actor from Bihar has produced. Not many know that he made a quick switch from business to drama school in New York before he hit the Mumbai circuit.
“The basic simplicity of why you tell a story, why you do what you do matters. I’ve tried to keep it simple always,” is all he will say in simple explanation for his success.
He only comes on Twitter when he wants to talk about his next theatrical performance, but never really puts himself “out there”. “I am not a social media person. I used to think I am flamboyant. But my nerdiness keeps me from what you are complaining about.”
“It is very important that things become successful, and we have good box office collections for films. But what is important for me is that people should believe you. In a craft like ours, that is important. I shouldn’t compromise. Excitement is the bottom line, first and foremost,” he says.
Photo credits: Sarika Gangwal