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Art house cinema's Jai-Veeru
If anyone had predicted a few years ago that Manoj Bajpai and Nawazuddin Siddiqui would make for a cracker of a pair in Hindi films, it may have been dismissed as a joke. But with two critically well-received films - Gangs of Wasseypur and Chittagong - under their belt, the duo is out to prove that they can very well be alternative cinema's Jai-Veeru. Some say the pairing reminds them of the chemistry between Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri.
Says Bajpai: "I wouldn't mind at all if this jodi becomes the next Jai-Veeru, as you so ambitiously put it. For one, in any film where Nawaz and I are there, don't expect the expected. We will try and push the boundaries of acting. The story will hopefully be offbeat. " According to him, if this pairing works, more such pairings may emerge - between him and Irrfan (Khan) or Nawaz or Kay Kay (Menon). "It's going be an unusual experience for not only us actors but also the audience. "
Besides being exponents of method acting, Bajpai and Siddiqui are joined at the hip in many other ways. To begin with, both come from a small village from the Hindi heartland and have worked their way up through theatre. They first crossed paths in the early '90s in Delhi during the staging of a play Uljhan, based on a Vijaydan Detha novel.
Siddiqui says he's learnt a lot from Bajpai. "I used to watch Manoj closely and what fascinated me most was the way he made acting look so effortless. I don't think he was born gifted;he just learnt it. It was only after watching him that I realised that acting is not necessarily in your genes but it is something that can be picked up and learnt through hard work, " says Siddiqui who, in turn, gets called a "bundle of talent" by Bajpai in a show of mutual admiration.
The other thing common was a need to practise acting, which drove them to Delhi's National School of Drama (NSD). The funny thing is that while Bajpai was rejected four times by NSD, Siddiqui got through in the first attempt. "Before I was to appear for my entrance exam, I remember Manoj telling me how to go about the NSD process. It was later that I got to know that his application had been turned down four times and here he was, telling me what not to do!"
While in Gangs of Wasseypur Siddiqui plays Bajpai's vengeful son, in Chittagong, which released yesterday, he fetches up as revolutionary Nirmal Sen to Bajpai's Master Surya Sen. Siddiqui bemoans the fact that they didn't get a chance to spend more screen time. "I would love to do an offbeat buddy film with Manoj, where we do a bit of male bonding. That's what it is called, right?" he asks. Recalling an 'ants in the pants' scene from Chittagong, he says, "We were shooting near Siliguri in a forest infested with red ants. The camera started rolling and within minutes, ants crawled up our bodies and bit us while we had to keep a straight face and act. Manoj and I still laugh about it. "
Strangely, the duo reconnected only recently. "I came to Mumbai to act in films while he did theatre. We were not great friends then. It is only now that we meet and talk, " says Bajpai.
Producer of Chittagong, Sunil Bohra, says the pairing is less about gimmicks and more about real acting. "They are not here for temporary amusement. They are here for the long haul. " The Siddiqui-Bajpai phenomenon is not new to Hindi cinema, points out Bohra. "Historically, Indian audience loves strong male pairings, like Amitabh Bachchan-Shashi Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt-Arshad Warsi. If they continue to stick to their kind of cinema and not succumb to the charms of mainstream cinema, they will go very far. "
Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapur, who enjoyed the male bonding drill in Delhi Belly, says he would be tempted to watch Chittagong only for these two actors. But he points out that male pairing works not because of bonding but actually, because of the friction. "Honestly, you may be great friends in real life but for all you know you may end up having horrible chemistry on screen. In male pairing, the key is to take two people with different worldviews and objectives and put them together. For instance, in Lethal Weapon there is one guy who's on the cusp of retirement and he just wants to save his own life while the other guy is about to kill himself in the first scene itself. So, you've got two people who look at life differently and you throw them in a situation and it makes for a fascinating story".
After a pause, he adds, "Just imagine what it would be like if Gandhi and Bhagat Singh are locked in a room and the situations you get out of it. Eventually, good acting is also about good writing. As long as these two actors get good scripts I am certain there will be fireworks on screen. "
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