Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR

What does one really say about Manoj Bajpayee who’s continued to carve a path for himself on his own terms and is now one of the most prolific actors the industry has. He continues to give us something new each time and this time around he collaborates again with Neeraj Pandey for ‘Aiyaary’. He’s slightly under the weather when we catch up with him about this upcoming release. He speaks about the film, being detached and lots more….

You’ve mentioned earlier to me that, you get depressed if you’re not surprising yourself on each film…so how was it this time around with ‘Aiyaary’?

There are too many facets about the character which were difficult to pull off and also, Neeraj Pandey is someone who is non-compromising. So, he doesn’t get satisfied with the first, second or third take. He makes you go on and on. When you have a director like him who is pushing you to not only surprise him but also yourself. So you suddenly realise that there are so many things you can do now which weren’t coming out earlier. When you have a director like him, who is not easy to be satisfied. Yes, the job is difficult but you go to your room eventually with all the satisfaction.

Has it become more difficult to satisfy your creative greed more with every film, considering the quality of work you’ve done already, and raised the bar?

I’m very greedy for great roles, and working with great directors, actors, be a part of new scripts. I definitely don’t want any good role to go to any other actor, I’m definitely that greedy and as far as my hunger to do well, it’ll be there always, because you’re not trying to excel as compared to someone else, you’re trying to excel as per your last work. Or trying to learn something new. For that, I try watching so many web-series, these new independent films from all over the world and see that the world is evolving, the craft is evolving every day. So, I have to match steps with all those great actors who are coming up from those unknown countries. If you want to do well and excel then you have to keep your eyes and ears open, keep watching those new actors, performances and learn. That’s the only way to go ahead.

The trailer is crisp and seems to have that typical Neeraj Pandey essence. Is that what you liked about the narrative?

Yes, it’s a narrative which is infact, very unique. Even Neeraj Pandey, I feel is coming up with a new way to tell the story. The relationship between the mentor-protégé is very different and you’ll get to see an area of army which you are very unfamiliar with. The struggle within the country is portrayed here which is so remarkable and it’s so fantastically written and also performed by the actors.

When there’s a niche which you’ve created for yourself, and there’s appreciation, has that made you extra confident about the fact that you will be able to pull off a certain role?

Don’t take my answer as arrogance, but I just love acting. I love excelling in the role I do. I don’t look for appreciation, I don’t fly high reading about appreciation because for me, it’s not be all and end all. I have to keep moving as an actor and criticism doesn’t bog me down, since I’m not looking for anyone else’s approval. I just take it as one person’s opinion and I move on. Acting is such an organic thing that five people will have five different opinions about it. Whether I’m criticized or appreciated, the next day I will be, next day I will have to portray a new role. I can’t fly high with one appreciation or feel shattered by one criticism.

There are certain films and performances which people remember even after many years, irrespective of the numbers or box-office, for example, ‘Satya’. Are you liking the current scenario where there’s a big change and new competition from the digital medium?

I think it’s an amazing scenario today where stars are there, actors are there and mainstream cinema is there, independent cinema is there and the digital platform has come up. There are stars but even actors are doing well. All of them are having a space for themselves, they are all getting work and being recognized. The frenzy around stars will always be there. I see youngsters going crazy for Sidharth Malhotra, girls shivering looking at him. So, that kind of charisma or charm will always be there, and Sidharth is one of the new actors who has that kind of influence on the youngsters. At the same time, there is Rajkummar Rao who is doing very well in his space. There’s a good situation for everyone.

Are you able to detach from characters?

I always detach myself. If you ask me about my theatre days or village days, I don’t get nostalgic. I remember them fondly but to go on and on about it and live in that time, it’s not my scene. I’m a person who gets detached very easily because there’s so much to look forward to. Looking back isn’t something I do easily, I find it boring. I remember people from my life. When I go back to my village, I remember all those faces and try to look for them. But when I come back to Mumbai, I am back to my life and job. It doesn’t come to me naturally.

Talking about your theatre days, I remember you’d told me, how Shekhar Kapur warned you, ‘that be ready to do things you don’t like’, when you were about to start doing movies…but considering the work you’re doing now, are you happy?

This is what I was stubborn about even during the time where it was not possible to get a good role. I just decided I won’t do anything which I don’t like and it made my life difficult initially. Especially, here in this city where it’s difficult to survive when you don’t have money. It’s impossible not to do a job in this city; you have to be employed here. Initially it was difficult, after ‘Satya’ also, it was difficult. There used to be gaps between two films. Only after 8-9 years after ‘Satya’, I could manage to buy a house. The journey hasn’t been easy but I’m very happy that my patience is paying off not only to me, but to so many other actors because my journey and struggle somewhere created a space for all of us.

Now what’s next for you post ‘Aiyaary’?

There’s ‘Baaghi 2’, and ‘Gali Guliyan’, which has created such an impact and garnered appreciation across international film festivals. It was shown there with the title ‘In the Shadows’ but now it will be released with this title. It got an award also at MAMI. It’s the most difficult film I’ve ever done and according to me and my own barometer, that’s my best performance till now. I’m shooting for Abhishek Chaubey’s film with Sushant and Bhoomi where I’m making a special appearance. Then I’m starting Nikhil Advani’s production which Milap Zaveri is making with John and me. A web-series with Raj and DK. I will finish all these commitments by end of August post which I will take a break.

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