MANOJ Bajpayee is an unconventional star. He still retains the earthy fragrance of Bihar despite having spent half his life in Mumbai. He yearns to spend time in his native village, away from the madding city. Though he’s candid enough to admit that even there, everyone is constantly on their phones these days. And ugly mobile towers have cropped up everywhere, killing the serenity of a village landscape. On the professional front, the actor was hugely appreciated for playing a counter-terrorism expert in The Family Man. His character leads a double life — a loving husband and a caring father while at home and an expert field officer trained to execute baddies, outside. He also released his first Bhojpuri rap single, Bambai mein ka ba, recently over the internet. The song talks about the hardships faced by the migrant workers and has become quite a rage. Another thing which hasn’t changed with Manoj is his ability to call a spade a spade. Excerpts from a honest and candid interview…
The idea came from Anubhav Sinha. We were just talking about Bhojpuri songs and he sent me a poem written by Dr Sagar. I loved it and he asked me to sing it. Though I was a little hesitant at first, I agreed to give it a try. We did a rehearsal and the next day we recorded it. It gave me a lot of satisfaction to do something in Bhojpuri for the first time. We’re both overwhelmed by
Do you have any plans of doing a film with Anubhav Sinha?
Anubhav and I go back a long way. We’ve known each other since our theatre days when he left his engineering job and joined me for a play for Mandi House in Delhi. After that, he left for Mumbai to assist Pankuj Parashar. He then sent me a ticket for Mumbai because he was casting for a series with Parashar. That was the second time I sat in a plane. I was selected for that series but unfortunately, things didn’t materialize. After that I never
How did you shoot the rap song during the lockdown?
We shot for seven hours. Everyone was wearing masks and using sanitizers on the set. I was the only one without a mask since I was in front of the camera. Sometimes Anubhav would take off his mask because he had to instruct me. All precautions were otherwise in place. If I saw anyone getting irritated by the mask and taking it off, I’d refuse to go in front of the camera until the mask was back on. All in all, everyone was concerned about one another and that took care of everything.
We heard of so many heart-wrenching stories during the pandemic. People suffered a lot but Good Samaritans too came forward to help…
This has been a difficult time for the country, society and especially for the daily-wage workers. Many people have come forward and helped. Some needed a little prodding and others just kept at it from day one. I’ve nothing but praise for even the smallest amount of help given. We’ve got a long way to go still as this isn’t going to go away quickly. We need to hold hands and take care of one another and be ready for a long fight ahead.
Recently, you said that it’s been twenty years since you’ve been getting invitations from political parties. What’s stopping you from joining politics?
Stopping me from joining politics? Nothing. It has never occurred to me to get into politics.
I have left everything, sacrificed everything to become an actor. Why should I leave it for anything? I will never leave it. I don’t think I’m good at anything else.
What’s your take on the happenings in Bollywood? Do you feel the industry is being targeted for political purposes?
What’s happening to the Hindi film industry is unfortunate. It’s being targeted by various sources because it’s a soft target. The manner in which the media has gone on attacking the industry is condemnable. Alleging that the entire film industry is into drugs, that has hurt me personally. This industry belongs to us too, people like me who have left their villages, their parents to make a name for themselves here. If a few people have gotten into drugs, it doesn’t mean that everyone is an addict. I’ll never participate in conversations where you start attacking individuals without any proof or if you start painting the entire industry with the same brush. Hence, I’ve stayed away from such debates. The film industry has done so much for the country and is the true representative of India abroad and yet some people want to tarnish its reputation and bring it down.
Do you think it’s a ploy to divert attention from the pandemic and the failing economy?
It’s important to talk about things which matter to crores of people. And I’m sure there are other matters of concern bigger than what’s going on in the industry.
You are one of the few actors who ask for a script in Hindi. What are the side effects of being a Hindi speaker in showbiz?
I have studied in Hindi medium. I like to express myself in it, I am proud of it. I work in the Hindi film industry. Shouldn’t I count on my knowledge of Hindi as my strength? I think everyone should learn a little bit of Hindi. This will make them navigate their work in a better way. But I do not blame them because if they have been raised in an English-speaking environment then they’ll find reading and speaking Hindi a bit difficult. I don’t want to engage in
a language war here. To each his own. I’m proud of my prowess over Hindi but I’m not alone in this. Actors like Ashutosh (Rana), Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Pankaj (Tripathi),
for example, are also well versed in both written and spoken Hindi.
Is there a scope for change in Hindi cinema? Also how can the Hindi belt contribute towards it?
(Laughs) The Hindi film industry is screaming out loud that it wants to become more professional and transparent. I’m for equal opportunities for all in terms of merit. The small-budget films too should get a good release. Every artiste, every filmmaker should be treated with respect. That’ll be a true change alright. As far as the Hindi belt is concerned, the contribution of the people belonging to that belt is invaluable. I’m sure newcomers from that belt will continue to make the industry a better place.
Which myth about the film industry did you believe in, when you started out?
I thought it was one big, happy family. But it’s broken into groups. Sometimes, your relatives get envious of your success. That’s what you see in your own families as well so it didn’t shock me much. Might is right and that’s true here as well. But one mustn’t think of such things and concentrate on doing good work. Hard work, talent and luck can take you places.
I give myself advice when I find out that I’ve made an avoidable mistake. After Satya, I incurred continuous direct or indirect attacks on myself. Blind items were a thing back then as well. I faced politics on many levels which I either ignored or conquered. I’ve always been a
fighter and hence I sustained. Someone else would have been broken by now. I’m proud of my ‘attitude’ as having an attitude helps in this industry. And I’m grateful for the support of my audience who always stood by me through everything.
How true is the fact that in the early days of your career, you gave less importance to money. But now you don’t compromise on your fees?
In the earlier times, I didn’t see money as my motive since I was busy establishing myself. The kind of films I did simply didn’t have mega budgets. And no one was casting me in big-banner films. To be fair, back then I didn’t even know how to act in such big-budget films. I thought I’d rather stick to the directors, to the cinema I’m comfortable with. Now after 26 years, if I’m being cast in big-banner films and if I’m able to do justice to my roles, then why should my salary not increase? I want to know why other actors are not asked such kinds of questions. If budgets have increased, the salaries of other stars have increased, then you can’t expect me to work on the same money as I did when I started out. And I still look at a film’s overall budget and then tell them about my remuneration. I’ve never been unfair to my producers.
Ego is said to be our biggest enemy. Did you ever see yourself falling prey
to your ego?
It is not known when self-esteem changes into ego in this battle. There is a thin line between self-respect and ego. I’d like to believe I took care of that in time. Look, there was no one else to guide me and I did what I thought best. I never bowed down to power and always worked on my terms and conditions. I think it was self-esteem at play but if someone brands it as ego, then so be it.