Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Bhonsle was recently screened at the 7th Dharamshala International Film Festival to a packed auditorium. The film is inspired by actual incidents of violence against Bihari migrants in the state of Maharashtra. Bhonsle is directed by Devashish Makhija who has previously made Ajji . In Bhonsle , Bajpayee plays a retired Marathi police inspector who becomes a witness to the atrocities that the Bihari migrants living in a locality are subjected to at the behest of a Marathi politician. Bajpayee’s role in Bhonsle is much different from his previous work. “I hardly speak any dialogues in Bhonsle . The audience will be really surprised to see me in the film,” says Bajpayee, who is also one of the producers on the film.
You have not only acted in Bhonsle but you are also one of the producers. How did you get associated with the project?
Around four-and-a-half years back Devashish came to me with the script of Bhonsle . Back then, he didn’t have any film credit to his name. The script interested me a lot and so I asked him if he had a producer. He told me that he didn’t have one and so we started looking for one. Over the next four years or so as many as 6-7 producers came on board and left. We got so bored with the task of finding a new producer every time. We ended up making a short film called Taandav which became quite a rage on the digital platforms. But we wanted to get Bhonsle out of our system so that we could move on in our lives. I had become so adamant that I wanted it to be made come what may. I was not ready to believe that even after such a long career I was not getting a producer to back my film. So I didn’t want to surrender. If today we have finally succeeded in our quest I think it is a testament to our faith in Indian independent cinema and our belief that things will happen if you keep trying and don’t give up.
How do you see these incidents of violence against migrants in Maharashtra and elsewhere, as an artist who hails from Bihar?
My heart bleeds whenever such conflicts take place. It makes me sad that in your own country you are not wanted by your own brothers and sisters. It makes a person feel like a refugee in one’s own country. Yes, I am from Bihar; every time the Biharis get subjected to such violence I feel really helpless and sad.
However, I strongly believe that violence cannot be dealt with violence. While dealing with such issues, you can’t react in the same manner. You respond to it with words, you respond to it with the most beautiful protest. One just cannot let go of reason at any point in time and that really is the key.
We have heard that your rigorous preparation for Gali Guliyangot your wife worried about your health. What motivates you to push yourself to such extreme limits?
I think I like proving people wrong. It is a great feeling when people say that you cannot seriously deliver a better performance than Aligarh and I end up delivering Gali Guliyan . On a more serious note, whenever I feel that I am being limited by people’s imagination, I try to make an effort to go beyond that, try to find some more strength within me. That’s the passion. That’s the addiction. To find newer things inside me. And I am in love with this craft called acting. This romance is not going to go away very easily and I know that for sure.
You have become to this generation of actors what Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri were to the previous generation. How do you deal with this challenge of an actor who inspires the younger generation of actors?
Well, I keep conducting workshops and I have realised that I am a better teacher than an actor. This task of teaching was given to me by my mentor Barry John. Now, I love to teach and take part in improvisations with young actors. If they want to take me as their reference, then it’s absolutely fine but I am also ready to be proven wrong by them. Even in my classes I encourage my students to critique my performances. You see, no performance is the ultimate performance. No actor is the best actor. The key to acting is to be ready for failures. It is all about continuous learning. So when I am interacting with these new actors, though they are looking up to me I must have the courage to not take myself too seriously at the same time so that I am open to learning new things from them. Also, to make them believe that I am a human being and can falter like anyone else.
Satya recently completed 20 years. Perhaps the best thing that it is still remembered for is Bhiku Matre. How do you look back at Bhiku Matre and your journey post Satya ?
Satya changed my life. Before Satya, I was nothing. I was on the verge of leaving Mumbai but Satya resurrected my career. But it is not only about my career, the film also changed the entire grammar of filmmaking for our industry. A lot of new things that we see today, the seeds for them were sown with Satya .
Speaking of Bhiku Matre, I think it was really the first time that people saw a gangster whom they could relate to. Prior to that the gangsters were never really depicted as normal human beings and so in Bhiku people saw their own aspirations and dreams – to be powerful. To be free and liberated. Bhiku Matre was everything the average person wanted to be.
How do you like the idea of hosting a film festival like DIFF in the hills?
I have been hearing a lot about DIFF in the recent years. The way it is organised by Ritu and Tenzing, the festival has managed to establish itself as a cosy and exclusive event. It is slowly coming into its own. Independent filmmakers are really keen on being a part of it. I think it offers a perfect atmosphere for cinema.
Actually, we wanted to come to DIFF with Aligarh but for some reasons we couldn’t come here. The moment we learnt about Bhonsle’ s selection here, I left so many others things just to be a part of this colourful celebration of independent cinema in the hills.