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Bajpai to probe Muslim psyche

Bajpai is in the process of rebuilding his brand equity, says Saibal Chatterjee.

entertainment Updated: Sep 24, 2005 18:00 IST
Saibal Chatterjee | Wide Angle
Saibal Chatterjee | Wide Angle

Manoj Bajpai, who ranks among Bollywood's most accomplished actors, hasn't had a box office hit in quite a while. But, then, was he ever in the race to be your average commercial Hindi movie star?

"I have cut down appreciably on my acting assignments," he says. "I have developed the patience to wait for scripts that have substance. And that's a commodity not particularly easy to come by these days."

Bajpai's skilfully modulated performance in Chandraprakash Dwivedi's Partition epic, Pinjar, fetched him a Special Jury Prize at the National Film Awards last year, but his engagement with several other mainstream films, notably Pankaj Parashar's Intequam, threw his career out of gear just a tad.

So, Bajpai is currently in the process of rebuilding his brand equity and refocusing on the essence of his creative credo: substance before commercial success. What the actor is concentrating on, in furthering that strategy, is devouring as much as he possibly can of contemporary Hindi literature in quest of stories.

On a private visit to New Delhi en route to Kolkata, he doesn't lose the opportunity to get in touch with his old theatre pals on the campus of the National School of Drama. His roots still lie there.

Bajpai is excited that his plans to turn film producer are close to fructification. "I am talking to prospective financiers who might share my passion for quality cinema," he says. The proposed film will be scripted and directed by a first-timer, Bajpai adds.

Bajpai has, of course, already run into moneybags who cannot think beyond item numbers. "It obviously isn't easy raising money for projects of this nature," he admits. "But it is wrong to believe that films about real issues aren't commercially viable."

The subject of Bajpai's first film as producer, which is based on his own story, is going to shake up a lot of people, he promises. "It will explore the inner recesses of the mind of a Muslim living in contemporary India. Existing in a climate of fear and distrust cannot be easy and that is what the film will seek to articulate," Bajpai explains.

Isn't he worried about courting controversy, given the potentially explosive nature of the theme? "Not at all," he asserts. "The film won't try to sensationalise anything. All that we will attempt to do is deal with the problem sensitively."

"My wife (actress Neha) is a Muslim and she is my sounding board," says the actor. "Her reactions to news developments from around the world give me an insight into the great psychological pressure that Muslims all over the world have to endure."

Bajpai's next commercial release will be a film titled 1971, directed by Ramanand Sagar's grandson, Amrit Sagar. "It's a truly special film," he says. "The cast, except for me, is entirely made up of unknown actors." The film deals with the plight of six Indian soldiers held captive during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

The film has been scripted by New Delhi theatre personality Piyush Mishra. "With people like Piyush lending their sensitivity and skills to the scripting of films, actors like me certainly stand to benefit," says Bajpai.

He is also looking forward to the release of Searching for Sara, an international production directed by New York-based NRI filmmaker Nanda Anand. Bajpai plays a central role in the film - that of an enigmatic Rajasthani nobleman -- opposite two of Hollywood's most promising actresses - Lynn Collins (The Merchant of Venice) and Kelli Garner (The Aviator).

"I have information that Searching for Sara is now in the last legs of its post-production. It should be ready for release by the end of the year," Bajpai reveals.

The spectre of Bhikhu Mhatre still looms large over Bajpai's identity as an actor - that character from Satya always will -- but it is also evident that he has begun to grow out of the confines of mainstream Bollywood. That probably marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the life and times of Manoj Bajpai.

First Published: Sep 24, 2005 20:00 IST