From Sardar Khan to Bhiku Mhatre and from professor Siras to Srikanth Tiwari, Manoj Bajpayee has been instrumental in shaping the audience’s preference for content-driven films. In a career spanning over 26 years, he has played award-winning roles in films like Shool, Pinjar, Satya, Raajneeti, Gangs of Wasseypur, Aligarh and more.
A recipient of two National Film Awards and the Padma Shri, Bajpayee has conquered the digital space too with his hit web show The Family Man. The actor, who refuses to slow down, credits his theatre days in Delhi for shaping the actor in him. He recalls how he was chosen by the casting team of Shekhar Kapur due to his theatre background and given his first film – Bandit Queen in 1994. He played dacoit Maann Singh in the biographical drama.
Here’s what he shared about his first Bollywood film:
1. What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?
Bandit Queen was my first film. It came to me because Shekhar Kapur was casting for all the talent from Delhi theatre for that film. Tigmanshu Dhulia was the casting director in those days. He was a theatre person coming from National School of Drama. So he was quite aware of my work on the Delhi stage. So I was the first one to be contacted for Bandit Queen. I would give it to Tigmanshu Dhulia and Shekhar Kapur for really starting my cinema career.
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
I remember shooting with Seema Biswas, where I am stopping her from drinking water from the pond because I feel that the pond water is all poisoned.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?
I was on the set for several days even when I wasn’t shooting. So all the nervousness vanished. But I was working very hard that day to get things right. But there wasn’t any nervousness. I was only tensed if I will be able to perform well or not.
4. How was the rapport with your co-stars when you got to meet or work with them again later?
All of us knew each other because we worked together in Delhi theatre. So this film was like a big party for us, for all the three months we were in Chambal. We were friends. And we have always been friends, even till now.
Saurabh (Shukla) and I know each other from Delhi, and when we came to Mumbai, we stayed together for a year or two. We have always been very close, and Saurabh has been a very important part of my life. And that connection continues. Though we don’t meet that often because our work keeps us busy, but we never drifted.
Shekhar Kapur was my first director, and even to this day, I feel a little hesitant meeting my directors.
5. If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what’s that one thing you’d like to change or do better?
I think I will change everything. That was my first, and I did not know much about cinema. So (today) I will change hundred per cent of it.
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6. One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?
Mr Amitabh Bachchan’s films used to be quite a stimulus for me when I was growing up. We were all in awe of his presence. Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Zanjeer and all of these films, they were really provoking that child to become an actor.
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