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The method and the madness
The spelling of his surname has changed but Manoj Bajpayee is still the same man and the same actor. And painfully candid, particularly about the way in which his acting talent has remained undervalued for much of his long, but largely overlooked, career.
He lacks, in his own words, a "charismatic personality", but that has never shaken his belief in his abilities as an actor. "Never, not once, " he insists. "To be a star you must have charisma, " he says, referring to his everyman looks. "So, what makes someone like me click? At times, even I don't know but it is probably the ability to work hard on my craft and skills. I go by Sachin Tendulkar's formula - look at his career, he kept adapting his craft to his changing strengths. I, too, go by my strengths and play on that. "
Bajpayee never did set out to become a star in the first place, and that is perhaps why the lack of stardom hasn't demoralised him. But he wasn't short of critical acclaim. "I never had any problems with the star system or with stardom. A star is a commercial product and it is not something I ever had any interest in, " he says. He dislikes the publicity blitz that precedes the release of films but made an exception, though grudgingly, for Gangs of Wasseypur. The film teamed him once again with Anurag Kashyap, who had scripted his '90s hits like Satya, Shool and Kaun.
"I am ill at ease during promotions. An actor should be concerned about his work, not about which newspapers to give interviews to. Asking for space in the media is something so not right, in my own mind, " he says. "Once or twice when I had to in the past, I would curse myself. "
In a career that boasts landmark performances in films like Satya, Shool, Pinjar and Raajneeti, Bajpayee ranks Gangs of Wasseypur as his most difficult role yet. "This man, Sardar Khan, is totally immoral, " he says, referring to the character he plays. In the hoardings Bajpayee, as the lustful Sardar Khan, is staring at a woman's back. "The challenge was to make him lovable in spite of his bad qualities. " His craft may seem effortless but Bajapyee says he works hard at it.
"I am not a natural actor. I am a slogger, " he says. "Whatever you see of me in any film is not only the result of hard work but also of a lot of thought. I am into acting not by compulsion or force, but because this is my passion, this is what I am born for and it is what I enjoy the most. "
It is a mystery why Kashyap as a director took so long to work with Bajpayee, since both belong to the same school of filmmaking. Avant-garde directors like Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj haven't cast him yet. "I called Dibakar after Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and expressed an interest in working with him, " he recalls. "But there is only so much you can do. Ultimately, it's up to the director and his vision. I also kept coaxing Vishal to take me in his films. I don't know when he will give in to my requests. Maybe after reading this interview, " he says with a laugh.
He may still be waiting for better roles but there is little doubt that Bajpayee has joined the small league of actors who are talented as well as successful. Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Kay Kay Menon are other members of this select club. "These are people I greatly admire, " he says. "All these guys are are pure actors, banking on their skills and nothing else. "
He also respects Aamir Khan for his uncompromising commitment towards quality cinema and social causes. "Anything that Aamir does makes him money but he chose to do a show like Satyamev Jayate, " he says.
Bajpayee says that it is a miracle he has survived in an industry known for ruthlessly marginalising those who don't conform. "Maybe it is because some section of the audience still wants to see me, " he says. The only thing that keeps him going is his passion and pleasure in cinema. "If you don't enjoy your work, you cannot bring anything to it, " he says.
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