“I shall go on breaking my limitations as an actor” ”“ Manoj Bajpayee

By Neeru Saluja

Actor Manoj Bajyapee is one of the finest actors that our industry has gifted to us. He has made us Australians proud once again being nominated for the third time at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) for his performance in Bhonsle.

From the underworld don in Satya, the ruthless gangster in Gangs of Wasseypur, a shrewd politician in Rajneeti, the honest cop in Shool or the gay professor in Aligarh, actor Manoj Bajyapee has always made his performance iconic. Inthe critically acclaimed film Bhonsle, he plays a police constable who tries to help in the struggle of migrants and their battles with politicians.

Congratulations on being nominated for the third time at APSA. We feel so proud of your achievement, how are you feeling at this moment?

It’s unbelievable. I rate APSA as one of the best in the world, especially in the manner they choose their films from 70 odd countries. Being nominated is quite an honour because you know that the films/actors you are competing with are no less.

You have been nominated for your performance in Bhonsle. It’s a film that took four years in making. Tell us a bit about what went behind the scenes in making this film.

Four or five years back the director came to me with the script and I loved it. He did not have a producer. We both kept on looking for producers but somehow nothing materialised, be it the script or the film, the politics involved or the independent cinema category. It took a lot of time convincing all the producers. Finally, we had way too many producers and decided to make the film. But we only had money to shoot the film for 10 days. After shooting every day, I would come into my van and call the producers to get some money. This film has been close to me, not because it’s a great script but also because when the entire world refused to believe the film, a few of us believed in the film.

Did this film take you back to your own migration story as you also struggled in Mumbai away from your home?

I don’t relate to it that way. A human being is a world animal, he can roam around freely. He should not be questioned which land he is born on. But here we are talking about the same country. If there is a problem like this, then there is a bigger problem. The world is going through a complete mistrust between human beings, nationalities and countries. This mistrust has gone humungous and this is a concern. Bhonsle is a truthful and brutal comment on what is happening in the world today.

When I was watching the film, Bhonsle’s life as a retired cop came across as monotonous. He looks suffocated in the small space he is confined to. Was this intentional?

This is what he always ran away from him. He wanted to be away from his room and do his duty and this is what he was dreading. But retirement came to him as a compulsion, which comes to everyone. The monotony of it just kills you as you get up in the morning, do the dishes, cook food, wash your clothes, do puja ”“ this is where the director tires the audience out of the monotony.

When last time I talked you said acting is the most difficult thing for you. Is this statement still prevalent for you?

I will keep reiterating this fact as the entire world thinks this is the easiest thing but it is the most difficult thing. How can you think of calling a profession so easy when it involves playing someone else? It is not about mimicry, it is not about imitation, it is about being that person. It’s about getting into the skin of the character, understanding the brain cells, the DNA of that character, how he operates, what makes him moves, what are his conflicts and contradictions. It is not an easy task at all.

Every film you play a different character. You have never repeated a role. Is this on purpose or part of your learnings in your journey as an actor?

This is purposeful and at the same time if I play lawyers into two different films, that doesn’t mean that the roles are the same. They both are two different human beings wearing black coats as different people. Yes, I don’t repeat myself intentionally. I try to do things differently and keep evolving not only as an actor but also as a person. It’s important for me to keep educating and improving myself.

In your own words, how have you evolved as an actor?

I have been on the right path. In the beginning, people could not understand Manoj Bajpayee but now I can sense that people understand the intention of Manoj Bajpayee. In return the respect is growing.

The way I look at myself ”“ the challenges are many. Either I sit back and enjoy the laurels of the past or I go on breaking the limitations. I will choose the latter one. My job doesn’t involve retirement so I should keep on doing things differently, focus on my work rather looking left or right and enjoy it.

When do you think people started noticing your style of acting?      

That was long time back. I was very lucky that way. Satya was my breakthrough film. People looked at me with awe but those days the industry was not making independent cinema. You just had to wait for the script or go to the director and convince him to make such a film. And the mainstream wanted me to be a villain with all the superstars, which means I had to say a no to work and money. It has never been easy. Times have changed now and what we see today ”“ the seed was sown way back.

What do we see from Manoj in 2020?  

I got something fantastic on the digital platform Amazon (Family Man) which has been received very well. We are in the process of making the second season of it. Bhonsle will also be releasing next year and a Netflix original. And then back to back I’m shooting four films. It’s acting, acting and acting!

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