Manoj Bajpai in Gangs of Wasseypur
Manoj Bajpai is sitting on a beanbag in a corridor of the Viacom 18 office in Mumbai when t2 meets the 43-year-old actor. “It’s too cold in the conference room,” he explains as someone hands him a vada pav. Manoj, looking very gaunt, takes a bite and keeps the rest aside. Aiming for size zero, is he? “I lost about four kilos for Gangs of Wasseypur and another 5-7kg for Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh. I play a Naxalite in the film and they don’t look very well-fed or even fit, ” he says. Manoj has a really challenging film this Friday: Anurag Kashyap’s epic Gangs of Wasseypur. “I have tried to redefine myself as an actor with this film,” he says in a free-wheeling chat.
How was your first time at Cannes?
It was fantastic. The appreciation that Gangs of Wasseypur received there came from the non-diaspora segment. I was in the screening there and it was so encouraging to see people who had no idea of our culture or didn’t know where the story was set understand every nuance. The other highlights for me included having coffee with Cedomir Kolar, producer of the Oscar winner No Man’s Land, and seeing celebrities like Adrien Brody, who I had only seen on the big screen, just walking around. There were also a lot of famous faces who I recognised but couldn’t put a name to the face (chuckles). I recommend a visit to the Cannes festival for every film lover at least once in their life.
This is the first time Anurag and you’ve worked together after your fight almost a decade ago. How did he approach you for GOW?
I made the first move after I watched Black Friday years ago. I called and congratulated him. Dev D completely blew me away and I called him some three times to rave about the film. So, we had been talking on and off for all these years. For GOW, Anurag called me at 10 one night saying he had the perfect project for me. I immediately went across to his office and we sipped on red wine while he narrated the film. By the time he got to the interval, I was drunk. I loved the script so much I wanted to start shooting immediately. Obviously that wasn’t possible (laughs).
It took him three months to prepare for the shoot and I was so gung-ho that I was constantly experimenting with my looks and giving suggestions. He must have been fed up of me even before we started shooting!
How different is Anurag now, both as a person and a director?
Anurag’s evolution as a human being has been incredible. The person I knew was vulnerable, volatile, hyper-sensitive and emotional. The person I know now has loads of emotional intelligence. He was like a guardian to everyone on the set. Every actor looked up to him on the set. The Anurag of a decade ago was a friend. Today, Anurag is someone I look up to.
Sardar Khan is a very negative character...
I think he is the most negative character I have ever played. He has all the traits of a terrible human being. He has no sense of right and wrong. He is unapologetically selfish, violent and lecherous. And, he gets beaten up by his wives. Despite all of this, he is quite lovable.
How did Anurag convince you to shave your head?
We were shooting in some god-forsaken place 120km outside of Benaras and Anurag managed to get a barber from somewhere. The barber started cutting my hair and Anurag wasn’t satisfied until he completely shaved my hair off. (Laughs) I was bald three months before, during the shoot and after the shoot. Luckily, I was wearing a hair patch for Aarakshan, otherwise Prakash Jha would have strangled me.
There was a period before Raajneeti when your career went through a bit of a slump...
I had a really bad shoulder injury. I couldn’t even move my hand. So for two years, I lay low. I used to watch movies and was even more frustrated because I wanted to be on a set and working. That was a tough period because I wasn’t working so there was no money coming in and we started dipping into our savings. I also had to refuse projects that I was dying to be a part of. I am so thankful to Prakash Jha who offered me Raajneeti and subsequently Aarakshan when I needed work the most.
And now you are shooting films back-to-back.
(Smiles) Yes, this is the busiest phase I have had until now. Apart from the GOW films, there is Chittagong, Special Chabees, Chakravyuh and Shootout at Wadala. But I have to confess that I don’t really like running from one set to another. I prefer working at my own pace but I am terrible at multi-tasking.
Have you been able to spend enough time with your daughter Ava Nayla and wife Shabana?
You have touched a sensitive chord. I almost started crying when I left home this morning because she (Ava) was bawling. Life just has a different meaning now that I am a father. She is one-and-half now and she understands that I am never home. Even when I am home, I keep thinking of the fact that I’ll have to leave for a shoot in a couple of days and that just breaks my heart. But, there is nothing I can do. Shabana, thankfully, understands the demands of my job.