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Home » Manoj Bajpai Speaks On His ‘Isolation Trilogy’, and Life Beyond The Lockdown!

Manoj Bajpai Speaks On His ‘Isolation Trilogy’, and Life Beyond The Lockdown!

Manoj Bajpai  Speaks To Subhash K Jha On His ‘Isolation Trilogy’, and  Life Beyond The Lockdown

I see Bhonsle as the third of your trilogy on isolation. how do you evaluate your work in Aligarh, Gali Guleiyan and now Bhonsle?

I think  with Bhonsle I’ve  unknowingly completed my trilogy on  loneliness, or  aloneness if we may call it that. All  three films  you’ve mentioned  had different levels  of challenge.I’ve grown  so much   as an actor just by preparing for  these three  film  about  desolation. All of them were  thematically  similar but each was  a very different character,so no fixed yardstick could be used to play the  three characters. I enjoyed working  with  the three talented directors(Hansal Mehta in Aligarh, Dipesh  Jain in Gali  Guleiyan   and Devashish Makhija in Bhonsle) and their writers. Today I  feel happy  about my trilogy.I feel  I have reason to celebrate my skills as an actor after doing these three films.

Tell me about the emotional toll that these three films took on you. Is it worth it to wreck your mental health for a role?

You  know I believe Aligarh has improved me as an actor and a  person. I approached the role in a way other actors wouldn’t have. I saw my character   as a literate Lata Mangeshkar fan rather than just a gay man. My whole focus  was  on  his insistence  on  his privacy and his  passion for whiskey and Lataji’s  voice. It was  a blissful spiritual journey. I never  wanted  to come out of  playing this  character in  Aligarh.

Gali  Guleiyen?

I couldn’t wait to come out  of character. It was  the most  difficult role to play. It  was a  role that broke  me mentally. Like Shool  it demanded  an  extreme internalization . It meant  I had to forget  I  was married and had familial responsibilities.  I started  talking to myself  the  way the character  was shown doing. Such   was my  preparation  for  this role  that my  wife got worried  about me. On the 29th day of shooting I  went to  the director and  told the directors I culdn’t take the mental pressure.But we somehow finished in 33-34  days. I went too deep into the role  in this  film. I thought I’d lose my mind. But I had no other  option. It was the path that was necessary to pull  off that role. Gali Guleiyan had me in my most complex  and taxing role.

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And now Bhonsle?

You know, I  became producer  on this one  because no one was ready to produce  the  film. When the  director Devashish  Makhija  came to me with the offer we had  to hunt for  the  producer . They all feared  a backlash because of the film’s political  overtones. For  four years  Devashish kept  re-writing the script drafts.We had so  many meetings about  the film.In the meanwhile  he  made a  short film Tandav with me. But we’d keep coming  back to Bhonsle. The director  kept  coming up with new versions of  the  script.  From the first day  of shooting when    Devashish put me in  a crowd  of  70,000 people I  was ready for  the challenge. I spent   the whole  day  with the Ganpati processions on the streets without  the crowd knowing about it.

In Bhonsle you play a man who goes all out to fight for what you think is right. How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in ?

I have always stood up for what  I believe to  be right. But to me standing  up for what I believe  to be right  . My way  of  protest  is  not to go on  a dozen  channels. But I assert myself  in every sphere of  life. My  wife, daughter and I  correct  each another all the time. I try to do what  is right. How far would I go to fight for what I believe in?That’s hypothetical. But  if push comes to  shove, I’d go a very long way.

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Do you think the time has for the common man to speak up against injustice?

The time to stand  up against injustice is  always  right. There are different ways of registering one’s protest. And   as long as you stand up for what you feel to  be right, it doesn’t matter when or where  it happens.

What are  your  plans  for after the lockdown?

After  four months,it seems  the lockdown will never end. I was  shooting  in Uttarakhand when  the  lockdown was announced. While I  was there there was no  masking or sanitization only hiking and  trekking in the  fresh air , spending time with  birds, trees, animals and fruits. Then suddenly  we were  back  in  the  city and  we saw a  different world.  I want this lockdown to end  now. The  country and the world   have come to a standstill. I  can only  hope this ends immediately. As for my plans,  I don’t know.As soon  as this gets over,  I will get on with my job. I don’t know what I’ll shoot. Before leaving  Uttarakhand I decided   not to plan anything. But now  I’ve a plan.I’ll  reveal it after the lockdown. But first I will have to finish shooting the  incomplete film from Uttarakhand. There’re five days of shooting left.

You have completed 26 years in the film industry. how do you look back on your career so far? Which do you consider to be the high points of your career so far?

 My career’s highest point will always be  Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya . Coming  from  Bihar at the age of 18 to Delhi to  do theatre hoping to become  an actor  in Mumbai, I did Shekhar  Kapur’s Bandit Queen and then  sat  at home doing nothing. Financially and emotionally  I was  completely   broke.When I  got  Satya, I didn’t tell anyone about this break because I didn’t know where it would  go. Then suddenly  I  was a  household  phenomenon.Why just me? It would be a  high point  for any struggling actor.It  was a game-changer for  my  career.And I can never forget what Satya did to my career.

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If you had to undo or redo some things in your career what would you change?

I would  like to relive  those 4-5 years  of struggle.  I would call a different set  of directors  to give me work. Because I wasn’t getting work from Bollywood directors. Some Hindi films I did back then was  only  to run my kitchen.Given another chance,I’d call  new directors  from independent cinema and work with them  even if  I didn’t know the Malayalam  or Tamil   languages there was so much I could learn  from them.Even my health was   not good. But for me  downtime  was a learning time. I was  doing workshops,  theatre, meeting friends, going to my native village,  spending   a lot  of  time with my family.

You have done some exceptional work on the OTT platform. do you feel this is where the present and the future lies?

The  OTT is  a very new  medium.I remember doing a couple  of short films  for  YouTube. That’s when I realized  that this is  the future. Netflix started  booming. The first thing I saw in  the US was Narcos. I  was blown away.I realized  India too would  not remain untouched  by the  digital boom. And that’s  exactly  what  has happened. Because of  the lockdown  the OTT has hit a peak. Audiences are  watching  all sorts  of content, even the ones they don’t find interesting. They see everything and post  ruthlessly honest views   on the social media.The  OTT has  the advantage  of  the lockdown . It has  become  a strong  alternative  for entertainment  in  India.

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