I thought nothing that would happen in 2016 would equal the power and glory of Ranveer Singh’s aristocratic performance in Bajirao Mastani. But, Ranveer’s bravura performance has just been upstaged by Manoj Bajpai.
Coincidentally, Bajpai too plays a real-life character in Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh. But his Prof Srinivas Ramchandra Siras is removed from Ranveer’s Bajirao by four centuries. Prof Siras is a hero of our times. And yet for Manoj it must have been more difficult to play a gay character with such great dignity than for Ranveer to play Bajirao.
For those who came in late, Aligarh University's Prof Siras was caught making love with a rickshaw puller in the privacy of his home, by two intruders who barged in and filmed the Professor’s private moment.
In Hansal Mehta's Aligarh, Bajpai imbues the character with enormous dignity. The most remarkable aspect of his performance is that in time we are looking not at a gay man, but a lonely man, desperately desolate and isolated, whose sexual orientation is of no consequence. Thanks to Bajpai's refined performance, the violation of his private space becomes an issue way beyond homosexuality.
This is a unique interpretation of a gay character’s tragic isolation where the actor doesn’t imbue the character with any physical traits to manifest his sexual orientation. Instead Bajpai plunges into Prof Siras’ subconscious to search, probe and retrieve layers of solitude. Bajpai surrounds the character with a stunning stillness. As though the world that he inhabits does’t qualify Siras’ life any more. The disconnect is disconcerting to the extreme.
He isn’t faking any of it. He goes so deep into Prof Siras’ subconscious that the actor is no longer visible. This is probably the most complete portrayal of an incomplete life I’ve seen.The characterization is questioning and unfinished and yet deeply satisfying to watch because Bajpai’s Siras is not consumed by the question of his character’s completeness/incompleteness. The frightening immediacy of Prof Siras’ desolation, his condition of incurable melancholy is treated not as a disease but a condition of existential inertia.
Manoj transports us to the inner-most world of Prof Siras, lights up the darkness within the protagonist’s bleak love-less existence. I never knew the actual character. But I hope he was a dignified in his desolation as Bajpai plays him. The only performance of a gay hero that matches up to Manoj’s subtle unobtrusive characterization is Sean Penn in Gus Van Sant’s Milk.
And Milk too died mysteriously, just like Siras. Only to be revived by a performance that doesn’t seem like a performance.
To not give Manoj Bajpai the National award for Aligarh is unthinkable.