Manoj Bajpayee is a force to reckon with in India’s entertainment industry right now. The powerhouse performer has carved a niche for himself with his films and even digital content. Manoj has experimented with roles on various mediums, starting off with Shekhar Kapur’s classic film Bandit Queen (1994). He followed it up with a stint on television in Mahesh Bhatt directed Swabhimaan (1995), until finding his place in Bollywood.
In a career spanning over 25 years Manoj gave us memorable characters in both critically and commercially successful films. While his Bhiku Mhatre in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya got him his first National Award, his Sardar Khan in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur set the tone of the entire franchise.
Manoj has managed to impress in films like Shool, Zubeidaa, Pinjar, 1971, Swami, Raajneeti, Special 26, Aligarh, Gali Guleiyan, Bhonsle and others. More recently, he’s been ruling the digital space too, receiving praise for playing spy agent Srikant Tiwari in Amazon Prime Video series The Family Man.
As the actor turns 52 today, we look back at the special episode of Faaroq Shaikh hosted celebrity talk show Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, where ace filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt, Shekhar Kapur and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra talked about working with Manoj early in his career.
Shekhar Kapur, who gave Manoj his first on-camera acting break, remembered how his silence intrigued him to cast him for the role of Man Singh in the dacoit drama. “When I first met Manoj, I was looking for a very quiet man who would be able to perform with very small gestures. When I explained the character to him, I said this man was the total opposite of Vikram Mallah who was the other lover. He was solid, almost like a father figure. When Manoj started to perform and he talked to me, I congratulated myself for casting him as he was exactly the one I wanted. Later, when I saw Manoj in Satya, I realised what a good actor he is. He had convinced me with his character – a quiet, strong, silent figure, and I thought that’s how he is. He fooled me. I’ve been wondering when I’ll get to work with Manoj again,” Kapur said in Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai.
While Kapur took the risk of casting a newcomer in his ambitious project, Mahesh Bhatt credits Bandit Queen for his first impression of Manoj, whom he directed in the actor’s debut TV show, Swabhimaan.
Recalling a scene performed by Manoj, Bhatt said, “I saw Manoj for the first time in my editing room. He performed a stunning scene where he was drunk. It was a tough scene, and he just went on and on. His body language, his style was so refreshing that I was mesmerised. I wondered who this guy was. Then I recalled Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen where he played a very muted role, who wasn’t as flourished as the other roles. I called for that guy, who came as a very shy, reserved and under confident. Then I just fell in love with him.”
In the particular episode, dated 2002, Bhatt vouched for Manoj’s bright future. He added, “Times are changing. Our industry now has a lot of young filmmakers and Manoj is a kind of icon for them. They can match Manoj’s zeal and are in sync with his vision. The generation which resisted him, is on a decline. All I want is he should stay on the crease and keep hitting singles. He has a bright future.”
One of Manoj Bajpayee’s most critically acclaimed performances came in Aks (2001), opposite Amitabh Bachchan. His role of an eccentric killer Raghavan, Manoj impressed. The film’s director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra got candid about casting him.
“I saw his little portion in Bandit Queen. The special part was his character did not have many lines but there was something about that silence which was very penetrating. I hadn’t watched Satya until then, so I didn’t know he’ll become such a huge star. I spoke to Ashok Mehta who shot Bandit Queen. He told me how good he is,” Mehra said.
Post the episode of Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, Manoj went on to give many more noteworthy characters.
During a chat with indianexpress.com, Manoj Bajpayee had recalled his journey, and how his struggles did not end even after tasting success. He said, “I wish I was entering the industry 3-4 years back because the struggle of getting roles would have been almost negligible. It has opened up now.”
He added, “A person like me has worked and struggled very hard for this day to come where all the young actors are getting such content and such characters. It was impossible in my times. There were hardly any offers which were worth taking up. Seven years after the massive success of Satya, I managed to buy my own house. Today, in just two years, actors manage to make a house by doing what they want to do, like Rajkummar Rao and Vicky Kaushal. It is a great leap from those times. So, I feel very happy. And I have contributed in a small way to make this day happen.”
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