Every man has a train of thought in which he travels when alone. It is the same train of thought that has taken actor Pankaj Jha to places, not just in the film industry, but also in the art fraternity and literary circle.
Jha, who hails from a nondescript village in Saharsa, Bihar, has come a long way. He has traversed most of the distance on trains, first from his village to Patna to pursue his undergrad degree in Fine Arts from the College of Arts & Crafts and then to New Delhi to join the National School of Drama, and from there to Mumbai to explore acting opportunities. He made his debut in Hindi cinema with Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding in 2000.
Act Another Day
As a child, Jha loved to perform and secretly wished to become an actor when he grew up. “I was an attention-loving child. Mimicry and imitation gave me adequate exposure. The appreciation that followed my stage performances gave me a strange kick. I used to act in street plays and direct plays, and my parents knew that I had found my calling. So after finishing my fine arts course, I opted to join NSD,” Jha shares. While pursuing the fine arts course in Patna, he used to look forward to vacations to rush home and be with his mother. “I used to travel mostly by Hariharnath Express from Patna to reach Saharsa. It was my favourite train as it used to take me to my mother, my land, and my folks. I had a sense of belonging with that train.” The fondest memories of his travel through the train during his college days are the delectable meal cooked by his mother.
“My mom used to pack my meal in a potli. I savoured every bite of it; the taste of chapatis, potato bhujia and mango pickle were one of its kind. The taste has stayed on with me.” Pankaj also dabbled as an illustrator for leading publications; his work found a place of pride in various newspapers and magazines till he decided to join a theatre course at NSD.
He was a part of the Repertory that staged plays across the length and breadth of the country. “During my NSD days, I visited almost every nook and corner of the country and used to travel mostly by trains. Our theatre group had to go to Thiruvananthapuram for a festival once. The fastest train between the two cities was Rajdhani, and even this took almost two days. Spending 48 hours on a train journey may not be a feasible idea today, but it was great fun then. We had booked the entire compartment, so it seemed like a long picnic on a moving vehicle,” he recalls.
Art Imitates Life
An acclaimed painter, he has a studio in Pune that doubles up as his creative hideout. He rushes there to be with himself and spend time in solitude, in the company of canvas, paint, and brush, all of which provide him the perfect escape from the humdrum affairs of city life. No wonder he has had six solo exhibitions to his credit so far, the most recent one was held at Ark Art Gallery in Koregaon Park, Pune, from September 2-11, 2016. He has also done impromptu paintings at various spots across Mumbai that speak volumes of his creative stroke. Jha’s artworks are mostly acrylic on oil sheets, acrylic on canvas, watercolour, and mix medium. His favourite though is a painting titled Mumbai Local that vividly captures the city of dreams, Mumbai, as seen through the city’s lifeline, its local trains.
“I am a train person. Trains were and are still my preferred mode of transport. When I first came to Mumbai to perform in a play at Nehru Centre, I was awestruck by the city’s suburban railway lines, impressed by its service and petrified of the crowd; if the city is always on the run, it is because of the trains that keep it going with clockwork precision. During my early days, I travelled mostly by local trains because it gave me an opportunity to soak myself in the pace and race of the ‘maximum city’, and live every moment of it. I have tried in some measure to relive those memories in this painting which is acrylic on canvas. It captures the shades of life in a metro,” he says, fondly reminiscing his early years in the tinsel town. He further adds, “The local trains are truly a microcosm of Mumbai in many ways. The city and trains thrive on each other and exist because of each other. The most striking feature of the city’s suburban rail system is how it manages to hold more than its capacity, transporting millions of commuters to and fro in the city, daily. The sight of commuters pushing and shoving each other to board a train, trying hard to elbow out those who want to get off as it chugs along the platform is quite a sight, truly fascinating.”
Write Choice The actor has another ace up his sleeve. He is a wordsmith whose dalliance with words is reflected in his collection of poems on love, life, and living. “Writing comes naturally to me. My train of thought at times stops at this junction, and the journey of myriad thoughts help me weave words in the verse.” In September last year, he held a poetry recital titled Qudrat to a packed house in Pune. Poetry is a work in progress, and when he has a good body of work, he might come up with a compilation of his poems. Talking about trains, he says, “Life is akin to a train journey. It is poetry in motion. It can go either right, left or forward but cannot go backward.”
Jha is a mainstream actor, who has worked in Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday and Gulaal, Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Mumbai Cutting, and Chameli, Manish Jha’s Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women, A Very Very Silent Film and Anwar. He also starred in two of Ram Gopal Varma’s gangster trilogy, Company and D and Shiva. His other noteworthy performances include last year’s comic caper Baankey Ki Crazy Baraat, Teen Patti, Lahore, and among many others.
He loves to try his hand at all genres and says, “Acting is like a canvas, and onscreen characters are like colours. The strokes of different shades of a role only add vibrancy to the piece of art, making it a thing of beauty that will stay on, forever.” That’s the train of thought on which he rides often.
Written By : Shillpi A Singh