Netflix officially announced that the Korean drama Squid Game, which premiered in September on the streaming giant, has officially become the biggest launch in the history of the platform by drawing 111 million viewers in its first month on the platform. Squid Game is one of the several non-English-language shows on Netflix that has seen widespread recognition. A series about survival to win 45.6 billion won, one has to play games – especially the children’s game in order to move to the next level. The brutal survival series surpassed the record held by Bridgerton, through the first 28 days, which was seen by 82 million households after its debut last Christmas. Netflix counts any sampling of at least two minutes of any episode as an official view. The series has begun a series of conversations around the characters, capitalism, the nuances, subtitles, and beyond. Indian actor Anupam Tripathi, who plays Pakistani immigrant Ali Abdul, is amongst those conversations.
Even before we dive deep into the character, we see his kind-hearted nature as he saves the lead character Seong Gi Hoon’s life during the deadly game of green light and red light. As the show progresses, you get to know the background of the characters including Ali Abdul who is an undocumented immigrant in South Korea. As he refers to others in honorifics, which is something prevalent in the culture of South Korea, he is also pretty down the line when it comes to hierarchy. This has begun quite a conversation around racism, and how undocumented immigrants in foreign countries try to fit in the society. While some called the depiction ‘servile’, South Koreans and South Asians have talked about the hierarchy culture and immigrant situation. During a round table conversation with Bollywood Hungama, when asked about whether he is aware of how much his character is being discussed on social media, Anupam Tripathi says, “Through Ali, I was not thinking about these issues. I was only thinking about how as an actor I can deliver it, how I’ll make the connection with the audience. I did not imagine even in my dreams that people would talk about my character. Whatever I’m doing, I can still make people connect to each other and have a conversation at least.”
Squid Game isn’t the first role for Anupam Tripathi in Korean dramas. Though this survival story gave him a huge breakout moment that has led to him achieving recognition and following on Instagram that has skyrocketed to over 3 million, he played several smaller roles before getting this Ali Abdul character. The actor was part of Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Ko’s Descendants of the Sun, Song Joong Ki’s Netflix movie Space Sweepers, slice-of-life drama Hospital Playlist, and Lee Je Hoon starrer Taxi Driver. He even performed in the South Korean movie Ode to my Father, who was remade in India with Salman Khan titled Bharat.
While pursuing acting in theatre in Delhi, he wanted to become a part of the National School of Drama after watching a play at its Abhimanch auditorium in 2007. He said that people often discouraged him from taking up acting as a profession. “I was really passionate about what I was doing. Suddenly, somebody came up with the idea that there’s a scholarship. If you apply nobody will question you, you can tell everybody. You can do what you want to do,” he says.
Following five years of doing theatre in Delhi, he moved to South Korea in 2010 to attend the Korea National University of Arts (K Arts) to pursue his dreams. He did theatre in South Korea while he also worked in restaurants and did minor roles in dramas. He was passionate about his profession and learned the language as well. “I spent three-and-half months learning the language. Since the base was in English, I thought I could easily cope with everything. But when you enter the university properly and those terms in acting in Korean (come up), you just keep your eyes open for two years. Grammatically, I might be wrong in Korean but I can now perform better with the feeling of the language,” he adds.
Just like his character, Tripathi also considers himself a survivor as working in a foreign country where the language is so different hasn’t been an easy road. “I kept on working to say to people ‘One guy from far away came here and he’s showing his skills and craft.’ They categorise foreign actors and all, but I always thought of myself as an actor. (Once you think like that), you can deal with everything. I can do anything.”
He adds that he wanted to make his dreams come true and didn’t want to return home until things worked out. It required a lot of patience. “Slowly, things started looking up when I started getting better with the language, the people here were so warm to me. There were times where for a month you don’t have any work, you don’t have a scholarship also. I worked in restaurants. I have done whatever I could to survive,” he says in the interview.
After years of doing minor roles, Squid Game gave Anupam Tripathi a role that had a good storyline, a character arc and became a much-loved character from the show. His introduction scene when they play Red Light and Green Light game is his favourite scene when he saves Lee Jung Jae’s character Seong Gi Hoon. “I was holding him and he said to me ‘Just do the way you want to do, be free, don’t worry about anything,” the actor says on zoom call from South Korea.
The series, which premiered on September 27 on Netflix, was the very first series from filmmaker Hwang Dong Hyuk, who is known for his critically acclaimed films such as Silenced and The Fortress. When asked about the character brief from the director, Tripathi adds, “The director’s brief was (to focus on) how he builds his relationships with people. He is someone who saves people. Even if he had a problem, he worked for people he trusted. With a simple gesture, somebody can make him feel ‘you are my homie and all’.”
As he sees a huge moment in his career after 10 years, the actor hopes to play on home ground. Tripathi, who is fluent in English, Hindi, and Korean, says, “I want to share stories with people, I want to be a storyteller. The best thing I know is acting. I want to fail, learn, and win but through my work. So I want to share whatever I can with the audiences in the best way possible.”
ALSO READ: Netflix’s Korean drama Squid Game draws 111 million views in first month, becomes biggest series on the streaming giant
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