In the remake of the 2008 BBC show of the same name , Tripathi plays Madhav Mishra, a down-on-his-luck lawyer with some tricks up his sleeve. When a young man (played by Vikrant Massey) gets implicated in a murder he insists he did not commit, Mishra takes up his case.
The actor is excited to see how viewers react to the role. “This is a whole different world for me. No one would have seen me in a role like this,” Tripathi told Scroll.in. “He’s a small-time lawyer, someone people laugh at. He has his own complexes and layers. The way a painter fills in his work with many tiny strokes, I’ve done that with this. When you see the show, you’ll feel that you’ve met someone like Madhav Mishra in your life.”
Also starring Jackie Shroff, Anupriya Goenka and Mita Vashisht, Criminal Justice has been directed by Vishal Furia and Tigmanshu Dhulia. It will be out on Hotstar on April 5. The show has been produced by BBC Studios India and presented by Applause Entertainment.
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Mishra is loosely based on the character played by Con O’Neill in the BBC original, which starred Ben Wishaw as the murder accused. The series was remade for American television as The Night Of (2016). The actor, however, did not want to use the precursors as reference. “I don’t like watching the original because for me, this is new,” he said. “I wanted to bring my own perspective. The landscape is new, the country is new. I wanted to conceive of the character in my own way.”
Tripathi instead modelled the role on the many lawyers he had observed over the years. “As actors, we have to keep our eyes open all the time,” he said.
The 42-year-old actor also drew from his struggles in the Hindi film industry. After he made his screen debut in a small role in Run (2004), it took close to a decade for Tripathi to establish a firm foothold. His breakthrough was the Gangs of Wasseypur films in 2012, in which he played Sultan Qureshi, a butcher with a vendetta. More memorable performances followed in Masaan (2015), Newton (2017), Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017) and Stree (2018). His most recent appearance was as the comical Babulal in Laxman Utekar’s Luka Chuppi (2019).
“I myself was a Madhav Mishra in acting till some years back,” Tripathi observed. “I have also seen tough days. So there was that level of relatibilty. Though I’m not as jugadu as him.”
Tripathi has added touches of humour to an otherwise tragic character. “I believe that if you don’t keep the audience engaged, they won’t stick around,” he said. “I don’t want to make the character too dry for the sake of being realistic. There’s so much humour in life. So I deliberately try to incorporate that into my character. Because you will only listen to me if I make you smile.” One such improvisation, he said, was his character’s standard introduction – “Myself Madhav Mishra, LLB, gold medalist.”
After Criminal Justice, Tripathi will be seen in Vivek Agnihotri’s film The Tashkent Files on April 12, which alleges a conspiracy behind Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death in 1966. More proof of his chameleon-like ability to slip into roles will be forthcoming in his upcoming projects – there’s Satish Kaushik’s Kaagaz, in which he plays lead role as a farmer, the Netflix film Dhaka, starring Chris Hemsworth, mathematician Anand Kumar’s biopic Super 30, Kabir Khan’s 83, where plays former Indian cricket team manager PR Man Singh, the biopic of Southern B-movie star Shakeela, in which he plays a larger-than-life actor, and an untitled anthology film by Anurag Basu.
Tripathi is also set to reprise his role as gangster Akhandanand Tripathi in the second installment of the Amazon web series Mirzapur and as spiritual leader Khanna in Netflix’s Sacred Games season two.
How does he weave in and out of characters with such ease? “I suppose it’s the theatre experience,” Tripathi said. “Plus, I only focus on acting. Not on what’s the marketing, publicity, or what I should wear, or anything else. So maybe that’s why, despite juggling so many roles, I’ve not gone below average.”
The actor’s schedule is packed, but he’s not complaining. “I consider myself very lucky these days. I also struggled a lot for 12-14 years in this city. It’s a mystery to me. Filmmakers only give actors a chance when audience like you, but people only like you if someone gives you a chance. So I don’t know how it happened, but I’m very busy, very busy.”