From his breakthrough role in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998) through Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), two time National Award winning actor Manoj Bajpayee, who won a standing ovation in Busan for his searing portrayal of a persecuted gay professor in Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh, has consistently forged an independent path.
Strangely enough, there was a time when he wanted to pack his bags and go back to his hometown in Bihar due to lack of offers, whereas today, Bajpayee is among one of the busiest actors, with his upcoming film Rukh being his seventh feature film since 2016. He plays father to an 18-year-old boy in debutant director, Atanu Mukherjee‘s film.
“It’s a complicated character and we have shown a very unique way of exploring the relationship between father and son. When the father is not there, the son’s relationship and the bond with his father keeps growing as he wants to find the reasons behind his father’s death. Also, there is a hint of suspense and intrigue and the viewers will keep guessing the reason behind the father’s death. I felt like I was reading a fantastic novel while reading the script. It mesmerised me completely in the manner it was written — simple yet without losing the beauty of telling the story,” says Bajpayee.
And he’s is all praise for the director, “Atanu has treated his film like a novel. He is a brave storyteller. He is not somebody who will welcome anything you give him, without hurting or offending anybody. It is always a great experience when you work with a director whose clarity is absolutely high. There was no moment of confusion and he pushed his actors to achieve what he wanted from them.”
Off-late, Bajpayee has been quite successfully balancing between commercial and alternate cinema. If on one hand he is doing films like Rukh and international projects like In The Shadows (psychological drama), on the other hand he’s also part of an out and out commercial venture, Tiger Shroff-starrer Baaghi 2. He also just wrapped up Neeraj Pandey’s Aiyaary, which has Sidharth Malhotra in a significant role.
“I am very clear about the commercial films I take up. I do only those in which I have a good role. I accepted Baaghi 2 because I share a good relationship with Ahmed Khan (director). Then, I’m really excited about Aiyaary. Neeraj Pandey is a fantastic director. This will be my fifth film under his production. And after that I have Devashish Makhija’s Bhosle,” reveals Bajpayee.
He furthers, “Now I have too many options and choices to make, which is such a great sign. I am getting all kinds of offers, from all genres. I don’t mind even entering the digital space if something interesting comes up. After Satya (in which he played the iconic Bhiku Mhatre), I sat at home for eight to nine months. I finally chose Ram Gopal Varma’s Shool because I wasn’t getting work outside. Today, I don’t have time for my family and my family can never complain because all these years I was very much with them but now I am absent. I’m compensating for the free time I had in the past (laughs).”
“Rajkummar Rao, Nawazuddin, and actors who are really good will get their due now. If these actors are getting a chance to showcase their talent, it is a good sign for a very healthy industry. This is the time when so much varied content is being produced on so many different platforms – digital, television or cinema. People are ready to put their money where there is experiment happening,” adds Bajpayee.
“Earlier, when I started my career, the industry was ruled by commercial, formula films. I didn’t have any option. I used to run from one studio to another, one director to another thinking I will get some good roles but I would land with small itsy-bitsy roles. I was living in frustration. Private television channels had just started coming in. Survival had become difficult and many times I felt that I should just pack my bags and go home but I was destined to be here. The success of Satya gave me the strength to carve a path for myself,” he says.
Whatever be his choice and experience, that hasn’t stopped Bajpayee from appreciating mainstream films. “I have always enjoyed watching masala films. In fact, I was the one who was chasing David Dhawan after Satya released and I would plead with him to make a film with me. I would tell him, ‘Please do one film with me as well’ and David would reply, ‘You’re a very serious actor. Your image of a serious actor is far too strong. You will ruin my film’,” Bajpayee recalls and laughs out loud.
The other reason that makes Bajpayee positive about the industry is the happy co-existence between commercial and off-beat cinema.
“Look, as long as cinema is there, stars will always be there. Our efforts should be to make films with great content so that they can also co-exist with the commercial, star-oriented films. If one genre has a monopoly, it will never help the audience as they will be devoid of choices,” said the actor. He furthers, “ If Golmaal Again and Judwaa 2 have done well, so has Newton. Films like Lipstick Under My Burkha, and last year Aligarh, managed to create a lot of buzz. I am in favour of all genres running parallel and doing well, to have a healthy industry,” he explains.