'Bollywood had buried me before I did Raajneeti and GOW'
Manoj Bajpayee isn't the sort to mince matters. It's always either black or white for him and maybe that's why he doesn't hesitate to speak his heart out.
He is riding high after the success of Gangs Of Wasseypur, which was a critical and commercial success and has made the rounds of international film festivals.
In his upcoming film, Special Chabbis, he plays the role of a police officer who is on a mission to catch fake officers. Directed by Neeraj Pandey, the film also stars Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher and Kaajal Agarwal.
In a candid conversation with Sonil Dedhia, Bajpayee explains why he thinks Gangs Of Wasseypur should have been sent to the Oscars, what he thinks of the film industry, and remembers the early days of struggle.
You are disappointed that Gangs Of Wasseypur (GOW) was not considered for the Oscars.
I have nothing against Barfi!. It's a good film but I feel GOW or Anhe Ghore Da Daan (a Punjabi film) were the right choice if we wanted a film to represent our country.
It didn't happen, and I am not surprised or shocked because people have been making such decisions for years now. In 1999, Jeans was chosen above Satya. That decision was an eye-opener on how this committee works.
They are trying to please a particular person by sending a particular film to the Oscars. I am saying don't try to please anybody and just try to send the right film, that's all.
Image: Manoj Bajpayee in Special Chabbis
'Awards don't increase my salary nor do they get me films'
Do you think the same holds true for Indian awards too? You have been nominated for Gangs Of Waaseypur and are attending the award functions this year.
Awards like Filmfare are popular awards. I don't take them seriously. I don't care about them. Some of my awards are stolen; some of them are in the house. I don't even know where they are. They don't increase my salary nor do they get me films.
Awards should be such that just by being nominated you should get work. This is what an Oscar or a Golden Globe does to actors, filmmakers and technicians.
Our awards have lost their credibility. They are only pomp and show. I buy nice suits, go there, meet the media outside, get myself photographed, give interviews, sit inside for some time and before the announcement of my category comes, I just walk out.
I go to these functions so that the people and organisers that are associated with it aren't offended.
Just before Rajneeti and GOW released, you came out of a bad shoulder injury because of which you had to lie low for almost two years. How difficult was that time?
Most of the time, either I was going through physiotherapy or I was travelling with my wife. By nature or birth I am not somebody who does not get frustrated, depressed or sad about anything. I am a fighter and don't give a damn about anything.
I know exactly what I can do when my time is right. But when there is a low, you can see a lot of things clearly. That gives you a perspective and makes you a better human being.
In your good time, everyone is talking good about you. I went into meditation, travelling, reading, film viewing etc. That is when I saw A Wednesday and called Neeraj (Pandey, the director). I called up directors like this and asked for work. I don't feel ashamed asking for work. I don't feel ashamed even now.
How did your friends and people from the industry react to you?
The industry buried me. All of them. They wrote me off!
Even the journalists would turn their heads away. I remember there were times when news channels would come to cover events and by mistake if they saw me they would turn their cameras.
The same people who were once palls with me and would call to interview me, refused to recognise me.
Image: Manoj Bajpayee in Gangs Of Wasseypur
'There are only five actors in Bollywood who aren't at the mercy of directors'
You were quoted saying Manoj Bajpayee isn't the angry Manoj Bajpayee he used to be. In what context was that?
After spending some years in the industry, you come to terms with yourself and your anger and then your anger gets channelised. Now I understand the industry and the workings of it.
Today, if I want to get a certain thing done, I get it done in a smart way. Earlier I used to be frustrated and angry. Now I am known to people, now I have a certain place in the industry. I am known for certain kind of work. I don't have to make any extra effort to get work. I am angry about what I do, I do it with complete passion so the anger is channelised now (smiles).
But you did get recognition in the early stage of your career when you gave some stellar performances in films like Satya, Shool, and Aks.
I had to wait for a long time to get one role because those films were not getting made every day. Now they are getting made every second month. Suddenly, you have so many directors like Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Bannerjee, Neeraj Pandey, Vikram Aditya Motwane, Bejoy Nambiar, Vishal Bhardwaj who are making some amazing films.
In those days, there was only one Ram Gopal Varma. Either he would direct or produce a film. After Satya, I didn't sign any film for nine months. I had to wait for a year for Aks to happen. It was a two-and-a half-year wait for Pinjar.
These films were not happening regularly. Today these films are doing well and are being made frequently because of multiplexes and the newer audience. Now actors like me have too many options.
So are you saying that actors like you are always at the mercy of directors?
There are only five actors who aren't at the mercy of directors in this industry. Rest of us are. I can't name those people because if I forget to name any one, they will get offended (laughs).
I will not say we are at the mercy of the directors but I will say we are at the mercy of the vision of the director. If Neeraj Pandey wants Manoj Bajpayee in a particular role, he will not take somebody else. If a Dibakar Bannerjee has a role for Abhay Deol, he will only take Abhay and nobody else.
It always depends on what the director is thinking, who is he thinking of, what kind of actor he has in mind.
Image: Manoj Bajpayee in Shool
'After Satya, I only got offers to play a villain'
Do you think that the blind star worship that happens in India will ever cease to exist?
It will continue because multiplexes will take another 15-20 years to happen in nooks and corners of the country and these stars will always be there.
Going back to Satya, you presumably received many offers. Was it difficult to resist those offers and wait for a good script?
I only got offers to play a villain. Things got difficult for me because I had to pay the rent, my maid, taxi bills, installments of the car, and also send money home. We never got paid a handsome amount, even after Satya.
And still you didn't want to take up the villain roles?
Those were hardcore villain roles. Now Irrfan, Nawazuddin and all these people are getting diverse roles but I had to go through the grind in the beginning.
They are seeing the good times. I had to go through complete crap. I offended so many people just by saying no, even to the bigwigs because I didn't want villain roles. I was looking for character driven films.
Was it a conscious decision on your part to stay away from commercial films?
Yes, because back then I didn't find them good enough to be a part of. For me it was very difficult to come to terms with the story which was being narrated to me.
Image: Manoj Bajpayee in Satya
'Ram Gopal Varma and I are like children'
Did you ever doubt your own capability during those years?
I never doubted my capability. I know my ability and what I can or can't do. I was very sure that if I get an opportunity, I will prove myself but I hadn't got the opportunity.
You mentioned that it wasn't easy to get films. The spat with your mentor Ram Gopal Varma continued for long. Did disagreeing with him cost you a lot of films later on?
We are like children. RGV is different. He doesn't consider me as a villain or a hero. He always looked at me as somebody he could use in his film and take immense amount of work from me.
I had high regard for him but we are both like children. We tend to disagree many times. Sometimes we accept each other and sometimes we don't. We would even stop talking to each other.
But now it's all fine. Everything is fine between us. He keeps calling me and texting me on my performance. I do the same when any of his films comes out.
The fallout lasted for a long time. Did you ever try to mend fences and see if a project could work out?
I know Ramu very well. He doesn't stay angry for a very long time. Whenever he needs me, he will find me.
Image: Movie poster of Special Chabbis
'I dont mind doing a cameo in a Hollywood film'
GOW has been doing the rounds of international film festivals, which has also given you international exposure. Have you been approached by directors or producers from the West?
I have been offered one, and I am going through the script. It is from an American independent film maker and not from any studio.
I would love to do it but it seems they know only Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan.
Anurag Kashyap is a known face internationally and is always in touch with international production houses and other important people so he is my ticket to international films, so I keep pestering him to get me scripts (laughs).
Most of the time Indian actors play a cameo role or do a two-minute role in a big Hollywood film. Would you be open for it?
I had met Tabu recently and told her that if I get a one-scene role to do in Ang Lee's film, I will do it. It depends on the director you are working with.
If I get a chance to work with Ang Lee and get to interact with him, I will do it. I believe life is short and I don't know when I will get the next chance.
I did Veer Zaara thinking when will I get another opportunity of being directed by Yash Chopra? I did the film purely for that reason. Just to get an experience of working with him. I won't do it for any and every director from Hollywood. I have to get the urge to do the film.
You were quoted saying you want to turn into a producer. Is it to make films that tap your talent?
I don't want to become a producer to tap my talent. The industry keeps doing that. There are many new directors willing to work with me. I want to become a producer to use all the extra time that I have.
I do only two or three films in a year and it doesn't take much of my time. I would like to do something worthwhile in my free time.
Image: Manoj Bajpayee in Special Chabbis