Pavan Malhotra: An actor of many parts

Acting is a marathon, not a 100-metre race, says the gifted and proficient Pavan Malhotra, who keeps the bar high with his stellar performances such as the most recent one in ‘Tabbar’

Nonika Singh

It might be tempting to describe Pavan Malhotra’s stellar performance in web series ‘Tabbar’ as a defining moment in his career, but this gifted actor has witnessed many such milestones during the journey in front of the camera, spanning over three decades.

“Acting is not a 100-metre race, but a marathon. Besides, it is not a formula where you get it right 100 per cent. An actor has a right to fail,” he says. Yet, Pavan, who gets it right nine on 10 if not 10 on 10 each time, does not take credit for his breakout performances. Rather, he shares how detailing as in his character of an ex-constable in ‘Tabbar’ lies in the script. Only an intelligent actor like him knows how to catch the minor inflections right to the manner in which his character drives a scooter. He adds, “Just watch him, he is not sitting upright but slightly hunched with a paunch showing, reflecting one of his many layers.”

Getting into the skin of a character in a dark series that has many shades of grey, does the character live within and hence takes a toll? He answers in the negative. “In ‘Children of War’, I play a rapist, a kinky person who even talks to his gun. That does not mean for a month I am thinking of raping people. I and, I think, all good actors snap out of one’s character the moment the director says ‘cut’.” Were it not so, he would not have been able to etch out diverse characters back to back. So, if one moment he was playing the vile villain of ‘Punjab 1984’, just days later he immersed himself in the part of philanthropist Bhagat Puran Singh in ‘Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe’. Ditto for the year 1989 when he aced markedly different parts in ‘Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro’ and ‘Bagh Bahadur’. And his turbaned Sikh acts, which again he has nailed many times over, more recently in two web series (‘Grahan’ and ‘Tabbar’) have never been the same.

For those who wonder about this easy transformation, the diehard Punjabi in him quips, “Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs are no different. Beyond the physical appearance, the mind and sensibilities are the same.” No wonder, like any true-blue Punjabi, he can laugh at himself, and introduces himself at shows with a cryptic one-liner: “I am Pavan Malhotra.” Audiences might remember even his smaller parts as in ‘Jab We Met’ or ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, but a whole lot could still be clueless about his real identity. Fans, effusive about his parts, can still turn around and ask, “But, sir, what’s your name?” He’s okay with this anomaly. What irks the National Award-winning actor is how makers in Bollywood would still go by what film magazines write about you and how often.

As skilled actors are on the ascendency today, does he think he came on the scene a few decades too early? He disagrees, “Hrishi Da (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) would tell me, ‘Beta, you came too late, only naach gaana is happening.’ Change is the law of nature and today it is in our favour, for storytelling is in the driving seat.” So is he, with three major films, ‘72 Hoorain’, ‘Unfair & Lovely’ and ‘Love Hackers’, ready for release and a sequel of ‘Oh My God’ as well as another web series in the pipeline. If the working calendar is full, so is his glass of contentment.

Be it lead parts or key cameos, when the history of cinema is written, he knows, “In the big picture, every detail and every character is remembered.” To the Punjabi tabbars he closely interacted with during the shooting of Ajitpal Singh’s ‘Tabbar’, he would like to remind how their hearts are bigger than their chests. Incredibly proud of the land his ancestors came from, for this Delhi-bred Punjabi, Sikh Gurus and their teachings remain etched in his heart. Drawing lessons from the saying “Kirt karo…” and his father’s instruction to value all and any kind of labour, he remains as rooted as grounded. In touch with the world around him, and in sync with realistic portrayals.

Tribune Shorts

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