Manoj Baipayee has so much chutzpah that he commands every room, every film set and every stage where he appears. We meet him at a rather unusual yet apropos location for now: a movie theatre.
Manoj Baipayee has so much chutzpah that he commands every room, every film set and every stage where he appears. We meet him at a rather unusual yet apropos location for now: a movie theatre. We assume that he will be hidden in an alcove, but there he sits, quietly waiting, elegantly dishevelled in his civilian uniform — a light-coloured shirt and a pair of denims. The actor declares that he is fuelled by two things: his enduring volcanic fervour for acting and the concept of realism.
For the first time, he plays the character of a homosexual professor in recently released Aligarh, which he believes has been so challenging that no other actor would have risked doing it. But he was so compelled by the story that he had to do it. “I have always been struck by the fierce dispatch of storytelling based on real people and then by the cruel determinism surrounding their lives. It is a quality and philosophy that generates a powerful sense of pathos,” he says.
He continues, “It prompts sympathy within even the most unsympathetic of protagonists. And I like that. I like movies that are not afraid of taking risks with my sentiments.” He goes on to add, “I am driven to narratives that exude profound melancholy which will never quite be placed but is such as to make every event, every memory pregnant with possibly unwelcome explanations.”
In the space of 10-20 years, he has conquered a series of self-eviscerating outsider roles that are still considered some of the greatest in film history: the inscrutable, passive and aggressive underworld don in Satya; the dogged idealist in Shool; the army man in 1971; the shrewd politician in Rajneeti. Though very different in their range and scope, they have a certain key element in common: a touch of reality.
Great parts, Bajpayee says, like great loves, are very rare. “Most of the time you’re just trying to survive. All the work isn’t the same. Sometimes there’s only so much that you can do in it. You reconcile yourself to that. Only occasionally do you find a role that really asks you to go there.” Still, he has “gone there” more often than most actors have.
On the censor board “We often presume that the audience is not ready for a certain kind of cinema. We develop a preconceived notion that they won’t be ready or they shall raise objections, etc. The censor board is very subjective to me. It is in the hands of a bunch of individuals. And it will remain subjective because it is faulty: with a faulty set of guidelines. I personally feel that there shouldn’t be a censor board at all. We should rather have a certification board. The idea of having a censor board itself is not easily digestible for me. Because we as a country boast about having or running one of the largest democracies, so the concept of a censor board is a bit contradictory! Filmmakers exercise their right to express and the censor board in return doesn’t allow it. The country is becoming too touchy at the moment. We genuinely need to develop a sense of humour and a sense of space to coexist peacefully,” he says.
Cinematic landscape and evolution Ask him about how the Indian cinematic landscape has changed and he responds, “Oh, yes, it has changed a lot. Dramatically, I would say. We have filmmakers like Dibakar, Anurag and Hansal who are not only into making fantastic films but are crossing several parameters and finding their own audience in India and beyond. I think that’s incredible. The change began when Satya was released, in 1998. It was a path-breaker. But you have to understand that any change is a long-term process. It requires equal participation from the filmmakers as well as the audience. However, I think the avenue of daring movie making has opened up and we are going to see magical movies in the coming future.”
On the Box office Hansal Mehta, the maker of Aligarh joined Manoj at this point and explained, “The box office is important. It affects you in a sense that you minimise your losses and risks. That’s why most of us make our films at a low cost. And if we recover the money with minimum impact, we as movie-makers are driven to make more and more movies.” Manoj agrees and adds, “Movie-making is a commercial business; money, talent and all things nice are like the input values and the output has to be in terms of appreciation and money that the audience puts in to watch us.” He adds, “On a personal level, box office success doesn’t affect me. I have seen more flops than any other actor. I am still working and am respected in this industry only because I have done quality work. Awards too, aren’t important to me.”