Formidable talent, a fantastic body of work that can be easy reference to the current crop and the actors to come, a deep and complete surrender to his craft, the guts to refuse films that didn’t speak to him, Padma Shri Manoj Bajpai is a legend in his own making. While we await his Suraj pe Mangal bhari with Fatima Sana Shaikh, we have watched him in the web series space – Mrs Serial Killer and the very popular ‘The Family Man’. Exclusive interview with this path breaker about some of his memorable roles.
Role : Ramchandra Siras
Casting director Mukesh Chhabra thought of me in that role of the professor. This is a man who doesn’t want any complications. He enjoys his drink, listens to Lata Mangeshkar songs and teaches literature. The role gave me immense satisfaction and it was filmed at a time when the Section 377 wasn’t abolished. It was abolished post the film and created a lot of debates. I enjoyed that process of creating the character. But I do believe that how much ever you read books, watch films, improvise, it has to translate in front of the screen. I do practice a lot at home and in front of the camera 4-5 times till I get the sur of the character.
Role: Raza Sharazi
I am humbled by the way people have reacted to my role. It is a guest appearance and it was a privilege to be working with Yash Chopra. He saw me in Pinjar that won me my second National award. Aditya narrated the scene to me and I enjoyed the experience. I played a character who rightfully felt slighted that he was betrayed by the woman he was engaged to. That challenged him. On set, I enjoyed the kind of respect that the leading actor Shahrukh Khan was given. I will never forget how well I was treated. Manish Malhotra ensured that I looked the part.
Role : Maharaja Vijayendra Singh
It was the prince charming role. Frankly, I stepped into a real palace for the very first time in my life with that role. The dialogues had to flow like lyrics. I had a lot of preparation for the role. Shyam Benegal taught me the mannerisms of the Indian maharajas. I am used to eat with my hands, he taught me the way the royals eat, speak, walk sit, talk, even get angry – and Rekhaji too taught me some mannerisms like how the men hug, talk to their women etc. Also, I had to learn horse riding (would wake up at 5 am to learn), play polo (2months). It was great experience working with two leading ladies of the times – Karisma Kapoor and Rekha.
Role: Bhikhu Mhatre
Ram Gopal Verma gave me Bhikhu Mhatre’s memorable character when I was hardly getting any work in the industry. It was a phase when I was debating whether I should be in Mumbai or return home. We were young, restless, rebellious people and we got together and made this film. Ram Gopal Verma chose rebels. Even Bhikhu’s wife played by Shefali Shah beats him up. It was a film revolutionary to its times.
Role : Virendra Pratap
It was the character of the mythical Duryodhan. A seasoned politician, who thinks that, after his dad’s death, the throne will come to him, till he sees it being snatched from him. He feels cheated and betrayed and he is fiercely competitive.
Role : Maan Singh
It was my first film with Shekhar Kapur and I was offered Vikram Mallah’s character but Nirmal Pandey arrived on the scene and Shekhar gave the role to him. A few days later, Tigmanshu Dhulia called me to tell me that Naseeruddin Shah who was to do Maan Singh’s role in the film, had refused the project and suggested that I should try. Shekhar trained me to understand the role that was set in Chambal and it is one of the best movies ever made in Indian cinema.
Gangs of Wasseypur
Role: Sardar Khan
I play a lecherous man in the film. Anurag and I were not on speaking terms before the film was made. One day he called me at 10 pm for a meeting and I have a very strict schedule and sleep by the, but that day I was in his office at 10:30 pm. He narrated the story to me and I was hooked. He is a rebel too and together we created Sardar Khan. There were so many people on the set who respected me and didn’t speak to me out of respect. It was an unconventional role with raw sex appeal. More than being a gangster, Sardar Khan is a womanizer. He was always distracted by his sexual urge and cannot achieve his complete goal. The role gave me lots of courage to get into an independent space. All my solo projects are after Gangs of Wasseypur.