Versatile, talented and a powerhouse of a performer are some of the adjectives that are synonymous with Manoj Bajpayee. From playing the badass gangster Bhiku Mhatre in Satya to essaying the role of an introvert, literature loving college Professor Ramchandra Siras in Aligarh, Bajpayee has done all sorts of roles and that too with great perfection. So recently when the 49-year-old attended the ActFest 2019, he had a lot to say about his roller coaster journey in Bollywood. And so he sat down and had an insightful conversation with actor and general secretary of CINTAA, Sushant Singh.
SS (Sushant Singh): I first met you in Delhi where you used to perform in theatres under director MK Sharma. I remember I had gone to watch the play Jab Sheher Hamara Sota Hai (JSHSH) in which few of my friends were also performing. But when I reached there, I got to know that the lead actor was in pain as he had slip disc and eventually was replaced. That was you.
MB (Manoj Bajpayee): It is true that I had slip disc, and I was suffering with a lot of pain then. JSHSH was a very difficult play; it was a dramatic story by which one can figure out it also included dancing and other physical activities. I went on doing rehearsals which resulted in this. I still remember there was a huge audience and I was sitting backstage and crying because I couldn’t make it.
SS: We worked together in Satya and when I saw the final cut, I will be honest, I told myself that I could have never done Bhiku Mhatre’s part as good as you did. You were the hot topic back then but soon there was talk about the industry not given you the due credit. Now you are back roaring and claiming your position.
MB: I was interviewed a lot during that phase because I was working in offbeat films which were getting noticed by the mainstream industry folks. During that period, in all my interviews I had said that it’s just euphoria about Manoj Bajpayee which won’t last. Because I knew what I was chasing and they knew what they were expecting from me. So the expectation and the reality were completely different. I knew this was a long journey and I was sure there will be a downfall and that happened. I went down. But to put it honestly, when I wasn’t working, I was focusing on myself for those four years and I was happy. The only worry was the bank balance reducing every day. I used to do small projects to earn living but then I focused so much on making myself disciplined that I decided I will only work in the projects I feel are right and when I get that, I will come back with a bang.
SS: Success brings many friends but what about people who come with big promises and turn their back when it comes to fulfilling them?
MB: To survive in this industry, you need to be stubborn. Whatever is the storm inside you but you have to show the world you are stubborn. With success, you get many friends. With failure, you get none. So you need to train yourself to be alone in this space. If you are working on someone else’s dream than something is wrong with your own dream. I had done theatre for 10 years before joining films, so I wasn’t someone who came here thinking I will become Amitabh Bachchan. I knew my ground and it took me a very long time to recognise that. The real problem here is when your needs start to overpower your dreams, you start doing films to pay your bills and increase your bank balance. You try to buy every expensive thing in the world that will make you look a certain way in front of the media. I never kept that baggage with me. I still remember, one day at a screening when I entered the venue, some camera man told the other to not cover me as I am not important. And I know if the next day any of my film becomes a hit this guy will bring 10 others to cover me.
SS: Since JSHAH till now, how much have you changed?
MB: A lot, I think as much as I am evolving as a human, I am evolving as an actor as well.
Further, Manoj also revealed how Mahesh Bhatt played an important part in his life after Bandit Queen and how his career flourished in the mainstream cinema after going through a lot of ups and downs.