Manoj Bajpayee is a force to be reckoned with in India’s entertainment industry right now. The powerful artist has carved a niche for himself with his films and even his digital content. Manoj has experimented with roles in various mediums, starting with Shekhar Kapur’s classic film Bandit Queen (1994). He continued with a stint on television in Mahesh Bhatt directed Swabhimaan (1995), until he found his place in Bollywood.
Over a career spanning over 25 years, Manoj has given us memorable characters in both critically and commercially successful films. While his Bhiku Mhatre in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya earned him his first national award, his Sardar Khan in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur set the tone for the entire franchise.
Manoj has managed to impress in films like Shool, Zubeidaa, Pinjar, 1971, Swami, Raajneeti, Special 26, Aligarh, Gali Guleiyan, Bhonsle and others. Most recently, he also led the digital space, receiving accolades for playing spy agent Srikant Tiwari in the Amazon Prime Video series The Family Man.
As the actor turns 52 today, we take a look back at the special episode of the celebrity talk show hosted by Faaroq Shaikh, Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, where filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt, Shekhar Kapur and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra have talked about working with Manoj early in his career.
Shekhar Kapur, who gave Manoj his first acting break on camera, recalled how his silence intrigued him to choose him for the role of Man Singh in the dacoit drama. “When I first met Manoj, I was looking for a very calm man who would be able to play with very small gestures. When I explained the character to him, I said that this man was the complete opposite of Vikram Mallah who was the other lover. He was solid, almost like a father figure. When Manoj started playing and spoke to me, I congratulated myself for choosing him because he was exactly the one I wanted. Later, when I saw Manoj in Satya, I realized how good an actor he was. He had convinced me with his character – a calm, strong and silent figure, and I thought that was how he was. He tricked me. I was wondering when I will return to work with Manoj, ”Kapur said in Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai.
While Kapur took the risk of throwing a newcomer into his ambitious venture, Mahesh Bhatt credits Bandit Queen with his first impression of Manoj, which he made on the actor’s first TV show, Swabhimaan.
Recalling a scene performed by Manoj, Bhatt said: “I saw Manoj for the first time in my editing room. He performed a breathtaking scene where he was drunk. It was a difficult scene, and it went on and on. His body language, his style was so refreshing that I was mesmerized. I wondered who this guy was. Then I remembered Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen where he played a very low key role, which was not as fulfilled as the other roles. I called this guy, who came in as a very shy, reserved and confident man. Then I fell in love with him.
In the particular episode, dated 2002, Bhatt vouched for Manoj’s bright future. He added: “Times are changing. Our industry now has a lot of young filmmakers and Manoj is kind of an icon for them. They can match Manoj’s zeal and are in sync with his vision. The generation that resisted it is in decline. All I want is for him to stay on the pitch and keep hitting singles. He has a bright future.
One of Manoj Bajpayee’s most critically acclaimed performances is Aks (2001), opposite Amitabh Bachchan. His role as an eccentric Raghavan killer, Manoj impressed. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s director has been outspoken about his casting.
“I saw his little part in Bandit Queen. The special part was that her character didn’t have a lot of lines but there was something about that silence that was very penetrating. I hadn’t watched Satya until then, so I had no idea he would become such a big star. I spoke to Ashok Mehta who shot Bandit Queen. He told me how good he was, ”Mehra said.
After the episode of Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, Manoj went on to give many more notable characters.
In a conversation with indianexpress.com, Manoj Bajpayee recalled his journey and how his struggles did not end even after tasting success. He said: “I would have liked to have entered the industry 3-4 years ago because the struggle for roles would have been almost negligible. It has opened up now.
He added, “A person like me has worked and struggled really hard for that day ahead when all the young actors get such content and such characters. It was impossible in my time. There was hardly any offer worth accepting. Seven years after Satya’s massive success, I managed to buy my own house. Today, in just two years, actors manage to make a home doing what they want, like Rajkummar Rao and Vicky Kaushal. It’s a big leap from that time. So I feel very happy. And I made a small contribution to making this day a reality.
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