Anupam Tripathi said his grandfather sometimes read his palm and told him he’d be rich one day. His joking response?
“Where is my money!”
The 33-year-old Tripathi was rightfully doubtful. The Indian actor who relocated to South Korea more than a decade ago eked out a living singing in humble theaters and through minor film gigs in his adopted home country. Now, after the global success of “Squid Game” and his turn as Ali Abdul, he’s taking the camera far more seriously.
“Should I keep this on, or no?” he repeatedly asked his manager about a scarf around his neck before a recent sit-down, on-camera interview with The Associated Press.
In “Squid Game,” Tripathi plays a Pakistani migrant worker assigned No. 199. It’s a tear-jerker character for his display of innocence and loyalty throughout the brutal survival game in which cash-strapped contestants compete for the ultimate prize: $38 million.
Tripathi’s sudden shot to international fame has made him one of AP’s Breakthrough Entertainers of the Year alongside Rachel Zegler, Adrienne Warren, Damson Idris, Simu Liu, Saweetie and more.
Since the massive popularity of “Squid Game,” which became Netflix’s most watched show, Tripathi has gained more than 4 million followers on Instagram and kept busy appearing on Korean TV variety shows. He politely declined a wish of his brother to host a “Squid Game” screening in his relative’s village in India.
“Everyone wants to celebrate this situation,” Tripathi said. “For me, I just want to do my job and get away. This is the way I’ve always kept myself for 11 years in Korea. Do my job. Look for another job.”
Tripathi left India (he was born and raised in Delhi) to study acting on scholarship at the prestigious Korea National University of Arts. He’d done plays in India since 2006 but was hungry for more, though some of his loved ones weren’t so sure acting was the way to go in the early years.
“I was so focused,” he said of that time. “Learning acting professionally was my dream.”
Learning to act professionally was one challenge. Doing it in a new country while learning a new language was another.
“I was crying. There were two things: learn and cry. Those two things I was doing for three and a half months,” Tripathi said.
Homesickness set in, but he persevered as he grew closer to his classmates. After graduation, he did what out-of-work actors often do. He took a restaurant job while looking for acting work. The stage and film jobs became more regular as the years passed.
“I started performing better in Korean,” he said. “Now I can switch to English, I can switch to Korean, I can switch to Hindi.”
When a “Squid Game” audition for the part of Ali presented itself, he was ready. His mood changed after he got the job.
“Before that, I had done a few lines in every movie,” he said. “I was very, very nervous and at the same time excited and tense. How will I do it because it’s so big?”
It was big in more ways than one. He had to build a bit of physical bulk to meet the expectations of the show’s creators. Once filming began a short time later, Tripathi made some new friends on set, particularly Park Hae-soo, who plays Cho Sang-woo — the character assigned No. 218 and Ali’s ultimate betrayer.
“We can share anything and talk about anything, anytime,” Tripathi said. “It was the same with the characters. It was about trust until that moment where Ali realizes Sang-woo crossed the line.”
It’s unclear whether Tripathi will reprise his role if there’s a second season of “Squid Game.” Netflix hasn’t confirmed one. While Ali’s death wasn’t shown on screen, his body in a casket was. Either way, Tripathi has other dreams to think about, like working with the directors Martin Scorsese, James Cameron or Terrence Malick.
“It’s one of the beautiful characters I got and it resonated with everybody,” Tripathi said of Ali. “It brought up the issue of migrants… or immigrants all over the world. I want to meet characters like that who can at least speak up for something.”