I wait eagerly to interview MANOJ BAJPAYEE. And since he is a little late, I while away my time by staring at the room which is painted in the hues of pale white. A shade, which only gets exciting when some design, colour or pattern is added to it. Just like Manoj, I muse, when he is added to a film, things magically become great.

A poster of Taandav – Manoj’s short film – catches my eye.  A foot away on a glass shelf, a certificate by the Filmingo Film Festival acknowledges Manoj’s acting in the film. An impressive repertoire indeed… Yet when the actor walks  in, I find to my delight that he has no air of superiority or starry attitude. Read on…

Words Sharbani Mukherjee

Manoj you have portrayed the role of an Intelligence officer in Naam Shabana, have you portrayed a character like this before? What made you choose this role? Do you think you could do justice to that character ?

Well to tell you the truth, I have never played a role like this before. Someone who is so quiet, cold and unemotional while giving orders. In the entire film, if you see, the character doesn’t think of any other thing apart from the responsibility that he has towards his nation. I think because the role was so special, I immediately said yes to this. And I believe I have done justice to this.

What was your experience of working with Neeraj Pandey? This is one director  who you have worked with a lot in the recent past?

I’ve been directed by him only once. However, I’ve done three films under his production. I was also directed by him in a short film called Ouch! which became very popular.

A pertinent question that comes to my mind is whether the dividing lines in cinema will ever vanish. Are you comfortable with the categories? Do these demarcations bother you?

I am comfortable with it as long as we are co-existing. It is the healthiest thing, one shouldn’t be ruling above the other. It isn’t healthy if only a certain kind of films are being made either. Because for a fact, all genres of cinema teach and improve each other. If we wouldn’t have different kinds of cinema then there will be nobody to learn from or compete with.

Box office success does make a difference to some actors as they are looked at as a motivational factor. Do you feel motivated by the same?

Box office success doesn’t mean anything other than the total amount of money the film has earned. It doesn’t determine the quality of the film or the ability of the actors.

I am curious to know whether you look at National Awards in the same way as you look at jury awards.  I believe you have a problem with the current system of giving awards. What exactly is the problem?

Earlier, people never used to doubt National Awards. But since a decade, many controversies have surrounded it and that has harmed its reputation. Similar has been the case with the mainstream jury awards, they have been put in the dock so many times. Also, awards don’t determine an actor or a creative person’s ability in anyway. The people who are nominated are all winners for me. Whoever wins the National Award that year should make it a reason to celebrate, and the others can move on.

Off late, your screen presence has been on the rise. Have you decided that more visibility is equal to being more popular? Is this a new strategy?

It is getting difficult as life is getting busier by God’s grace! I have been very lucky in the kind of subjects which are being offered to me lately. There are such exciting offers coming my way. And I don’t want to say no to them. This is the time when I have to go ahead and make the most of it. All these years, I’ve waited for this time. As an actor I am hungry to learn and show my talent more. Life has not been so easy in the past. New directors are coming and experimenting with their craft and medium. They are approaching me for great roles, and it is very difficult to say no.

Actors are stepping into the production and direction segment. Do you have any plans of going behind the camera anytime soon?  Do you think you can juggle between being an actor and a director? Which tag do you prefer?

These are the things which I’ll definitely be doing. As of now, I am co-producing a film called ‘Missing’. I don’t know how many more films I will be doing as a producer in the future. But I am always looking out for stories which I would love to direct. And that’s something which is a very natural change in an actor. Every actor wants to do things differently and that’s why they just go ahead and give production and direction, a shot. But whatever I do, it doesn’t matter. At the end, I will always be an actor.

With stellar performances as a lover in films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Aligarh, do you plan to do any romantic films anytime soon? Do you think you’ll be accepted in that genre?

I am too old to get a teenage romantic film. But if anybody has a romantic film with a difference for my age, I will definitely be open to doing it.  I think I will be accepted… however, it has to offer something that is very mind boggling to the audience.

You married the love of your life, Shabana (aka Neha Bajpayee) a decade back, after a long period of courtship. Can you tell us about your wife? Do you talk cinema with her since she’s in the same field?

I kind of feed off her. She is a very knowledgeable person. Everybody talks about how great she looks and how beautiful she is. Something which people don’t know is that there is a great thinking mind behind it. I always ask her before taking a crucial decision. I discuss world politics with her, national politics, socio-economic and political scenario around. We discuss things at length about everything, usually with a cup of tea in the morning. There is a lot of brainstorming about everything. My wife was, has and will be my lifelong obsession. But the obsession has transformed after marriage into a beautiful feeling.

With so many films in your kitty, do you get enough time to be a loving father and a responsible husband?

No, I am unable to do so. My wife always keeps complaining that I hardly give time to my daughter. My daughter keeps on telling me to put my cell phone down, and is miffed about it. But how do I make her understand that I have to answer those calls? They aren’t the ‘hello’ calls. It is all work related.

Getting back to acting, tell us about your favourite role? What kind of characters do you enjoy playing?

I don’t have any favourite role. I go by people’s favourites. My job is just to keep on creating, I don’t get into making any favourites of mine from whatever I do. I perform a role, I do a film, I learn a lot from the mistakes I do when I see it onscreen and move on to the next challenging one. And this is the most beautiful thing about being an actor. You keep on changing, both externally and internally.  You keep watching a different person onscreen and just feel good about yourself.

Regardless of the character you project, all your performances have garnered critical acclaim. Are you satisfied with your career graph? What are you looking forward to doing in the future?

I think I am very proud of the filmography I have at this point in time. If right now  I retire from the industry, my daughter will still feel very proud of me. But, ofcourse, I am not going anywhere. There are still 30 years left in me. And 300 characters in these 30 years is what I aim to do!

(I have interviewed several celebrities but Manoj Bajpayee stands unique in terms of the simplicity of his answers, his approach towards his art, and his aim in life. And as I bid goodbye, I request him to say a few words for the Stardust readers, which he readily complies. Indeed, Manoj Bajpayee is impressive. Good luck to him!)