THE SAR­DAR OF WASSEY­PUR

Awards and overnight celebri­ty­hood to re­jec­tion and de­spair, Manoj Ba­j­payee has seen it all. The ac­tor hopes the suc­cess of Gangs of Wassey­pur trans­lates into more work for him.

India Today - - PROFILE - By Nishat Bari

Sit­ting in his four- bed­room subur­ban Mum­bai apart­ment, 43year- old Manoj Ba­j­payee is bask­ing in the glow of adu­la­tion in the wake of his role as Sar­dar Khan in Gangs Of Wassey­pur, the first In­dian film to be shown in the Di­rec­tors’ Fort­night at Cannes since Shekhar Ka­pur’s Ban­dit Queen in 1994. “If it doesn’t turn into bet­ter of­fers, though, I will say noth­ing has changed,” he says. He has learnt not to get ec­static about praise. Suc­cess has come his way be­fore— with Satya ( 1998) and Raa­jneeti ( 2010). “There never were any roles for my kind of act­ing. That’s the story of my life,” he says with­out any re­sent­ment, as his eyes trail Ava Nayla, his year- and- a- hal­fold daugh­ter play­ing in the bal­cony with wife and for­mer ac­tor Sha­bana Raza.

It would be

easy to call him a pes­simist based on that state­ment, but af­ter 18 years in the in­dus­try and two Na­tional awards, Ba­j­payee is no stranger to suc­cess or fail­ure. There was a time he would get an­gry, when, af­ter his sec­ond award in 2003 for his role as Rashid in Pin­jar, he was un­em­ployed for 10 months, hav­ing re­fused roles of typ­i­cal vil­lains. “Awards are of no use. They’re just part of the dé­cor in my house.”

For him, set­tling for mun­dane char­ac­ters was never an op­tion. He would of­ten iso­late him­self to get into a role by prac­tis­ing his lines, and “would look like a mad­man to on­look­ers”. Says Wassey­pur di­rec­tor Anurag Kashyap, “Manoj had to play a promis­cu­ous per­son, not some­thing as­so­ci­ated with him. We needed to undo the old Manoj, and de­cided to shave his head.” Ba­j­payee spent a day with Kashyap’s makeup team. They ex­per­i­mented with his face and he lost 6 kg to look lean and hun­gry.

Ba­j­payee was 17 years old when he passed out from Khrist Raja High School in Bet­tiah. He left his vil­lage Belwa, near Narka­ti­a­ganj on the Bi­harNepal bor­der, where his fa­ther was a farmer, and shifted to Delhi in the hope of join­ing the act­ing course at the Na­tional School of Drama ( NSD). He had learnt of it from an in­ter­view of ac­tor Naseerud­din Shah in the Hindi mag­a­zine Ra­vi­var. In Delhi, he lived on Rs 300 a month— Rs 150 from his fa­ther and an­other Rs 150 from act­ing in street plays. The pal­try sum barely made up for the room he rented with friends, and the Rs 12 monthly bus pass. Be­yond that, he would de­pend on friends for clothes, shoes and the lunch of chhole bha­ture. He was re­jected by NSD for four con­sec­u­tive years, and started train­ing un­der Barry John af­ter the sec­ond at­tempt while study­ing His­tory at Ram­jas Col­lege, Delhi Univer­sity. He got so in­volved in act­ing in am­a­teur plays in Delhi, that he of­ten skipped vis­it­ing home for long stretches. “Once, when I went home af­ter three years, my mother started howl­ing. And I thought: Why is she cry­ing, I’m here now?”

Ba­j­payee came close to de­spair af­ter mov­ing to Mum­bai in 1993. Mis­er­able and lost in the big city, he also un­der­went the pain of di­vorce from his first wife. He had come pre­pared for a long wait but was close to re­turn­ing to his vil­lage when in 1994, Ban­dit Queen, and his first film role as Man Singh, hap­pened. The TV se­ries Swab­hi­maan ( 1995), and films like Ma­hesh Bhatt’s Das­tak ( 1996) sus­tained him for five years, till he met Ram Gopal Varma for the role of Paresh Rawal’s hench­man in Daud ( 1997). Varma recog­nised him from Ban­dit Queen, and that led to Satya, which earned him his first na­tional award as best sup­port­ing ac­tor for his por­trayal of Bhiku Mha­tre.

Since then, in be­tween the crit­i­cal suc­cesses of Shool ( 1999) and Pin­jar, there have been films that haven’t fared well, but which Ba­j­payee is proud of— Kaun ( 1999), Aks ( 2001) and 1971 ( 2007). There are other films he did in des­per­a­tion— films he is too ashamed to even men­tion now— most likely for­get­table projects like Jaago ( 2004), Be­wafaa ( 2005) and Money Hai Toh Honey Hai ( 2008). In 2007, dur­ing a visit to his vil­lage, he injured his shoul­der in a jeep ride, and spent the bet­ter part of three years vis­it­ing doc­tors. “My shoul­der gave way. I couldn’t lift my hand. What was crush­ing was that I was no longer act­ing.” There was a new bone grow­ing in his shoul­der, and while many doc­tors coun­selled surgery, oth­ers were against it. “I was fine when I got into the jeep. When I got out, my shoul­der was gone. I can’t re­call any­thing that could have set it off.”

Dur­ing the break, he un­der­went med­i­ta­tion to con­trol his anger. “When I was young, I used to get re­ally an­gry, but then I re­alised I was wast­ing en­ergy on some­thing be­yond my con­trol. I can’t write roles for my­self.”

Then Prakash Jha called for his po­lit­i­cal epic Raa­jneeti. The two had never worked to­gether, but struck a chord, and Veeren­dra Pratap, the Dury­o­d­han- like char­ac­ter, brought him back into the lime­light. Soon af­ter, he got drunk over red wine with one- time “bum- chum” Kashyap while read­ing the script of Wassey­pur, and was con­vinced to un­learn ev­ery­thing. “A new ac­tor has emerged in Wassey­pur, with a new method and ap­proach. I feel this can be a new be­gin­ning for Manoj Ba­j­payee the ac­tor,” he says.

As part of the new self, he has stopped bring­ing his char­ac­ters home with him. Early in their courtship, his wife Sha­bana, whom he met at a film party in 2000, felt she was dat­ing a dif­fer­ent per­son ev­ery month.“Now, I can work the whole day, but come home de­tached,” he says. Con­vinced that good roles will come to him at the right time, he’s in­stead busy re­search­ing for a mu­si­cal, in what will be his re­turn to the stage. “I’m rar­ing to go and des­per­ate to do it,” he says, but is un­will­ing to re­veal any­thing more about the project.

In his free time, he likes to travel, Scan­di­navia be­ing a favourite des­ti­na­tion, read co­pi­ously, watch all kinds of films, and loves play­ing with his daugh­ter. He would like to be paid more so that he can buy a nest in Lon­don, and counts a Maruti Swift among his in­dul­gences, be­ing too afraid to drive the Toy­ota Land Cruiser Prado he also owns. He is soon plan­ning to take Nayla to his vil­lage for her first visit, where friends and fam­ily are wait­ing to see her. “If a good role hap­pens, I’ll be happy. If not, well and good.”

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