I come out emotionally bruised from Dipesh Jain’s directorial debut Gali Guleiyan. It’s a film that uncomfortably locates you in the maze-like minds of a physically abused child, Idu, and a tethering-on-the-edge adult, Khuddoos (Manoj Bajpayee). After watching this perfectly cast, imaginatively shot, sharply edited film, I rated Manoj Bajpayee’s performance as one of his three best in the 20 years since his breakthrough with Satya (1998). Manoj begs to differ. He confidently proclaims, “I would rate it as my best performance!” before elaborating, “The role has tested my skill and craft. Look at the challenges the character has to face — every 30 seconds his motivation keeps changing. He comes in touch with reality one moment and he loses touch the next. I had to think very hard to find out which actor had attempted a role like this before.”
Since I am meeting Manoj after ages at the screening of the film, my first reaction is one of shock, “Manoj, you have become slim almost beyond recognition.” And to think I had been secretly beaming till then at the idea of losing eight kilos after turning vegan. Manoj smiles wryly, “Can you believe, for the film I was seven kilos lighter than this too! I had followed a comprehensive diet chart. I started looking sick. But I wanted to go prepared on the sets internally and externally. Without preparation, spontaneity is reckless, it’s only meant for the gallery. I felt I was dealing with Khuddoos’ mindscape; and I got completely immersed in the preparation. One day, I was making notes of the motivations of the character and my wife (former actress Neha now known as Shabana) said, “Did you say something?” I demurred, but she reiterated, ‘No, you just did. Manoj you are talking to yourself! You are looking sick too. I don’t think it’s the right way to prepare for a role but you know better and I don’t want to come between your work and you’.”
The constantly wired (in more ways than one) Khuddoos’s loneliness is so intense, it begins to gnaw at me while I am watching the film. Did it affect Manoj too? He says, “I am not a loner in real life. But had I not entered into the mind zone of my character, it would have been difficult to travel with this guy. However, by the twenty-fifth shooting day, it became excessively daunting and I told my director, ‘Please wrap up fast, I think I am …’’’ and Manoj trails off.
In one of the many insightful scenes in the film, Khuddoos stitches his palm with rudimentary anaesthetics after he cuts his hand accidentally. It’s not the shock value which matters; what is effective is that it conveys that Khuddoos, overwhelmed by his emotional pain, has become immune to physical pain. Manoj corroborates, “Mental pain is always more difficult to bear than physical pain because for physical pain you can get anaesthesia but there is no anaesthesia for mental pain. You can take a sleeping pill and go off to sleep, but eventually you have to wake up.”
Since Manoj gets into the skin (and bones) of his character — and the film explores the dark repercussions of childhood events — I ask the actor if there was any aspect of his childhood that had left a long shadow on his adult life. Manoj answers honestly, “My family lived a complete frugal life. It has left me with the fear of being without money. And yet, I have never become desperate to earn money.”
In Gali Guleiyan, the abused child Idu grows up to be a paranoid voyeur. How careful are you in the manner in which you raise your daughter, Manoj? He shares, “We have one daughter and my wife is very careful. When I am with my daughter I keep a check on what she is watching on YouTube or whether she has been quiet for too long. I keep a hawk’s eye on the influences she is exposed to.”
Barring a few minor quibbles — for instance, I expected the narrow bylanes of Old Delhi, in which the film is set, to be more crowded — I loved the film. I ask Manoj to single out his favourite scene and he spontaneously shares one that, uncannily, is my favourite too. He divulges, “My favourite scene is when Khuddoos finally comes to the main road in broad daylight only to be accosted by the sound and chaos; and he immediately withdraws into his familiar lanes. It’s a very brief moment but I got my expression just right.”
(Dinesh Raheja is an Indian author, columnist, TV scriptwriter, and film historian. In 2017 he initiated The Dinesh Raheja Workshop in which he teaches Bollywood aspirants everything related to the media.)