From being rejected by the National School of Drama three times to winning two National Awards is a long journey. Face of the flamboyant Bhikhu Mhatre to the devilish Raghavan, manipulative Sardar Khan to the dejected Veerendra Pratap Singh to a very vulnerable Professor Siras, Manoj Bajpayee has given some iconic characters to Indian cinema. Engrossed wholeheartedly in his craft and much beyond the count of accolades, Bajpayee recalls Barry John’s coaching to theatre as one of the prominent inputs during his formative years. Having been there, done that as a powerhouse of talent, the actor today analyses himself and his work with excellent details while still retaining the flavour of a humble childhood. This is about his life, his style and his path of storytelling!
Actors tell the audience the story of one particular character. How perfect or flawed is that character, is for the audience to decide. But for an actor, he has to defend the character by being the character. This can’t happen over-night. It takes about 20-25 days to understand and internalise another person and his circumstances. You keep thinking about him and start getting into his skin. You start sharing your personal time with the character, as the character. You are constantly trying to interpret every moment of your life through the human process of someone else.
I keep going through the script again and again to find various delicate dimensions. Gradually after 10/15 days, it starts showing results. This is an extremely tedious process. My wife calls me a weirdo. But since she has been in the same profession, she knows how things work. So when my personality changes with the characters I play, it doesn’t shock her. Given the tremendous stress our bodies and minds go through, the partner’s support comes as a huge blessing.
I have been into television, theatre and cinema. Let me tell you that no matter how much you come out of it, you are always bruised by the characters you play. The personality of each and every character leaves behind its sediments on yours. Call it a blessing or curse, getting in and getting out of a character is never mechanical enough, as much you would want it to be. In your subconscious mind those little elements cast their shadow even after it is long over. An actor evolves through the life of his own and also through that of a fictional existence. Distinguishing between reality and imagination doesn’t remain as easy as it sounds.
My wife says I became an interesting person when I was doing Aks. It was a role that took me about 3/4 months to put it out there. Raghavan was meant to be the definition of evil. Evil can’t be a character. Professor Siras or Biranchi Das or Bhikhu Mhatre are characters. Evil is a metaphor. How you turn the metaphor into a character is left largely on your interpretation. I started working on it, defining evil.
Evil is attractive, that’s how he lures people to follow his path. He sucks you in and there is no way you can escape. Evil is flamboyant. Evil is interesting. It gives you an addiction to the extent that you want to go back to it time and again. You are operating under a spell, knowing pretty well that you are heading towards disaster. Evil calls you in and gives you a habit of him. These were some fantastic dimensions of Raghavan. And there was a huge element of fear and danger; I tried to depict that with the eerie laughter. Because no matter how interesting Raghavan is, he might be a great lover, but if he sets his mind on you, you are dying.
My wife says I became a very romantic, exciting person when I was going through the process of Aks.
I remember Kamlesh pandey was writing the dialogues. It was getting difficult for him to frame the dialogues for this person. I was called in to improvise on the dynamics. “Na koi marta hai, na koi maarta hai, yeh main nahi kehta, Gita mein likha hai”, I was devising these lines that came to mind. I started improvising them for the writer to start writing. Making of Raghavan was a long and fascinating journey.
I diligently tried to be there for my daughter till she was one and a half years old; I thought I’ll be required to be a support system because both our parents are too old to run after my child. My daughter follows a ritual since the time she was six years old. Every time I went out of town for a long stretch, she’d know. After bath if I she found me wearing new clothes, taking time to prepare myself, she’d crawl in to sit on my lap and hug me. That is my best moment with my daughter. She was as small as six months, when she discovered the clue to understand when was the time that she’d not see her father for quite some days. She still does this. But now she asks where I am going and till when I’ll be away.
She is much attached to her mother, otherwise. We try to encourage her to spend a day with me so that the mother gets a break. But she’ll not let her take that break. Both I and my wife try to ensure that she grows up in a usual house where father’s profession doesn’t alienate her from the rest of the world. She should not look at the issues of her age and that of the world she belongs to, from behind a make-believe sheen. At her age, she should not be dragged into my stories.
Don’t know how you will define this, but I will share a tale nevertheless.
A 17 year old boy was packing his bags. It was summer time. His closest friend had come to drop him at the railway station, some 15 km away. This friend was from a well-to-do family. The boy sat inside his car. From the window of the moving car he found his father staring at him till the vehicle disappeared from his vision.
From the station, the boy took a train to reach the district town. There he boarded a bus for Muzaffarpur, where he had a relative staying. He was very nervous, yet very excited because he was following a path which would take him to a place where he wanted to go, allowing him to do what he wanted to. He spent a night at the relative’s place. Everyone including his parents were under the impression that the boy was going to Delhi to complete his graduation. But there was some other plan in store.
Next morning he took a bus to Patna. Here another friend was waiting for him. He had a reservation in the train from Patna to Delhi. This boy boarded the train with a simple ticket, without reservation. Delhi, for him, was the land of opportunities. He was thankful that his childhood friend was accompanying him to the city of his dreams. Since the friend’s brother studied there, he had the initial support in place.
Late in the evening, the boy started feeling feverish. It must be around 101-102 temperature. He kept thinking of the life that was waiting for him in Delhi, to keep himself charged. The fever should not break his resolve! Delhi was… freedom.
As night fell, he spotted the ticket-checker coming in. He had to run, lest he be thrown out of the train. He kept moving in front, to the next compartment and then to then to the next, as the ticket checker proceeded. At Mughalsarai station he jumped down the train and ran towards the last compartment to board the train once again. That whole night he kept doing this. Every time he found the ticket-checker coming in, he moved in front and ran back from the station. The fever made things worse; he felt he would fall. His body was giving up, and yet he continued.
God knows how many times he repeated this game. At some time the eastern sky brightened up. Aligarh station. A crowd of people rushed in to occupy seats. The reserved compartment had now become as good as a general compartment. Those passengers didn’t abide by rules of reservations. The boy was safe finally. The madness of the night had been too much for him. He collapsed on the floor and slept there, without caring how dirty it was below.
He woke up when his friend started shaking him out of his sleep. The train had stopped somewhere in the outskirts. “Look outside, it’s Delhi.” The boy forgot everything else and glanced outside. The chaos. The crowd. Something was in the air. He watched them all in awe. Hoardings above read “Delhi”. His dreamy, ambitious eyes almost saw a larger-than-life photograph of himself smiling in style, from one of those hoardings.
The train moved ahead. The hoarding didn’t, from the back of his mind.
The boys got down at New Delhi station and moved towards Hansraj College.
Not really. I don’t see my future in absolute terms. My dream was to earn my bread and butter through acting. Swabhimaan on Indian television helped accomplish that. Rest everything is a bonus. I am an acting-obsessed person. I’ll die if I don’t get to play with characters; I’ll die if I am left alone only with myself. What kind of a restricted living is that? I don’t know. My relationship with acting is that of an obsessed lover. Now I don’t live with a dream, or for a future. I just try to fulfil every breathing moment..