Streaming platforms have proved that talent is supreme, no matter where from: Manoj Bajpayee
Manoj Bajpayee discusses his upcoming Diwali release, Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, The Family Man 2 and the liberation of OTT platforms, in this interview.
Manoj Bajpayee remains one of India’s finest actors till date having shown many shades of his acting prowess. A Padma Shri recipient, and two-time National Award winner, Bajpayee has given us many iconic on-screen moments with his stellar performances. From playing a dreaded don, to a shrewd politician, to a fierce police officer, to a helpless, vulnerable homosexual professor, or even displaying his regal affluent charm as a prince, Bajpayee played each of the characters with finesse.
His next, Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, a situational comedy that co-stars Diljit Dosanjh and Fatima Sana Shaikh, is right up his alley, says the actor. “I play a wedding detective who gets a kick out of finding the flaws in potential grooms. The laughs in this film are genuine; there are no gimmicks. The humour is observational. There is a definite story, a definite character and there is no effort that we put into it to make people laugh. The situation, the reactions and the responses are such of the characters that you burst out laughing and that is why it is such a unique film and a unique story to tell,” said Bajpayee. The film’s ensemble cast includes Annu Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa, Seema Pahwa, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Nehha Pendse, Manuj Sharma, Neeraj Sood, Abhishek Banerjee, Vijay Raaz, Karishma Tanna, Vanshikha Sharma among others.
He furthers, “Abhishek (Sharma, Director of Tere Bin Laden fame) told me that you just stick to your character. He didn't want me or any of the actors to make people laugh. He just wanted us to behave in a very realistic way and respond to everything according to the script and the scene. And for this very reason I have done Abhishek’s film because even in his Teri Bin Laden no actor was trying to make the audience laugh, you were laughing because of the situations, the interactions and the performances. What put me at ease was that I have to stick to my character and all throughout on the set I was in my character so that I don’t miss a beat. For me, playing a Mumbai-based wedding detective who was a failed actor but has got this opportunity where he wants to be successful, gave me a lot of scope to experiment with. But every now and then things go wrong for him. It’s a wacky character and it is a kind of a genre that I have not delved into, so this is a great opportunity that Abhishek has given to me. This is the kind of genre I was looking for, for a long time.”
The comedy is said to be a game of cat-and-mouse between Bajpayee and Diljit, and the actor says that he was quite surprised with the dedication shown by his co-stars. “With Diljit you have to be extremely prepared. He has a knack of coming out with surprises in every scene and he can actually catch you unaware if you are not prepared. Fatima is so hardworking, I saw her working on her act, her walk, her talk, her behaviour, going through the classes. These young actors are giving so much of themselves. Then we had Annu Kapoor who is a mine of talent. I was mesmerised by Supriya’s performance, and then we had Manoj and Seema Pahwa. I felt privileged that they were making every scene beautiful,” said the actor.
Bajpayee sports six different avatars in the film. He slips into various looks, from a beggar, to an old dabbawala, to a turbaned sikh, to a Maharashtrian woman in a nauvari saree, and more. Donning each look and making the physical changes in a character convincingly was quite challenging. “The preparation for these characters was done when we did the readings and I did my personal homework but the most tedious part was to get ready for these characters. One character has taken five hours because of the prosthetics. The tedious part was when you are doing it on screen; you need a lot of patience, energy and focus for that and the physical changes in a character have to be convincing enough,” he says.
“In this film, I take on all these looks because I want to hide my identity, and so I should be convincing enough to fool the other guy. To make it convincing, physicality also has to be internalised. The costumes or make-up will never look convincing if your internal preparation is not up to the mark,” adds Bajpayee, who enjoys all kinds of roles. “I am in love with acting. I like anything. There is no bar to any genre. If I like the script and the whole project, I will give my 300 to 400 per cent to it. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed, and that is part of the job,” he says.
In the last few months, Bajpayee has had two releases — Bhonsle and Mrs Serial Killer, both on the OTT platform, and what is exciting for the actor is that Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, besides being a Diwali release, is the first film to have a theatrical release post lockdown (releases on 15 November). “We are going to be the first ones out there with our new release in theatres, so that gives us a lot of pride, and we take that responsibility knowing that people will support us and knowing that people want to come out and laugh. We have made a cracker of a film. We are really excited but there is a little bit of nervousness thinking about how people would respond,” said Bajpayee, and he immediately adds, “But both mediums have their own uniqueness. I want movie theatres to make a comeback as much as I want OTT platforms to flourish, and yet not have the same character of a theatre.”
In fact, Bajpayee, who started off his career with theatre and television and eventually graduated to cinema, says OTT suits him and he finds the medium extremely liberating. Interestingly, he was early to embrace the digital medium, with the edgy action-drama series The Family Man. “It is so heartwarming to see many of these web series with some great content. Look at Panchayat, Mirzapur, Paatal Lok, Jamtara.. and now Scam 1992. We have such great talents coming out, it is pure quality, pure talent and nothing else. For me, who has been in the industry for 25 years, this is the time I want to see: when good talent is given preference, where talent is the focal point, the performers, the editors, or the background music directors, or the music directors, or the directors, or the writers...OTT has told people that good talent is supreme, no matter where that talent is coming from, whether coming from a village, or a small town, or from a big city, or from a film family, it can come from anywhere. This is so liberating, this is so democratic,” says the actor, who will be next seen in The Family Man 2, which will be out in the first quarter of 2021.
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