In an industry where fortunes soar or take a nosedive almost every Friday, actor Manoj Bajpayee has carved a niche for himself in a carrer spanning two decades. Bajpayee, who turned 46 on Thursday, is one of those dark horses who sure knows how to keep himself in the race. He has established himself as one of the finest actors in the industry.
A card-carrying member of Indian film industry's method actor's club, Bajpayee is one of those rare talents who's straddled the two different worlds of mainstream and art-house films with consummate ease.
Not really a hero material in the conventional sense, it's the connect his negative characters have with the audience that makes him the winner he is. The credit for that, he says, should go to his "love for grey". Says he: "If you give me a negative character, I try finding something positive around it. And if you give me a positive character, my job is to find some flaws with his personality. Because no one is perfect and no one is purely evil either. All of us, we have shades of grey."
His next big release, Aligarh, is no different: He plays a gay professor in this National Award-winning director Hansal Mehta's film. Based on the real-life incident of a gay professor who was terminated from his job because of his sexual orientation, Aligarh also stars Rajkummar Rao who plays a journalist in the film.
In a freewheeling chat with Hindustan Times, the actor bares his heart on his two-decade-long journey in showbiz, his four-year-old daughter, critics, forthcoming films and much more.
Among your contemporaries, you are credited with introducing method acting to mainstream cinema. Is it a tough ask? What is your advice for aspiring actors?
I'd say you need loads of patience if you really want to contribute to acting and are really passionate about it. Give your best, keep working and have lots of patience. That's what I do and I am still working on it. There are a lot of things I want to do it and that's what keeps me going. Work hard, and be patient because there is no place for impatience in this industry.
Manoj Bajpayee's character in Gangs of Wasseypur was perhaps the only lech you would love to hate. Which role is closest to your heart?
It's difficult for me to choose as I have only done 50-55 films in the 20-21 years that I have in this industry. Ideally, the number should have been close to 100. The number's low because I am choosy; there are very few scripts that I dream of doing. I have made mistakes, where I thought a role will be something and it turned out as something else, but I have no regrets. A script has to be good so that it can take me forward towards my dreams. All of these films are close to my heart. But I will always be grateful to Satya and Bhiku Mhatre as it gave me the platform to experiment. Satya gave recognition to Manoj Bajpayee but at the same time, it also gave opportunities to so many other actors. Suddenly the industry opened up for people like Irrfan, Nawazuddin, Rajkummar Rao...even Sanjai Mishra (Aankhon Dekhi) is doing so good. Someone who couldn't have thought of playing the lead now gets the opportunity and I have no shame to say Satya made it possible for all of us.
Manoj Bajpayee in Satya
Do you have a wishlist for directors you want to work with?
Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj are two great filmmakers I haven't been able to work with yet. Have mostly worked with others-- Anurag, Prakash Jha, Neeraj Pandey, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihlani. I had them in my wishlist.
Which is your daughter Ava Nayla's favourite Manoj Bajpayee movie?
She's too young for most of my films but she liked the songs of Tevar. Right now, she's happy with Honey Singh songs. I think she needs to be an adult before she can understand and appreciate my films. I can actually show her Kaun and scare her (laughs) or maybe Jugaad and Dus Tola but I want to wait for her to grow up.
Manoj Bajpayee and his wife Shabana with their four-year-old daughter, Ava Nyla.
Who is your favourite critic?
My wife. She liked Tevar but complained that there were too many songs. She did find my performance different. She is the one whose response I sincerely await as she has no agenda while criticising or appreciating my performance and films.
Manoj Bapayee in a still from Arjun Kapoor-Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Tevar.
What kind of research did you do for your role in Hansal Mehta's Aligarh?
I have been asked not to talk about Aligarh. Let the film's promotions begin first. I recently completed Traffic, Saat Uchakke, Duranto and Aligarh. I also completed another film with Tabu which I've co-produced with Neeraj Pandey. Duranto is inspired by Budhiya Awooga Singh, the young Orissa boy who ran a marathon and his coach was shot dead. Saat Uchakke is an amazing film set in Chandni Chowk. My co-production with Tabu is a psychological thriller and Traffic is a social drama, a race against time. That's all I can tell you right now.
How do you plan to spend your birthday this year?
Friends from theatre days will visit but I am no longer excited about birthdays. My daughter is really excited, she doesn't want me to go with my friends, she wants to bring cake and arrange a party for me...birthdays now are just about spending time with family and friends.
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