Aks came to Manoj Bajpayee at a time when he was sitting at home doing nothing because he was only being offered the role of a villain in big-ticket films. They didn’t excite him, but Aks, being made by debut director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, did. He knew that this character would require lot of hard work as it was an interpretation of evil, and evil can be interpreted in many ways. He was ready for it. “Evil can be flamboyant and dangerous… It can be entertainment and greed… It can be a lover and it can be a destroyer… And I had to get all of this into one character,” he explains.
The actor didn’t shy away from the challenge. He developed the character for five-six months, going frequently to Mehra’s house to show him the improvisations he had come up with. They decided on Raghavan Ghatge’s look and he brainstormed on the fabric of his clothes with the costume designer. “Then, Rakeysh Mehra called me to Kamlesh Pandey’s place so I could play out the character as I saw him before him. And he would get an idea on how to go about the dialogues,” Manoj reminisces.
Pointing out that like Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger, who interpreted the character of the villainous Joker in the Batman films in their own ways, for him too Raghavan did not grow out of life, but out of the word ‘evil’. “And this meant that I had to work on everything, from the way Raghavan walks and talks to the way he laughs and kills. Everything had a rhythm, and I came up with different theories when giving him the form of a human being. A human being who is combative, attractive and dangerous,” he shares.
Even the mask was Manoj’s idea, after he spotted one in his director’s home. Human beings have two different shades, he explains. There is good, which, in the film, is played by Amitabh Bachchan and there is evil, which was him. “Only good can be boring and only evil can be dangerous, but when they meet, they strive to find a balance within. However, at the same time, can’t avert the conflict that is inevitable,” he reasons, underlining the concept of the film, which he’s really proud of to this day. “We achieved something impossible with it,” Manoj asserts.
Aks, which was released 20 years earlier on July 13, is a supernatural thriller, revolving around a police inspector and a serial killer. During a conference in Budapest, Raghavan, who works as a mercenary, murders the defence minister. He is caught and hanged, but during the execution, his spirit enters Inspector Manu Verma’s [Amitabh Bachchan] body and starts to manipulate the top cop into doing what he wants.
Manoj reveals that his introduction was the most difficult scene in the film for him, because it not only set up the character and the tone, but was shot in Budapest, in minus 10 degrees. “It was a night shoot, out in the open, in sub-zero temperature. I had landed in Hungary the previous day and my body had not yet had time to acclimatise itself with that kind of cold. Brrrr,” he shivers at the memory.
His biggest award was when Amitabh Bachchan, while accepting his Filmfare Critics Award for best actor, complimented Manoj. “I cherish that more than any award because it’s always more satisfying when a co-actor of Mr Bachchan’s calibre praises your performance from a platform that big,” he signs off.
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