'I am a star'
Manoj Bajpai, the ordinary man with extraordinary dreams
"What makes me angry is when the interviewer has not done his homework!" he declares. "The other day, this gentleman started, 'Tell me about yourself.' Now should I repeat my early days every time someone comes to talk to me?"
Manoj Bajpai is not willing to suffer fools gladly.
The actor who shot to fame with his portrayal of the gangster Bhiku Mhatre in Ram Gopal Varma's Satya, is driven by a fierce ambition to portray as many different roles as he can.
His career attests to it, he says. Take Bandit Queen, Satya, Kaun, Shool, Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar, Ghaat, Zubeidaa, Aks. Now, the actor is ready with Rajat Mukherjee's Road, which also stars Vivek Oberoi and Antara Mali.
He is equally vehement about the fact that he got out of the role that 'made' him. "I got out of the Bhiku Mhatre shadow the day the film was completed. It is the audience that has not yet come out of the shadow. I have done a variety of roles after that and will continue to do so. It is up to them which they will accept."
For now, he is consumed by his role in Road. A role that, he says, was most challenging:
"The challenge of doing something that has not been done attracted me to Road. Then, of course, it is a Ram Gopal Varma production. You know it is because of him that I did my first and only regional film Premakatha (in Telugu).
"Road is a thriller; the central character is the road! This is the first time this genre has been explored in Indian cinema. It is a situation-based film. It is about this couple on the road and the situations that arise when they give a lift to this guy --- me.
"My character in the film is very unpredictable. You can compare it to the road --- it is never the same, there are twists and turns and one comes across different kinds of people, environments and landscapes --- the desert, sea, mountains. My character too has different shades --- sometimes romantic, sometimes emotional and sometimes very intimidating. I even sing and dance in the film.
"Ram Gopal Varma is right when he says Vivek Oberoi is the only sane character in the film. The film ends just before Oberoi goes insane --- and the audience is left guessing. I must say that Vivek is very intelligent and sincere. He is very focused and willing to learn at every step.
"He is very respectful towards me --- that only shows his upbringing. But I don't want that --- I want a buddy relationship! We joke around and pull each other's leg but he does not cross a certain limit.
"As for Antara, she and I were very comfortable with each other. She was my costar in Premakatha. She has this great quality of expressing herself and does not hold back when acting. She is unselfconscious and just not bothered about how she looks onscreen.
"I enjoyed every moment of shooting for this film. But like all my films, I'm never satisfied after they are complete. That is why I do not watch my films. I keep feeling I could have done much better. Even Bhikhu Mhatre.
"The one performance that I did like was my portrayal in Aks. The film was made 20 years ahead of time. I say most challenging because I did not get a character, but a metaphor: evil. Evil in itself has so many shades. I had to strike a balance and use my head as to how I would portray it. That is why I feel it is closest to satisfaction for me.
"And Amitabh Bachchan was amazing. Working with him in Aks was this very huge learning experience. I picked up little things from him just by observing him. His discipline --- he is 100 per cent committed.
"A good actor according to me would be a good human being and a sensitive one. That is what comes across onscreen. As for the stars, earlier there were stars like Amitabh Bachchan and actors like Naseeruddin Shah. Today I feel there is no gap. All actors are stars --- Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan.
"I am a star too, even though my films don't make as much money as, say, an Aamir Khan film, but then people do know Manoj Bajpai so that makes me a star, doesn't it?
"But basically, I am an ordinary human being with extraordinary dreams. I want to make it big here and internationally as well. I aim for the stars. I am not only looking at Hindi films, but American or French films as well. But only in Hindi or English. I have to be comfortable with the language.
"I would love to work with Mani Ratnam, but at the same time I would do a David Dhawan or Yash Chopra film, too. I am waiting for the offers."