Actors don’t get money,stars do: Manoj Bajpayee

In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24X7 Walk the Talk,actor Manoj Bajpayee talks about coming to Mumbai at a difficult time.

Written by Shekhar Gupta | New Delhi | Published:May 5, 2013 2:28 am

In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24X7’s Walk the Talk,actor Manoj Bajpayee talks about coming to Mumbai at a difficult time,why Shah Rukh Khan and he were never the best of friends and making a mark despite lacking star appeal

My guest this week,well,take your pick,you can call him the most lovable letch in Hindi cinema in a long time,or the most convincing rogue. But in fact,if you know Manoj Bajpayee,and you have been watching him,you will say (he is) the most convincing in any role that is given to him.

That’s better actually (laughs) for an actor. But,yes,lovable letch,as you said very rightly,our whole effort was to make him look lovable.

If I may explain this,there is this sequence in Gangs of Wasseypur where you see this Bengali maid,(played by) Reema Sen washing clothes at a hand pump,and you are just trying to be polite with her (laughs)…

(Laughs) Ya,the whole thing was to make people laugh,so that they love him and not to make the audience detest him.

That’s why I said lovable rogue…

That’s the best compliment. That was my effort,because he is the protagonist. He is not conventional,but he’s the guy who’s vowed to take revenge and is at the centre of the story.

He’s the bad guy who starts the blood feud by stealing. Rather,his father starts it…

But his father was a nicer person,he fought for the right thing,but when he fights for anything,there is really no logic to it. Sometimes,he’s leching at this Bengali maid,at the same time,he goes out to kill guys who are molesting a girl in the colony. His mind is warped.

Right.

When he’s going to do what,is something which is completely illogical. He’s a kind of guy who exists in our society. Not everybody who thinks of revenge is Amitabh Bachchan. This guy is completely opposite of everything that a hero is defined by.

You got me interested when you said that everybody who is trying to take revenge is not Amitabh Bachchan. It’s a point that is often made. Amitabh Bachchan is always Amitabh Bachchan in whatever role he plays. But in the new cinema,say in your case,you are Bhikhu Mhatre (of Satya,1998),or you are Sardar Khan (Gangs of Wasseypur) or you are… Special 26…I’ve not seen the film.

Wasim Khan.

So,people remember Wasim Khan,they don’t remember Manoj Bajpayee. There’s a difference?

(Shrugs) One thing has been very clear to me,I didn’t have any other choice but to be the character. Since my childhood I realised that I don’t have the charisma of Mr Bachchan (smiles).

Nobody does…

I can’t just stand there,in front of the camera,and make thousands go mad.

Or like Rajesh Khanna,repeat the same mannerism in every role.

But they were doing something different. What I realised is that I am not somebody who people look at. I still remember Shah Rukh (Khan),he was in Barry John’s theatre group.

Are you contemporaries?

He was in Kirori Mal college,I was in Ramjas college (in Delhi). We were with Barry at the same time. He was there for one-and-a-half or two years,I stayed with Barry for a long time. But what I have realised (is) that you don’t have to really work on being a star,you are either born with it or you are not.

He had star quality.

He was noticed. And here was I,even though sometimes I was in front,I had to make an effort to be noticed.

Did you know each other then? Did you bring that acquaintanceship to Bombay?

It’s not that we meet often,but yes,we know each other. But we were never the best of friends.

But you were quite a gang,a theatre gang in Delhi that came to Bombay.

That was a different gang altogether,from Mandi House (Delhi’s theatre hub). Piyush Mishra and Saurabh Shukla,and though I didn’t know Anurag (Kashyap) that well at that point,he and Imtiaz Ali and the entire cast of Bandit Queen (1994) shifted to Bombay. I still remember taking a room on rent,which Saurabh was sharing with me,and suddenly there were seven-eight of the Delhi theatrewallahs staying in that small room.

Bandit Queen was the break for all of you.

Yes. Shekhar Kapur found us. He got this film from Channel 4,in which he could take the risk of casting new talent.

A whole bunch of people who could look convincingly like dacoits.

Yeah,he wanted guys who could suit the part. During the shoot he said,guys,you have done enough of theatre. After this you’ll be married,you’ll have children,you’ll fall sick,and you don’t have a penny. That scared the hell out of me and Saurabh.

And you got back and prepared for the IAS.

I don’t know if you have heard (of) this teacher from Delhi University. He is one of the best teachers of modern history,Dilip Simeon.

Who doesn’t know Dilip Simeon?

In his class,there used to be no seat for (students from) Ramjas College,because Stephanians and Hinduites would occupy them. Once,I came to the class and was looking to either stand or sit somewhere,and he said,‘Please give him a seat,he is the only one who has the clarity of what he will do in future!’

So then you came to Bombay?

Right.

The late ’80s (to) mid-’90s was one of the worst periods of Bombay cinema. There was the mafia,there were killings and the cinema was rubbish.

All kinds of films were being made. I was not ready to be branded as one uncle or villain. For four years I didn’t do anything. I got one episode in some TV series,and that was also a rarity. I got,say,Rs 800 bucks or Rs 1,000,just enough to survive for 10 or 15 days in this city. It was enough to break anybody’s morale,humiliate any actor,so that he would go back,and I was contemplating it.

Then what happened?

Then a long series happened,Swaabhimaan,which was written by Shobhaa De,produced by Mahesh Bhatt’s company. They offered me this 12-episode role. A friend of mine said,just go ahead and do it,at least you’ll have some money in your pocket. They liked my work so much that I lasted for two-and-a-half years.

And that became a living.

And that became a living. I was not saving much,but yeah,Rs 20,000 a month was good money. That kind of gave me the strength to go out and look for the kind of work that I was looking for in cinema. And I kept on meeting people and Ram Gopal Varma happened to me.

How did Satya happen?

Satya’s story is quite bizarre. Kannan (Iyer),who directed Ek Thi Daayan,was Shekhar Kapur’s associate in Bandit Queen. Ram Gopal Varma was making Daud (1997),and Kannan was one of the writers. He said,there are many small but important roles,why don’t you guys — me,Irrfan and many others — come and meet Varma? You never know,if he likes you,you might get a big role in his next film. So we went,and Ramu started talking to me. When he came to know that I am Man Singh from Bandit Queen,he jumped up from his sofa.

And he remembered the character,not the man?

The character,not the man. And he said,you look too young. I have been looking for you since the time I have seen the film. Where were you? I said,sir,I am here,in this city. He said,but nobody could give me your number,your whereabouts. Don’t do this role,I am going to make a film with you. And I thought,he’s just faffing.

Pulling your leg…

So he said,you don’t believe me,just do this role,you’ll be getting Rs 35,000. I said that’s fine with me. But he was serious about me. He had this idea of making a film as strong as Bandit Queen,on (the) underworld. This whole drive came to him only after watching Bandit Queen. Because he felt,he actually told me…

He wished he had done it.

And he said,I want to make my Bandit Queen. He had this idea about (the) underworld. He said,get me writers,get me talent,I am not exposed to them,and that’s how I got Anurag,Saurabh,all of these guys.

You are not a reluctant actor,but you’ve seen two periods of long absences,one after Bandit Queen and one after Satya. What happened?

Not after Satya. It was after Pinjar (2003),after my second National Award. I developed an alien bone in my shoulder. I could not move my arm.

Like a frozen shoulder?

It was like a frozen shoulder,but it was,as I said,an alien bone,which was obstructing movement. I could not work. I was scared of letting this news go public,because there would be much distortion.

This place can make you very insecure.

Definitely. Because news can be distorted or looked at from different perspectives,it can mar your career. You don’t want it to be jeopardised when you love your profession so much.

So,two long gaps,Manoj,and now this wonderful year. 2012 was your year.

Yeah,2010,actually. Rajneeti gave me a boost.

Again,a really bad guy,but a convincing bad guy.

Mr Prakash (Jha) had given me two roles to choose from and I chose this one. Nobody has played Duryodhan till now,or nobody could think that I would want to give an interpretation of Duryodhan. He was not a bad guy. If he was bad,so was Arjun.

What’s next for you? Do you have frontiers left to conquer now? As a good guy?

I have done that in Zubeidaa (2001) and Shool (1999). I’ve had my share of playing good guys

This is a changed Bombay,in terms of cinema. What new trends do you see now that multiplexes have narrowed the difference between the Rs 100-crore grossers and a Wasseypur?

Rs 100 crore in a population of 120 (crore) is nothing,we should be making Rs 1,000 crore profit. We have to look at creating as many theatres as possible. Because there are so many corners of this country,such a big population still depends on DVDs and pirated CDs.

I hope more money keeps coming,and keeps coming your way.

(Laughs) Ya,we need money. Actors don’t get money,stars do.

And we need actors like you,who convince us in any role they play,because at the end of the day you want to remember the character much more than the actor. Manoj,that’s what makes you unique and that’s why we love you so much.

Thank you.

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