"My biggest challenge was to do what I believed in" - Manoj Bajpayee

Manoj Bajpayee till date believes he is a struggling actor. With a Padma Shri and two National Awards in his kitty, why is it that Manoj Bajpayee doesn’t feel like he has got his due? Shubarna Mukerji Shu finds out…

Everyone is waiting eagerly for the second season of The Family Man. The web series has garnered so much appreciation that it is safe to say Manoj Bajpayee on OTT platform is a success like no one else. With an 8.6 rating, The Family Man is one of the best Indian originals out. The actor recently received the prestigious Padma Shri award from the President of India in recognition of his work in the Hindi film industry since his debut in 1998, with Satya. But the actor believes nothing ever came easy for him. For instance, he wanted to get into the National School of Drama but was rejected thrice. “I got suicidal, it is not easy for a farmer’s son to accept that he got so far and then failed to make it. But getting into Barry John’s Acting Institute helped, teaching there helped too. So much so that I tried my hands at NSD for the fourth time!” He never did make it as an NSD student, but they hired him as a teacher there. Since then life has been highs and lows but in a profession he completely adores. “I always wanted to be an actor. I have never known anything else.” 

When a farmer’s son from Belwa becomes Shrikant Tiwari (The protagonist from The Family Man) you know you have a success story. But to begin with let’s talk about your foray into the world of web series and the grand success you have made out of it. 

It is a fantastic feeling for the entire cast and crew of The Family Man. I don’t think there has been a show that was been appreciated by all so unanimously. Be it the critics, the audience, the ratings – everything favored it. Which is a great feeling.

The last time we spoke, a little before The Family Man, you told me you were a little apprehensive about the OTT platform. 

I am like most other people who like to catch a series or two before calling it a day. There are some that are absolutely engrossing and there are some which are not that great. There was a time I was noticing a pattern in the Indian web series. It felt like the makers were simply adding ‘colorful language’, extra violence, extra oomph etc… it was not required but they were completely abusing the medium. I didn’t want to be a part of something like that. So, I was thrilled when I got The Family Man because it was so different from everything else. To begin with, it was about a regular guy. He could be anyone you see on the local train. He has the same issues, with his wife, with his kid’s school admission, EMI etc… he is so relatable that a story about him becomes your own story. And if I may say so myself, I was right in giving a consent to The Family Man because it has become a crossover of a kind for its medium. 

Are you anxious about the second season of The Family Man? 

The thrill of the first season was great, but I will be foolish to take it over to the second season. The filmmakers and the cast are very clear about this, the first season is over and done with. Yes, we have celebrated its success but now we are geared up for season two. Here Shrikant Tiwari will have newer, bigger challenges. His circumstances will be new, his challenges will be grueling. Our focus is getting that right. If we live on the success of the first season, we will never see the success of season 2. And that will be a big loss, because let me tell you - The Family Man season 2 is going to be much, much bigger and better than the first season.

As you rightfully stated earlier that web series, in India especially, was getting abused. That seems to have changed. So, what according to you does this new medium bring in for the actors?

To sum up in one word, what this medium of web series means to an actor, I will go with the word ‘opportunity’. Web series have opened up a world of opportunity of so many talented actors who were not getting jobs. There are many actors who have had the potential but no breakthroughs. Web series have turned lives around for such actors. Frankly, I don’t think the commercial cinema circuit was wrong in rejecting these actors. To be truthful, I don’t think commercial cinema can stomach the kind of talent and potential these actors come with. Bollywood as you call it, doesn’t have the content to contain such dynamic performers. So, Bollywood would never do justice to them. Web series on the other hand is an open field. If you have talent, you can showcase your work here. Work that speaks of quality and gives you respect of a performer too. 

The OTT platform is a lifesaver even for its audience today. Given the circumstances we are all in, what do you make out of this lockdown life?

The lockdown is nothing but a loud and clear message from nature to us all. What we are going through today is a lesson for all of us. Nature is taking control, God’s taking control. It is all in His hands. If you still don’t get the message - God help you. I think, the only thing we people can do is focus on our craft. Just keep doing what we have to do. If you have a job, well and good. If you were hoping for a job - keep honing your skills. If you have nothing just keep practicing your craft and let this period go. There is nothing the rich, the successful or the even the poor can do in this situation. So, please, quit being restless! Concentrate your energy on what you need to keep doing, concentrate on your craft and your calling. Leave the rest to God.

For someone whose work has always been appreciated by people of all ages, what would you say has been one of your biggest challenge as an actor?

Throughout my career I have only met with the challenges, doubt, obstructions, criticism… all of it changed into appreciation once in a while but it has been quite a rollercoaster ride for me. It has been quite a journey. The learning has been humbling to the core. I think some people find me a little too straightforward, I don’t try to beat around the bush, I cannot tell things to please people.

For me one of my biggest challenges was to do what I believed in. You cannot imagine the kind of opposition I have had to face. Not just making the film, getting a distributor, getting publicity and finally getting the film released. I say it very openly, people laugh at it, but the fact is that I have been known for all my flops. These are films I have believed in. But these films didn’t get the right kind of distribution. For eg; 1971. The film is garnering huge response from the audience but no one knew when it came out. So, I stick to what I believe in. I give my best and I know, eventually it will reap the fruits.

As an actor you give your all to all your films, yet there might be some that are closer to your heart than the others. Irrespective of the box office numbers it raked in - can you think of some of those films which you would like to recommend our readers to see?

Don’t judge a film by the box office, whether it is mine or others. I always go by how that film made me feel, how it was making that film (if I featured in it) For me as an actor, the most important thing was to take my work/ my film to the audience, I want as many people as can, to watch my work. That is the single most important thing for me. And let them decide the fate of my film for themselves. If they like it, great. If they don’t, let that be their own opinion. I appreciate every feedback I get. If someone criticizes my work, I listen to them very carefully.

For that reason, I would have wanted your readers to go watch Budhia Singh – Born To Run. That is one of my best performances and one of the best films of my career. It was sheer bad luck for Budhia Singh that it got released in the same year as Aligarh. Aligarh having such a strong content about the homosexually oriented professor’s life, acquired a lot of sympathy and empathy. Soon later, the same year Budhia Singh released but people were still not over Aligarh and its performance. Though some critics ranked Budhia Singh as my best, I would really urge people to go on Netflix and watch that film.

My next question was all about which film do you consider your personal best, but I guess you already answered that… 

I didn’t actually. Budhia Singh is available on OTT platform hence I suggested that. According to me, and my understanding of acting Gali Guleiyan is my best performance till date. Also, Bhonsle, the film for which I got the second Asia Pacific award. The producers are looking to release these films on OTT platforms but till that happens, do watch Budhia Singh.


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Shubarna Mukerji Shu

Bollywood Film Fame Canada has been a source of original content consisting of real conversations, reviews, and news of everything film, music, and entertainment for 15 years.

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