'I’ve been in love with my wife Shabana forever,' says birthday boy Manoj Bajpayee to Pinkvilla
Manoj Bajpayee confides he’s a romantic at heart as he talked about his incredible journey with Pinkvilla.
The outsider from Belwa, Bihar, Manoj Bajpayee as Bhiku Mhatre in Satya (1998), humanized Mumbai’s mafioso. With the iconic dialogue, “Mumbai ka king kaun? Bhiku Mhatre!” Manoj came home to Hindi cinema. Two decades later, life came full circle for Manoj after he played a Mumbai dweller on the other side of the fence in Bhonsle (2018). As a retired constable, he raises his feeble voice and holds up his frail frame against oppression. Both the Mumbai noir outings won him the National Award.
Through the years, Manoj’s characters have underlined his ‘resolve’ not to be a cut-out actor. They’ve been as varied as the vagaries of human nature. Like the law-enforcer, who storms the sanctum of lawmakers in Shool (1999), like Maharaja Vijayendra Singh of Fatehpur in Zubeidaa (2001), where earthy Manoj showed his ease in the royal echelons. Like rapist Rashid in Pinjar (2003), whose remorse earned him both redemption and the National Award, as contemporary Duryodhana, who gave a ‘karara jawab’ in Rajneeti (2010).
As the audacious ‘Keh ke lenge’ Sultan Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), who’s all about wayward hormones and scruples. As persecuted real-life professor Ramchandra Siras, who cut a browbeaten face of humiliation and helplessness in Aligarh. What’s swung the pendulum further is his Srikant Tiwari, camouflaging his spy-craft under a commonplace garb in the blockbuster web series The Family Man (2021).
Drawing from the deep reserves of his talent, Manoj Bajpayee is a reservoir that’s self-replenishing..
On your birthday, how do you review your journey?
I cherish every moment of my journey. I started as an 18-year-old boy, who decided to go on his own path without knowing what lay ahead. What’s most important is that the learning was great. I’ve kept on working on myself. To date, it’s only about improving myself every single day. Acknowledging the mistakes that I committed yesterday and correcting them today.. this has been my mantra.
Does the success you enjoy today validate you as an actor?
I have always stayed away from looking for validation. I do my thing and go home. Compliments definitely make you happy. But validation is not something I’m looking for. Whether they celebrated me, discarded me, negated me, or again celebrated the stuff I did. I’ve been detached from it all. My focus, as I mentioned, has always been on improving myself as an actor. Also, success and failure are people’s perceptions about your journey. You remain the same. Your goal remains the same. The perseverance to hone my craft is an ongoing process.
Apparently, you wanted to commit suicide when you were refused admission to the National School Of Drama. From that low to this high, it’s been an incredible journey…
I was young then. You have a burning goal and when you are left with no options, all kinds of thoughts cross your mind. But you don’t allow them to dominate you. (Laughs) A thought that lasted a second cannot be a headline forever. I must have shared the random thought in an interview and it became the front page. The thought was just a passing one.
After playing Bhiku Mhatre in Satya, you refused to be typecast. Kay Kay Menon reportedly applauded you for opening the doors for avant-garde actors.
You definitely feel gratified when such appreciation comes from an actor of Kay Kay Menon’s caliber. I’ve always admired Kay Kay and Irrfan Khan for their humongous talent. Initially, I was the only one in that category. Whatever decision I took was only in keeping with the dream I carried along when I left my village. It was about not succumbing to any kind of distraction or immediate greed.
I was stubborn about this. Either I get what I want or I don’t want anything. I don’t compromise on this resolve. But there’s no aggression. I do it politely.
please elaborate on your resolve…
The resolve was to do something better as an actor and change the way you view films. It was the desire to have a filmography, which before I close your eyes forever, I should be proud of. The feeling that I did exactly what I wanted to do. And I gave my 500 per cent in achieving that. Whether I achieved that or not is not important. What matters is how hard I tried.
Given the intense characters you play, how long do they linger in your psyche?
The kind of roles that I do, it definitely takes a toll on my mental state. It’s the curse of being the actor that I am. Earlier it was extremely difficult to break off from the characters. But now I can. Having said that, the residue of all the characters is left in me and I am fine with it.
Is your remuneration now in keeping with the success of your work?
In the past, when there was no budget, I have done films for free. I have supported producers and directors at their dead end because I believed in the project. But I never spoke about it. So, people don’t know. Now the time has come to ask for what I deserve. People say I’ m asking for too much money. But it’s the market that decides my remuneration. If I’m getting a certain amount from one producer and the other is not willing to pay, I refuse to comply. I’m not ready to be short-changed by anyone, anymore. Now filmmakers and production houses should come to me knowing that I take only what I deserve.
Coming closer, what were the kind of compliments you received from your colleagues for The Family Man?
People now view me as a ‘senior’ actor. So, they hesitate coming to me directly and complimenting me. But viewers and critics have written beautiful things on social media. The Family Man is the fourth most popular show globally. At the same time, people have written about the craft and art that’s gone behind playing the character. This surely means a lot.
Are you a ‘family man’?
When I’m busy with work, like the rest I am an absentee father to my daughter Ava Navya. I try to cover up for it when I am home. I’d like to believe I am a family man. Having said that, my daughter is her own person. I want her to develop her own belief system, her own resolve. I can only support her. She has to go through her own journey. But if there’s any hiccup, she can always reach out to me. I hate being an overprotective parent.
As a husband how much of a romantic are you?
Ha ha ha! I don’t know. Though I can now sense my brown face turning blushing red! I’ve been in love with my wife Shabana forever. The love has remained the same all through the years. So, I guess I am a romantic. I enjoy doing simple things with her. Like having the first cup of morning tea, shopping for the house, watching films... We talk about everything in the world from politics to films.
A dream you’d like to fulfil someday…
I’ve been wanting to learn light classical music. I’m too busy to attend classes as of now. But someday, I want to play the harmonium and sing.
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