He has a familiar face, but it’s tough to place this actor. Assuming that we know little about him, out of context he informs us about his feats. “I’ve done a film with Pierce Brosnan (The Deceivers; 1988). And back in 1984, Salman Rushdie had interviewed me. This was before the controversy around his book Satanic Verses began. Unfortunately, he could never publish that interview,” he says, adding excitedly that he is also a Limca Guinness Book record holder for having done the maximum number of films. How many, we ask? “Over a 1,000,” says the 69-years-old, who has been acting in comic roles here and there since 1975.
A few months ago, he was one of the 75 actors who auditioned for the title role in Manish Gupta’s film Main Nahin Anna. Says Gupta, “When I saw him, I knew he was made for the part. After a few rounds of auditions, I gave him some videos of Anna to watch. He began fitting the role perfectly, except that since he was used to doing so much comedy, his acting was a bit over the top.”
Manmauji agrees. After three and a half decades of acting funny on screen, doing a serious role wasn’t easy. “I got a little nervous, then I studied the part and prepared properly. This is my first full-fledged non-comic part,” says the actor.
Recalling an incident on the sets of Abbas-Mustan’s Baazigar (1993), in which he played one of the five servants in the Chopra house, he says, “We were shooting Seema’s (Shilpa Shetty’s) funeral. I was standing in the corner, looking tremendously sad. The directors burst out laughing because apparently I looked too devastated!”
So has he ever been mistaken for the real Anna? “A lot of people have told me I look a lot like him, comedians like Raju Srivastav have also made fun of it. But no one has thought I was Anna. That’s also because I’m quite well known, you see,” says Manmauji, who is lively as ever and hopes to continue doing films for as long as his health permits.
Manmohan makes debut too
Earlier this year, director Suhaib Illyasi announced that his film 498A: The Wedding Gift would feature a look-alike of Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. The actor, Gurmeet Singh, who shares an uncanny resemblance with the PM, has also been confused with the head of the country on many occasions.
‘It’s all in the eyes’
When you’re playing a real life character in a film, do you have to actually resemble the person you’re playing? For instance, Hollywood actor Meryl Streep owned her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. The resemblance between the two wasn’t evident to the lay eye, but according to Ritu Jhanjhani, who set up India’s first prosthetic make-up studio in Mumbai last year, it is the eyes that make all the difference when it comes to making someone look like someone else.
“Of course, if there is a resemblance, it helps a lot. And if the physical attributes, like the height, shape and weight of the two people are similar, that makes the job easy. But it’s all in the eyes. Prosthetics can’t do much about that,” she says. “What we can alter are cheek bones, foreheads, noses and ears after studying the structure of the faces. But with full prosthetics, a lot of other avenues open up.”
The process of studying the face, making a cast, sculpting it with clay and then eventually creating the silicone life-sized mould can take up to a week.