'We are not in the crore game, at least not me.'
'So when I do a film, I do it purely on its merit, where I think we will go ahead and make a fantastic film.'
IMAGE: Manoj Bajpayee in Aiyaary.
Manoj Bajpayee hopes to become Neeraj Pandey's lucky charm.
Actor and director worked together in Special 26, followed by the short film Ouch.
They went on to work in Pandey's production Naam Shabana and will come together in this Friday's Aiyaary.
MB, who plays an army officer in Aiyaary, co-stars with Sidharth Malhotra, Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah, Adil Hussain, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Pooja Chopra and Rakul Preet Singh.
"If you go by my face, you will think I fight. On the contrary, I have never had arguments with my co-actors in my entire career. I have never had fights with my directors. I just surrender to my directors," Manoj tells Rediff.com's Patcy N.
Are you Neeraj Pandey's lucky charm?
I hope I can become one. This is just his second feature film with me besides a short (Ouch), which was appreciated and won awards.
I love working with him.
He is a rare talent in this genre.
He has come up with his own grammar, his own way of story telling, which has all the elements of mainstream, and yet, it is not.
We relate to each other.
He gives me respect by sending all his scripts for my opinion.
I was not in Baby or , but I knew the scripts before he started shooting.
Sometimes, we also meet in the evenings and chit-chat.
When you work with him, do you completely surrender to his vision?
I mostly surrender to all my directors.
We do intense readings and discussions before the film goes on the floors, and Neeraj has all the answers.
He covers each and every aspect of the story and characters.
It's not just us asking him questions, but he also questions us. All the questions are answered before we go on the sets.
His expectation from his actors is to do our job. Sometimes, he goes on taking takes until he finds what he is looking for.
He is very disciplined when it comes to work, as well as straightforward.
He doesn't have a single bone of manipulation or diplomacy.
If he doesn't like something, he will say it to your face, even if it is offensive.
When he asks for multiple takes, does it get annoying?
No. My job as an actor is to fulfill his expectations and give him what he is looking for.
It's his vision and I am there to take it forward.
If I cannot, I should at least give what he expects from me.
For me, more than the audiences and the critics, what matters is the director's satisfaction.
If he is satisfied, my job is successful. After that, I don't look at anybody else's opinion.
IMAGE: Manoj in Aiyaary.
You feel Aiyaary is one of your best films. Considering you have a stellar body of work, how is this film different from the rest?
When you will watch the film, you will see.
A honest man being clever don't go with each other. The combination is odd.
But my character is very smart. He thinks 10 steps ahead of the others. But at times, you see his vulnerability.
He doesn't lose his mind. He is always looking for a way out.
It's a combination I have never done before, and it was possible only because Neeraj Pandey was directing it.
He knew exactly where my character was going. He always kept a check on me.
When I first read the script, I had too many questions.
I wondered whether it would work or not, whether people would get it or not. But he was very sure, so we went ahead.
All the actors, who saw the film during the dubbing, felt the same because there were many things in the film that were new to us.
So everybody was surprised after watching the film. All the apprehensions were gone.
How accountable is a director for the success or failure of a film?
All of us are accountable.
The kind of films that I am part of, we don't make them thinking they will make Rs 100 crore.
We are not in the crore game, at least not me.
So when I do a film, I do it purely on its merit, where I think we will go ahead and make a fantastic film. That's all.
Holding anybody accountable is very unfair.
Nobody has a formula in this industry where they can make a film which will do massive business at the box office.
We have to be convinced about what we are going to say and what we are going to make.
Once it releases, it's out of our hands. What matters is whether we are proud of the product or not.
If I ask you which film did 300 or 200 crores five years ago, you may fail to remember.
What you remember is the quality of the film.
IMAGE: Rakul Preet, Sidharth Malhotra, Manoj and Pooja Chopra at the Golden Temple. Photograph: Kind Courtesy Manoj Bajpayee/Twitter
Have you ever had arguments with directors when the film does not turn out the way you thought it would?
If you go by my face, you will think I fight.
But on the contrary, I have never had arguments with my co-actors in my entire career.
I have never had fights with my directors.
I just surrender to my director and give as many variations as required.
I relate with my co-actors because they are also actors and I know exactly what is going in their minds, where they have come from and what is their journey...
We work in an industry which is very small as compared to Hollywood. The competition is tough here.
If you are not there, there are 10 others to replace you.
So it is a world where you have to have be fit mentally, physically and emotionally.
That's why actors are good friends. I completely understand them.
How was it working with Sidharth Malhotra?
He is a cool guy. He's from Delhi, from a middle class background.
It is amazing that this guy comes from outside in an industry which is so small, where most of the people who are successful are related to each other...
In that kind of atmosphere, he goes and makes a place for himself.
You can only have admiration for him and encourage him to keep doing well.
He is an inspiration to outsiders who are really trying their luck.
I admire him because deep down, he is a middle class Punjabi guy from Delhi.
He likes his parathas and chole bhature -- not in too much quantity because he is a health freak (laughs).
He's good looking and works out, so everything is going right for him.
IMAGE: Manoj and Sidharth Malhotra entertain BSF jawans in Jaisalmer. Photograph: Kind Courtesy Manoj Bajpayee/Twitter
Have you regretted doing any film?
Yes, some of them. But I can't name them because they paid my bills.
Those were the choices that were made out of friendships and relationships. Or those were films done out of compulsions like installments... Luckily, they are very few.
I have not done many films, but I've done good films.
I waited for these films to happen. By now, I should have done at least 120 films, but I don't think I've crossed 60.
What is your criteria for selecting a film?
It has to be good, it should be organic. No actor can pinpoint what exactly they are looking for.
My next film -- In the Shadow, which is doing the festival rounds -- came to me through e-mail.
Somebody called and said my friend from Los Angeles wants to send you a script. I asked them to mail me. I took a printout and read it in one hour.
I immediately called that person and asked if he could come to India. He took a flight the next day and we did the film.
So you never know where the script will come from.
IMAGE: Manoj cooks for BSF jawans in Jaisalmer. Photograph: Kind courtesy Manoj Bajpayee/Twitter
Do you think PR is necessary to survive in the movie industry?/p>
No, even though I was pushed into hiring a PR team.
My team keeps asking me for news and I never feel there's anything worthy to give them, and they get frustrated.
They ask me to exaggerate, which I don't do.
Aligarh was such a small film. It came from nowhere and went so much ahead. Even today, people call me to appreciate it.
It was recently shown in Aurangabad. In a theatre which a capacity of 300 people, 600 squeezed in! We got a standing ovation.
That's what matters.
Your work speaks even after you are dead, so I don't think PR is that important.
If your work is average, no PR will help you.
You have done short films like Kriti, Ouch, Tandav... What attracts you to shorts?
It is a new platform and I am immensely in love with acting.
Short films give me a chance to experiment with my craft without any pressure of 50 crores riding on it.
Everyone who is involved with them (short films) do it for the passion.
The atmosphere is completely different on a short film shoot. We try to create something that is unforgettable, not only for the audience but also for ourselves.
It is not more than a day or two days of work. We put it on a platform, and the reaction is immediate.
More and more people are watching films on phones or computers, and not heading to theatres.
No medium can kill the other. All mediums have their own advantages and disadvantages, and each medium offers you a certain kind of uniqueness.
No digital platform can give you the experience of sitting in a dark hall and watching a film.
What's good is that fantastic content is available everywhere and people are getting used to the unique content.
This is forcing film-makers to bring in variety to their subjects and challenges them.
Last year, Newton, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan did well.
So each and every platform poses a challenge to the other. It's very healthy.