On the brink of a breakdown

Luckily for the film, the director seemed to know how to deal with the problem and get the best out of the actor.

Manoj Bajpayee, who will soon be seen in filmmaker Dipesh Jain’s psychological thriller Gali Guleiyan, reveals that he came dangerously close to suffering a breakdown during the making of the film in which he plays a man who loses his grip over reality.

“We were shut in the claustrophobic gullies of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, and I was playing a man troubled to the point of not being able to tell the difference between make-believe and reality. On our 20th day on location, I asked Dipesh to shut down the shoot because the role was affecting more deeply than I expected. I was on the verge of having a mental breakdown.”

Luckily for the film, the director seemed to know how to deal with the problem and get the best out of the actor. “Dipesh would shoot a traumatic sequence and then lock me up in a room where I had no choice but to sleep. I’d come out refreshed and do another scene and be knocked out, psychologically, again. It went on like this until the end of the shoot. I had a tough time drawing a line between my character and me. I didn’t know where one ended and the other began.”

The actor reveals that one of the first things he did after completing the film, was to get rid of all physical characteristics he associated with his character. “I shaved off all the facial hair, trimmed my hair and generally discarded the unkempt, dishevelled look of a man who has stopped caring about how he looks. I had to look at myself in the mirror for days and remind myself that, this was the real me, and not the man that I had played in the film. At the film’s completion party, I guzzled down a whole bottle of wine to forget the man I had become.”

But despite his best efforts, he found that leaving behind his character was not as easy as changing his hairstyle and his clothes. “Somewhere, the traumatised, disoriented, misfits that I have played, have stayed with me. When people meet me after a gap of some years, they say that I look older than I should. That’s because I carry all these existentially burdened characters within me,” he says.

Not surprisingly, Manoj says that his role in Gali Guleiyan has been his toughest one to date. “Not only is it the toughest character I’ve played, it’s also one of the most complex ones written in Indian cinema. The challenge was not physical, but emotional,” he says.

And yet, his more commercial roles, like the one in Satyameva Jayate, are the ones that end up getting an audience. But the actor dismisses that line of thought, saying, “That’s a very pessimistic view of my career. If I started thinking like that, I’d never be able to give my all to films like Aligarh and Gali Guleiyan. And who said that Satyameva Jayate was not challenging? The challenge is not to get sucked into the system. To be a part of it, and yet remain detached and fight it. Because you know that mainstream cinema will never accept you. It will only use you for your talent. So you use the reality of that situation to fuel your idealism. Every Satyameva Jayate that succeeds, gives me the power to do three Aligarhs and Gali Guleiyans.”

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