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August 22, 2000


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The importance of being Manoj Bajpai

Manoj Bajpai

Intensity. Intelligence. Confidence.

Manoj Bajpai has all three. Barrelfuls of them.

Admirable when you consider his physical traits: He's certainly not tall. And you wouldn't call him handsome. Not by a long shot. What he is is an intensely driven, immensely talented man. With enough dreams to fill up a universe. Which is what drove this man from a small town in Bihar to work his way up from television roles to small character roles.

And then Satya happened.

And Manoj Bajpai became so synonymous with Bhiku Mathre, his character in Satya, that you couldn't dissociate one from the other. Kaun and Shool soon followed, asserting his credentials as an actor.

Today, he has leading roles in Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar (Hansal Mehta), Aks (Rakesh Mehra), Zubeida (Shyam Benegal) and Jackpot (E Nivas). Not bad going. Not bad at all.

Sukanya Verma caught up with Manoj Bajpai. Excerpts from the conversation:

Kaun and Shool, although critically appreciated, haven't been exactly box office smashers. So where do you figure yourself right now?

Wherever Shool left me! As someone who is very independent.

Look, I just want to do good films. Whether they end up super-duper hits or not is immaterial. In any case, there are only two or three hits every year. Not every film can be a big hit.

I am quite satisfied with Shool. It has recovered its money at the box office and has been declared a profit. Kaun has done well, too, considering it was a small budget film aimed at a niche audience. We had thought two per cent of the audience would watch the film. But five per cent saw it. So my producers did benefit from it.

I even got awards for it. People appreciated me. They haven't forgotten me. Which means my performance has left some kind of a mark.

How much has success affected you -- personally and professionally? Tabu and Manoj Bajpai

Actually, success can change only one thing. It gets you work and financial stability. When you achieve that, you lose out on other things. I mean, I seldom meet my parents and my friends whom I used to meet almost every day. I'm on the move all the time. I'm working, working, working...

But since work has come so late to me, I want to make the best of it. They understand.

How ambitious are you?

Oh, very. I am very career-minded. But I'm not ruthlessly ambitious. I'd never play dirty.

You have an impressive line-up of films coming up. Tell us a little bit about them and your roles.

Well, there's Fiza, in which I have a guest appearance. It isn't a full-length role. In Zubeida, I have a full-fledged role. It is a woman-oriented subject, and Karisma (Kapoor) has done a fabulous job. It's been a great dream of mine to work with Shyam Benegal -- and it's been an enriching experience. Contrary to what people think, he is not a hard taskmaster. He is just disciplined. Shyam Benegal and Manoj Bajpai

Ghaath is closer to mainstream popular cinema. It has its moments of drama and comic relief. It has a linear story, which deals with unemployment and its consequent problems. It's about a young man who has the ability to achieve what he wants, but is unemployed. As a result, he's full of restless energy which is channelised in the wrong direction.

Aks has Amitabh Bachchan and Nandita Das, with Raveena Tandon opposite me. It's a thriller. Then there is Netwaa, about this male dancer who loves dressing up like a woman. It's about his struggle and the trauma he faces when society uses and abuses him.

Is Netwaa a non-commercial project?

Not at all. It's very commercial. It has drama and music. Actually, I would call it a musical thriller.

I have always believed that if something has already been done, I won't do it. I am all for the mainstream format only if it offers something new. It's no use doing the same thing again and again. People say I am choosy and stubborn. Really, I'm not. It's just that I want to do good roles. I now have the opportunity and want to make the most of it. I might miss out on a whole lot of films in the process, but I that's okay -- I have so many good films lined up.

You're said to have a phobia for dogs. And you shot with wolves in Hungary for Aks. However did you manage that?

It was nightmarish! I didn't dare touch any of them. But I'm like that -- scared about everything in this world. I don't want to put myself in any kind of danger. I don't insist on doing my stunts, since I don't specialise in them.

But yes, I admit I enjoyed myself thoroughly after three days of shooting without my shirt on. The temperature was around, say, minus 3 Celsius in Budapest with these wolves chasing me. Even now, I can't believe I actually did it.

But I guess when the director shouts Action!, there's no way out but to act! I managed. I scraped through.

How has it been working with Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha?

Great! They're people I've seen, idolised and imitated. People who've inspired me. It's like coming whole circle.

Were you in awe of them?

Amitabh Bachchan Oh, totally. Some people told me, "Manoj, you are overdoing this Amitabh bit".

But I'm not. Yes, there are people who are fascinated by him, inspired by him, but they don't come out and say it because they feel they are belittling themselves by admiting it. I have no such compunctions. I am small...smaller than him.

He is a fantastic actor. He's the best star this country has ever had. See, either you have stars or you have actors. He is both. He's ruled this industry for about 25 years. And he still has the enthusiasm of a newcomer. Next to him, I admire Naseeruddin Shah. With all his years of experience, he behaves like he's joined the industry just a day before. That strong is his desire to learn.

Which actor would you like to model your career on?

Like I said, I want to be multifaceted actor like Naseeruddin Shah, Amitabh Bachchan... and Raghuvir Yadav. Among my colleagues, I'd say Aditya Shrivastav, Khandvilkar from Sathya. They are so talented.

You turned down Deepa Mehta's Water. Why?

The role didn't suit me. It was a fantastic script, but I couldn't see myself in it. That's it, nothing else.

What are your criteria for taking on a film? Manoj Bajpai

I don't know. Once I read script or hear a narration, my instincts should scream, "Do it!"

How would you define acting?

Acting is acting. I'd say it is a reaction -- how you react to someone's reaction is acting for me.

Most of the roles you have done so far are dramatic. Why haven't you tried something lighter yet?

But I did. In Kaun. People forget that it wasn't a serious role. If you think about it, it's completely different from Bhiku Mhatre or Samar Pratap Singh. And if you want comedy, you'll just have to wait for E Nivas' Jackpot. Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, too, has comic shades in it. It's a black comedy.

Would you ever do a David Dhawan film?

Actually, I have approached him so many times. But he doesn't have anything right now to offer me. I am still waiting.

Manoj Bajpai Why hasn't Ramgopal Varma signed you after Kaun?

That's for him to decide. Directors like Ramu and David Dhawan are very sure of themselves. Ramu doesn't think there is anything suitable for me right now. So he won't take me on until there is. That's how intelligent directors behave. If you aren't suitable, they won't take you on, because they don't want to compromise on their casting just because they admire you.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Still acting! *smiles*

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