Nirmal Pandey and Bandit Queen

When I was casting for an actor in the role of Vikram Mallah in Bandit Queen, I was looking for a man that on the surface was as rugged and handsome as any. But inside was a gentle and soft. A man completely in touch with his feminine self. After all, we all are a balance between the yin and the yan, the feminine and the masculine within ourselves. But often that balance becomes disproportionate, often with too much of the masculine, which if not tempered by the feminine, becomes arrogant and violent. Looking for self worth in acts against the feminine, against women. I am not talking about sexual preferences at all, just the inherent balance of being human.
The moment I met Nirmal Pandey I knew he was right for the part. He was questioning, searching, yearning, extremely gentle and completely comfortable in his own skin. He was comfortable in his feminine self. And for those of you that remember the first love making scene between Vikram Mallah and Phoolan Devi against the rock wall at dawn will know what I mean. I needed an actor that would allow the actress complete sexual domination without his own ego coming in the way. For a girl (Phoolan Devi) that had experienced sex only as an act of violence and humiliation needed to explore those very acts before she discovered her own sexuality beyond violence.
And few actors would have been able to perform that scene. Seema Biswas was outstanding, creating and exploring the complexities of confusion between sexual desire and the fear of violence and rape. But Nirmal as Vikram Mallah was a perfect foil. Reacting acutely to every moment, every nuance that was happening magically between the actors. In fact Nirmal was the bond between the audience and Seema Biswas – interpreting vividly what Seema was potraying.
Nirmal was so attractive to women that encountered him, that he would set of chain reaction in the crew – and I once even had to let a British make up lady go because her obsession with Nirmal was getting out of hand. At the Cannes and London Film festival he was constantly surrounded by young girls. I thought this was the makings of an International Star. But that never happened. I don’t think Nirmal was ready to make the personal sacrifices for stardom. He was not ready to take on the mantle of narcissism that is so essential to travel that path. He was a small town boy at heart and never comfortable in changing that.
Throughout the filming of Bandit Queen, Nirmal was the searcher. One of those actors that was eager to give all of himself, unafraid to bare his inner soul. He would look to discover things about himself as an actor and a human being through his performance, and never once blocked any suggestion or any idea.
We would sometimes smoke a joint and sit in a temple. He would talk about who we are and our significance in the universe. These issues were important to him. I wish I has spent more time with him. I barely saw him after the all the hoopla of Bandit Queen was over. But then who knew he would go so early ?

33 Responses to “Nirmal Pandey and Bandit Queen”

  1. Sadhak says:

    Beautiful Tribute to the actor and the person Nirmal Pandey. He was outstanding in BQ and perhaps only male character who generates unconditional sympathy for his character among audiences. Apart from this particular scene- first sexual attraction/tension/encounter between Phoolen and Vikram, he showed his command in the sequence before this one where Vikram is confronted by a Thakur bandit regarding Phhoolen and Vikram arranges Rs 20,000-25000 to take possesion of Phhoolen from Thakur bandits gang.
    The way he says ” phir to paison ka intjam karna padega” and silently bears the allegation from Thakur bandit when he says,” Mujhe tumharee ankhon mein thakuron ke liye nafart deekhtee hai Vikram”.
    and later when an angry Phhoolen asks him,”to khareed liya mujhe …. rupyon mein”, he says,” achcha hai aadmi ko apnee keemat chal jaye”.
    The way he dramatically presents Phholen Devi as a powerful woman bandit before villagers near a small temple.
    He brought required variety in different scenes to his character.
    In reality Nirmal shone in every single scene he was present in.
    His best was in BQ. IRKSN and Train to Pakistan remain his other two good performances.
    Situations in Professional and personal life c’d be the reasons behind his premature death.
    Somewhere hindi film industry is not very receptive towards outsiders going from hindi belt.
    as you say he was reluctant to deviate from his personal ideal image he had created for himself and this deviation is must in show biz to create a narcissism around one so that he walks fast toward success and big stardom.
    I feel even if he was hesitant to go too much away from personal ideal views first he could have got success and then renounced it.
    That is true for every creative artist.
    You yourself does not seem fit in typical mould of Hollywood or Hindi film Industry but you have achieved the success and can now show to the world that it has less value as far as personal growth is concerned and without hakering after success like a mad man by keeping feet over others head and chests one can happily contribute in creating good things.
    People close to Nirmal may say whether he lived and died as a satisfied soul or not.
    But one truth is there without any doubt he was a very good actor.
    May his soul rest in peace!

  2. Nimit Jain says:

    Shekhar, I totally agree with you that Nirmal was the bond between the audience and Seema Biswas and nobody could have done it a better way. But I respect that he did not go with the path of personal sacrifices for stardom. May be the heart of small town boy made him what he was!
    RIP Nirmal Pandey.

  3. yatisa says:

    loved reading the post and enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed reading your tweets . . .
    In fact the first thing, that came to mind when I heard Nirmal had GONE, was to tweet u about the same, Saw your tweet . . .

  4. rohit says:

    Thank you Shekhar…for not only showcasing this talent to hindi film industry, but also giving us a glimpse of ‘those’ days..
    Nirmal….rest in peace Mon Ami!

  5. AnG3L says:

    RIP Nirmal
    Condolences to His Family, Friends & to u Shekhar Kapur.

  6. sashi menon says:

    If you haven’t been deleting your received tweets, you will find mine a few days before nirmal died, enquiring about him
    @shekharkapur where’s that great bandit queen find of yours nirmal pandey… i thot he had places to go.. what intensity you got out of him!
    2:09 PM Feb 11th from web in reply to shekharkapur
    You did not reply though. And in a week’s time he was gone.
    Our film industry must be really sick to have not inspired him enough to give more of himself to the world.
    I wish compassionate friends like you do something to keep his memories alive and make life for his family bearable.

  7. Gagan says:

    May be Evolved Souls leave early,
    probably they come to fulfill a particular mission and depart from the scene.
    May God bless his soul

  8. DQ says:

    Hiya Shekhar….
    I must say, brilliantly expressed here
    we all are a balance between the yin and the yan, the feminine and the masculine within ourselves. But often that balance becomes disproportionate, often with too much of the masculine, which if not tempered by the feminine, becomes arrogant and violent. Looking for self worth in acts against the feminine, against women. I am not talking about sexual preferences at all, just the inherent balance of being human.
    Hve a lovely day…

  9. paromita says:

    god loves those who die young.

  10. Kay says:

    Why are people more cherished in death than in life? Maybe now, this moment, we can go back to our lives and say the things we want to say and not hold them back, do the things we want to do and not put them off. In a few weeks, this feeling will disappear and survival will take over. Perhaps till then, we can do something about regrets.

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  12. Jasmine says:

    A very moving tribute, Shekhar.

  13. sanjay says:

    Thanks for such a lovely and moving tribute to the man. It is not an easy task to be an artist for a sensitive heart in this manipulative world.
    My Heartfelt condolences on this departure of an artist.
    RIP Nirmal Pandey. Nothing does matter there, where you are now.

  14. paras says:

    Interesting post

  15. ms says:

    mr kapur, thank you or writing about nirmal pandey. our fickle filmi world did not even mention him. where did he go after BQ? down the commercial cinema path. what a waste, what a loss. in many ways he was a precursor to the irfan khans, sushant singhs, manoj vajpais.

  16. Apurv Sharma says:

    Mr Kapoor,
    Its such a kind gesture of yours to write about NIRMAL PANDEY.I knew if ever there was one who wud nt forget to give a tribute to Nirmal,it was you.its a pity that our film industry doesnt care much about its peoplE.i still rmbr shuffling channels and falling onto IRKSN..before ths i had only seen commercial cinema and my image of a hero was different.BUT NIRMALS PORTRAYAL changed my view towards films and i began watching movies for the story,dialogues and finer thing is sure..WIL SURELY WATCH BQ..AND LET YOU KNOW..

  17. pragzz says:

    Thanks for writing about Nirmal Pandey. I remember being blown away by his performance in Bandit Queen. I often wonder about the men who are able to gain the trust and respect of women like Phoolan (or Suneeta Krishnan from TEDIndia or others) who have been so brutally betrayed and manhandled by society. Who are these men and how are they made??
    Nirmal played the part so well that I wondered if it came from a place of deepseated wisdom on his part…generated either from hurt in his own life or someone he cared deeply for.
    I love all your posts about “Bandit Queen;” it seems like great wisdom came out of its making. Maybe this is true of all your films, but for whatever reason I connect most with these.
    (This is @pragzter, btw. We met at TEDIndia briefly during which time I had to convince you that I read your blog :-)). My email address is linked to this, I believe. Hopefully we can connect soon.

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  19. tickets says:

    it is a great way to give tribute to a great personality. i love u shekar kapur

  20. JencyM says:

    May Nirmal’s soul rest in peace, god loves good people, as we are made to believe.
    This article you wrote actually took me to those days of your shoot of BQ. Though I am no where associated, but it felt like I was there somewhere and saw him sitting near the temple and smoke a joint. I’m touched….You take care.
    Btw if you feel, someone was impressive, genuine at any point of time…..then meet them, catch up before you end up writing “who knew she/ he would leave this early…” Ciao 🙂

  21. Since I do not follow the news a lot, I got to know of his death from this post.
    A few months after Bandit Queen was released, I was in Nainital with my father, who is a doctor. One noon we were driving with a patient bearing a strong resemblance to Nirmal. The patient, as I remember him now, spoke a lot but was honest and very unassuming.
    Suddenly he spoke of a brother in films who was doing pretty well now, and my sister and I blurted out – ‘You mean Nirmal Pandey?’
    The man seemed very surprised as he said a yes. It took us quite some time to convince him that his brother was a big star now.
    My thoughts are not only with Nirmal, but also his family. Whatever little I saw of them, they were humble and honest folks with little pretense. From what you have written, I can imagine Nirmal coming from there.

  22. ‘After all, we all are a balance between the yin and the yan, the feminine and the masculine within ourselves. But often that balance becomes disproportionate, often with too much of the masculine, which if not tempered by the feminine, becomes arrogant and violent.’
    this balance is culturally and discursively determined. The imperial west swore by hyper masculinity. the project of “other west”(represented by thoreau, ruskin etc who influenced gandh) was to salvage the softer side of human nature, dismissively labelled nonmasculine /feminine in the western’s the perfect blend of the two – the androgynous model-of gandhian resistence that flummoxed imperial britain.

  23. Sanjay says:

    @ Kavi Deepak, Bahut ache Sharma ji.

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  25. shobha says:

    Lovely. So poignant .. the last couple of lines made me tear up. It is terribly sad when someone dies young. Feels like an unfinished life …

  26. kavitha says:

    Shekhar, it seems as if you & instances of death have an intriguing brush with each other — many youve worked with were those you never imagined would go away so early. Are the instances a function of your karma? or theirs? or is it an innate sense to spot & brush with angels?

  27. Hitika says:

    It’s Death again – he’s always there
    Watching, waiting, with a stare.
    Every time I look behind,
    Or reach to pull the window blind,
    I catch a glimpse of grubby hood
    A little clue to where he stood
    The glint of light that caught the scythe
    Perhaps if I could pay a tithe
    But oh, no use, he’ll never go
    The adamant phantom don’t you know,
    He will but wait until it’s time
    For me to hear his fateful chime
    The toll that’s only meant for me
    To say ‘You’re next, it has to be
    RIP Nirmal…

  28. Kamalika says:

    Nice to know about Nirmal Pandey…May his soul rests in peace..

  29. chowdhury says:


  30. Ankit says:

    I seriously Admire nirmal pandey performance in bandit queen….
    I saw him once in noida…
    He was a jam of person…
    God bless his soul…

  31. Ralph says:

    Any reliable source for the vcd or dvd of Bandit Queen please let me know. Thanks

  32. meghna says:

    He was from my hometown. Nainital. They hold annual theatre festivals in his memory now.

  33. Gaurav Rawat says:

    after reading all these posts….i cried again as i do very often! people really miss you and your talent mama. your family miss you a lot….nani miss you a lot….i miss you a lot mama. you’ve always made us proud! people these days use philosophies in their hollow talks and pretend to be sufis…YOU were a real sufi mama, people who knew you will surely understand what i mean. I don’t do any play or dramatics anymore mama…every time I step on that stage i think of you…and that’s the hardest part. you are the one i have already looked upon for strength and courage. love you for all the love you gave us. love you forever!
    i remember what you told me once….”Never aim to become a Hero, those are hi-fi people, always think of becoming an Actor…that’s what I did gopi”……
    you’ll always be The best actor for me….and you know that Vikram Mallah! 😛 love you mama!

    P.S. joints? seriously mama? 😀 see….told ya….sufi!

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