In 2010, a professor named Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras was reportedly suspended from the Aligarh Muslim University because of his sexual orientation. Later that year, he was found dead in his house. An upcoming movie, titled Aligarh, has been inspired by these events. Manoj Bajpayee plays the lead role in the film that premiered globally at the Busan International Film Festival this year. The movie’s producers — Sunil Lulla, Sandeep Singh and Sailesh Singh — too are thrilled about the film’s reception, and think it features Manoj’s best performance to date. They are glad that an actor of his stature exists in India. Here, Manoj tells us more about the film.
How did you prepare for your role?
When Hansal Mehta (director) came up with a great script, it motivated me to stay true to Siras’s character. But, for some reason, he never really wanted me to meet Siras’s family. My only point of reference was a short interview of him that was conducted by Barkha Dutt.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while doing this film?
The biggest challenge was portraying Siras’s loneliness. But the character made everything possible — for the story to be written and for the film to be made.
Several actors have played gay characters in films over the years. Are there any performances that have stood out for you?
Sean Penn in Milk (2008) and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (1993) are some of my favourite... The west has come up with so many great films around the theme of homosexuality that it’s hard to choose just one.
How have you been able to balance mainstream cinema and performance-oriented films?
It has been a tough journey to survive in an industry that is purely box-office oriented, and does not have too many roles for actors like me. The industry doesn’t pay enough. But, an actor cannot afford to have a favourite role or genre. I have simply looked for good roles and stories.
Do you think your film will lead to a controversy?
I do not think it (the film) will ruffle any feathers. Once the film is released, it’s in the hands of the people. Siras was a great human being, and a gentle soul. Playing him has improved me as a person. He purified my soul. I hope he has the same impact on the audience as well.