Manoj Bajpayee interview: ‘It’s time to line up at the box office of democracy’

As the versatile actor completes three decades and a hundred films, he talks about the salience of silence in his performances, working with new-age filmmakers and leading the pack in ‘Bhaiyyaji,’ and his feelings about election season

April 18, 2024 04:43 pm | Updated April 24, 2024 04:03 pm IST

Manoj Bajpayee

Manoj Bajpayee | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Every few years we see a resurgence in Manoj Bajpayee’s career. Clocking 30 years in an industry that throws up a new hero every other week, Manoj is busier than ever before. After wowing the streaming audience with Gulmohar and Ek Banda Hi Kaafi Hai, the festive circuit with Joram and The Fable, Manoj is returning to mainstream space with Bhaiyyaji next month. Before that, he is traversing his favourite middle ground with Silence 2 on ZEE5.

Sunne se gyan badhta hai, bolne se dambh (listening makes you learn, speaking fills you with arrogance),” says Manoj during a freewheeling chat.

Edited excerpts:

Manoj Bajpayee

Manoj Bajpayee | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Silence plays an important role in your performances these days?

It may look easy but to remain silent is the most difficult thing in life as well as in front of the camera. If an actor learns to be silent when the camera is on, it shows how secure and well-prepared he is. As you grow with your craft, you learn how to use silence. Though it is not a new aspect of my acting, I used it in Pinjar and Shool to express the guilt and anguish of the character, these days, it is coming through much more beautifully. I feel you start maturing as an actor after 40. Acting is directly related to your evolution as a person.

Is the silence of one character different from the silence of the other?

It depends on how you do the characterisation. Dasru’s silence in Joram is different from Prof Siras’s silence in Aligarh. He is an educated man who is forced to be silent. Dasru comes from a marginalised section that is completely unsure and puzzled. I find Prof Siras’s silence far more deafening for the audience. Khudoos’ (Gali Guleyian) is more troubled in silence. His mind is chaotic. What you see outside is not exactly what’s happening in his head.

How do you get psychological complexity right in a visual medium?

It is a struggle. I always say your eyes don’t lie. If you are not working on the character, if you are not that character, your eyes will show. The camera is a very intelligent tool. It catches you.

Have you solved the puzzle of how long one should remain in character?

Now I don’t want to solve the puzzle. When I have given so much physical and mental time to the character, it will remain in me. The only way you can put it aside is by preparing yourself for the next. My mind is not cluttered after doing various roles of the serious kind. Spiritual practices provide me with clarity. .

Does it affect family life?

Yes, when you are performing you are somewhere else even if you are with your family. I think I have far more improved because of my discipline. After doing so many intense and immersive roles, you also feel tired. You get scared of going through the tedious exercise into a dark hole; but again, you go back into it because it is a job that fascinates you. Every time I decide that I won’t, a Dasru comes my way. There is no moving away from it as long as you have the hunger inside.

From Shekhar Kapoor and Ram Gopal Varma to Ram Reddy, you have come a long way...

Ram Gopal Varma and Ram Reddy are 180 degrees different but both are true to their times. People will get completely blown away with the craft of Ram Reddy. His vision and his definition of cinema are mesmerising. For me, it is very important to surrender to the new-age directors. They are products of the time. Their exposure is different, and their way of looking at cinema is different. I don’t carry the ego that the younger person in front of me knows less than me. When I surrender myself to them, they harness my craft. It is a selfish move!

Tell us about ‘Bhaiyyaji’ which you have co-produced as well. Was there an urge to do a mass entertainer?

The idea of Bhaiyyaji was with me for some time. I was looking for a writer who could write a middle-of-the-road film for me but director Apoorva Singh Karki was eager to make a mainstream film out of it. He loves Tamil and Telugu films and wants to give his take on this genre. I found the genre a little larger than life and offered to speak to any other actor for him. But he was insistent on casting me. I was not sure of how he will show me but he has pulled it off.

Do you see a gap in the representation of the mainstream hero in Hindi cinema?

Mainstream films should have heroes rooted in their culture. The treatment could be larger than life but the story and characterisation should be rooted. This is exactly what we have tried. It used to happen in Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan’s time in his films and the movies of Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha. Slowly as we moved away to aspirational themes, heroes changed. Now we are going back to the roots and the South is showing us the way.

Why did you feel the need to formally turn to production?

It takes me a lot of time to say yes to projects. In the last decade, I have been asking young filmmakers whose work I like to write roles for me. This is how Devashish Makhija, Rahul Chittella, and Apoorva happened to me. So, Neha, my wife, and I thought when we are unearthing the content and the director, why not do it under our production?

Do you wish such variety had come your way a decade back?

It is not about wishing. Those days I may not have done them. I am experimenting a lot with my directors now. I am hopping genres quite a lot these days. This is the right time I feel when I am 100-films old.

In 2020, before the Bihar election, you released ‘Bambai Main Kaba’ which started a trend of political commentary through Bhojpuri rap. Are you game for one this time?

That was more like a social statement on migration and immigrants that is happening for decades. There is no plan this time but I am motivating people to vote through public service advertisements. I feel both cinema and democracy work according to people’s choices. It’s time to line up at the box office of democracy to choose the candidate or the party that you feel is good for the country.

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