Guided by artistic thirst
Who can forget the gangster, Bheeku Mhatre, in "Satya?" This talent has played myriad characters to fulfill his creative thirst. And "Pinjar" has given him this year's National Award for Best Actor. Manoj Bajpai in a tête-à-tête with RANA SIDDIQUI.
Manoj Bajpai ... playing varied parts with intensity. Pic. by Sandeep Saxena
HE READ Amrita Pritam's novel `Pinjar' on female victims of Partition, during his college days. ``Not once but many times.'' And the character he was most fascinated with was Rashid, who forces a Hindu girl into marrying him, not only by taking advantage of her separation from the family but also out of love. But later he realises his mistake and allows her to go to the man she was supposed to have married.
``The character of Rashid always gave me butterflies in my stomach. I always wanted to play this role. So when Chander Prakash Dwivedi (director of the film) came to me with the offer, its narration was just a formality. I immediately agreed.'' We all know what a personal relationship with a character can do to an actor like Manoj Bajpai. ``I played his part with (the) same intensity that I felt about him,'' and that it paid him back too; he got this year's National Award for the Best Actor for the role.
``I couldn't believe it (at) first. When my secretary broke the news to me at 10.30 p.m., he wasn't confirmed about the category of the award. That night I couldn't sleep but kept praying to God to keep this award beyond controversy,'' says Bajpai who was in New Delhi recently.
Not that playing the role was easy. ``After the shooting of this film, I started getting nightmares. I lost my sleep. Leaving the graph of the character back on sets wasn't easy. I tried to drive it off but it took a toll on me. The only compensation for me was that this character asks for redemption, not from God but himself. When I had to play this part, it felt a little easy on the nerves,'' he opens up.
A `doubly excited' Bajpai, as he has steered clear of any controversy for this award, is at ease with the world. These days he is sporting a weird look with bright, trendy clothes, funky, puffy hairstyle, which has made his head look larger than his thin stature. ``Please don't take it as a transformation in my persona. This look was meant for a Hollywood film I was supposed to do. But it ran into some trouble. I gave three months' dates to the producer. And for full three months, I kept sitting at home, jobless,'' a visibly angry Bajpai tries to control himself.
He was to play a character similar to ``Iago in Shakespeare's `Othello,' who tries to win over people by false projections but pays for it as nothing happens by force. I love (the) varied positive and negative layers that this character has.''
There were rumours about Diana Hayden acting opposite him and that they shot scenes in Mauritius. ``For God's sake, tell them all that Diana was supposed to play a cameo in the film and I never went to Mauritius for the shoot.
``Moreover, the film, which is still untitled, has two French actors. Now I know nothing about the film's status.''
Not chasing Hollywood
No, the mention of Hollywood does not bring a glint to his eyes. Nor does he think it to be a final recognition. He knows well that many Hollywood films portray Indian characters in a funny way to cater to the sensibilities of the West.
The latest example is "Where's the Party Yaar" in which Indian characters are portrayed as doing only bhangra and looking for a chance to sneak into a dance party.
``I never chase Hollywood to make me famous around the globe. I am happy in my country, which has given me respect and reputation because of which Hollywood is coming to me. If I'm ever given a character which belittles Indians in any way, I will never do that,'' he declares.
He looks as hurt as he was when Mehul Kumar's "Jaago," in which he plays an investigative officer handling a child's rape case, bombed at the box office early this year. ``It is a sensitive film but probably too hard hitting for an audience who is insensitive to others' trauma. It is like keeping your own house clean by throwing the garbage in front of another house... Such people don't realise that the same garbage will stink one day and its foul smell will reach their own houses. I strongly feel that society needs to open up to accept such films. Why should I talk about others? My own sister refused to watch this film. I also feel that Mehul shouldn't have made it so dark. I asked him to add some songs to it but he refused. People also told me that such films must be censored. I would say that censorships should be in the parents' hands.
``See Hollywood's TRP ratings. There, if a film is meant for 18 and above, parents take it seriously. They tell children why it is so. They are very interactive with their children. Long ago, films like `Chetna' and `Manoranjan' were also mired in controversy. Those days I saw many parents who told their children why they should not watch such a film. Anything that is prohibited without givinga reason, always raises a curiosity in children.''
But Bajpai can't help it. He is still playing characters that quench his artistic thirst. In "Hannan" a surrealistic film that shows how ``religious issues inflame people's sensitivities,'' he is playing two characters in one; of a man whose IQ suddenly turns into that of a 10-year-old child. So he keeps getting flashes from the past, even his previous birth, which is a mental torture for him.
This film is being selected for competition in the best film category at Poshan Film Festival, Korea's biggest movie event. In "Inteqam," a stylish film, as he labels it, he is an investigative officer. In Dharmesh Darsha's "Bewafa" he plays a ``flamboyant, loud mouth, carefree man who dances and sings too.''
While in Deepak Tijori's emotional thriller with Shilpa Shetty, he is a princely, corporate guy who thinks highly of himself. He commits a folly and has to fall back on his family for support.
Does the role remind him of Shyam Benegal's "Zubeidaa"? Manoj jumps from the sofa, ``Look I asked Shyam Babu not to go ahead with me for that prince's role as I know the limitations of my face. But he said, read history, the princes were not like Greek Gods, they all had average looks. Some critics, who flayed me before watching the film, even came and apologised to me later. They said that I did my part very well.''
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