Manoj Bajpayee on Gulmohar: 'For any actor, it’s easy to express intensity, but I deliberately tried to leave all the intensity behind'

Manoj Bajpayee on Gulmohar: 'For any actor, it’s easy to express intensity, but I deliberately tried to leave all the intensity behind'

The three times National Award-winning actor discusses some of his finest performances and the challenges they brought along

Roshmila BhattacharyaUpdated: Friday, February 24, 2023, 09:48 PM IST
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JAYANT PEDNEKAR

It’s past 2 pm and Manoj Bajpayee is famished. Understandable! He has not eaten anything in 15 hours. A quick, simple lunch satiates that hunger, but the actor remains hungry, for good roles. He’s won several awards, including the Silver Lotus in 1999, Best Supporting Award for Satya. Two more National Awards followed, Special Jury Award in 2005 for Pinjar and Best Actor for Bhonsle in 2021. Bring up the subject of National honours and Manoj informs with a smile that they are beautifully displayed at home, thanks to his wife Shabana.

“Of course, I take great pride in them, but when you are approaching a role, it’s a new day and a new director who will not be swayed by your achievements and has completely different expectations from you which originate from the kind of education and exposure he has had,” he reasons. “It’s like climbing a mountain; ardeous, but since I’m interested in honing my craft as long as the body is around, I enjoy every challenge. It keeps the interest alive.”

Most actors struggle to find even half-a-dozen films they would like to be remembered by. Manoj has several gems in his repertoire. If there was a retrospective of his films tomorrow, which films would he pick? Frowning in concentration, he says it’s a difficult question for any actor to answer. “But since you ask, I would pick the more recent ones like Aligarh, Bhonsle, Gali Guliyein and the upcoming Gulmohar, which have helped me grow as an actor,” he informs. Pointing out he further adds that Gali Guleiyan, in which he plays a reclusive shopkeeper lost in the dark alleys of the city and the recesses of his own mind, “pushed me to the brink, mentally”. 

A still from Gulmohar

A still from Gulmohar |

Another performance that stands out for him is The Family Man, the Amazon Prime series. He explains that following the character’s graph with consistency over nine-ten episodes every season is a challenge. More so because Srikant Tiwari, a senior officer in the Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell (TASC) which is a part of the National Investigative Agency (NIA), is moving from one sphere to another, each completely different. “And as an actor, you are expected to keep the character intact in every situation and sphere while ensuring that he stays interesting for the audience through the journey. I got a lot of praise for this performance, but I don’t think the viewers have any idea just how difficult this role is for me,” he grins wryly. 

Manoj has a film coming up on OTT, Gulmohar, which releases on Disney+Hotstar on March 3. He plays Sharmila Tagore’s son, Arun Batra, who seems far less intense and that, Manoj explains, is what made the job doubly difficult. “For any actor, it’s easy to express intensity, but I deliberately tried to leave all the intensity behind,” he elucidates, pointing out that from the outside, the character looks like a normal, traditional guy from a good family, but he’s living on many levels. “He thinks he’s in control, but actually he’s not. Things are crumbling around him and something inside him is breaking. He is an emotional man, but he reacts to these very real situations with hurt, but without intensity. It was this and the fact that Batra’s world is one I had never been a part of, that made the outing interesting,” he shares. 

A still from Bhonsle

A still from Bhonsle |

You wonder if there is anything in common between Gulmohar and Bhonsle, another role very close to Manoj’s heart, and he shakes his head decisively, pointing out that the two genres are completely different. “Bhonsle deals with the post-retirement trauma of a man who wants to continue working, but has reached the end of his career and is now cooped in a place, a dilapidated chawl, where there’s not much space to live. With Ganpat Bhonsle, there’s pathos and misery, but not even a hint of a conflict,” he underlines the difference.

No conversation with Manoj is complete without a mention of Satya, Ram Gopal Varma’s crime drama that made him a household name. Even Gulmohar’s director, Rahul V Chittella admits that whenever he sees Manoj, a vision of underworld don Bhiku Mhatre, standing on a hillock, overlooking the sea, laughing and shouting, “Mumbai ka king kaun?” comes to his mind. What memories does Satya bring back for Manoj? “I still find it hard to believe I pulled off that performance because no way am I even remotely like Bhiku,” he confides.

The other surprise was the kind of love the film and the character received from the audience. “We were a bunch of newcomers looking for work then. It was enough that we landed some work, that I landed a role like this. But not even in my wildest dreams had I imagined that in a country like ours, where most people go to watch a film for the big stars, a film like Satya would become a blockbuster. That people would be celebrating a group of newbies. It was a miracle that I still find hard to accept,” he concludes candidly. 

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