Manoj Bajpayee: After 24 years, I know I'm not a fluke

It’s raining films for Manoj Bajpayee. The actor, who will complete 25 years in showbiz next year, is enjoying this phase where he is feted, felicitated and rewarded with mainstream fare like Satyameva Jayate to the hatke stuff like Love Sonia and Gali Guleiyan. Right now, Mumbai is more like a stopover port for the 49-year-old, who has been travelling the world with his work. And though home is where the heart resides, Manoj admits that he also has to adjust being a suitcase daddy sometimes. 

Excerpts of our chat with the multi-talented artiste, who never fails to surprise.

It’s been a Manoj Bajpayee season; it began with Aligarh and continues to gather momentum, right?

The typical response would be that God has been kind. But then, that’s also the truth. You have been a part of this business for a long time, in fact, you were around, much before I arrived on the scene. You know the nature of this business. One never knows when one movie starts and how the ball keeps rolling. You need to find a reason for it, so you can repeat the same thing in the coming season. But it never happens. Over the 24 years that I have been here, I have come to only one conclusion; when it’s happening, be happy and celebrate. In this field, the lows are too many and the highs are too few. So if you don’t celebrate, you will miss the train (laughs). No matter how big a star you are, you will feel lonely, left out and miserable. But the best part is that when the high comes, it can either spoil you, ruin you or make you think that you’re the best.

You’ve been able to mix and match very nicely. After a Satyameva Jayate, you also had a Gali Guleiyan.

This year has been great for middle-of-the-road films. Missing is doing well on the digital platform, but sadly, it wasn’t distributed too well during its theatrical release. Gali Guleiyan, too, has managed to generate curiosity and become a talking point, by the grace of God. It’s an independent parallel film, there is no denying it. But once you sit through it, it will not leave you easily. I’m proud of it.

Considering the whirlwind it has been, how are you holding on to sanity? Obviously, you have your wife Shabana and daughter Ava Nayla at home…

The sanity of the experience lies in keeping yourself intact. I’ve been doing a lot of things.

You’re doing a digital series, too, with Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK.

Yes, we will be finishing it this month. It’s an amazing series about a middle-class guy, who tries to balance the demands of his job and family. He’s an intelligence officer and there’s this myth that they are like Superman. Through it, you understand what a government official working in the intel does, goes through and what happens to his family.  There’s also a cultural difference as he’s from Benares while his wife is from South India and their children are studying in an English Medium school in Mumbai. So, you have three different cultures under one roof, failing and succeeding to strike a balance between both worlds. It’s a great subject and we’ve shot some amazing sequences. 

Tell us about your experience with Love Sonia, though it’s a special appearance. 

When it was first offered to me, I said no. It’s a pathetic character, I didn’t want to do it. I turned the complete black into some grey; that was my contribution. It’s a small role, but it stays with you. Director Tabrez Noorani, producer David Womark and I have put our minds to this character and have tried to make him look like a businessman who thinks he is a saviour of the girls. Pimp is too small a term for him, he is actually managing the racket or the mafia of human trafficking. He believes that he is a businessman and anyone who tries to ruin his job is in danger. We’ve given him a complete human look, and when he changes his colours, it baffles you as to how anyone can be such a chameleon. When you see his dark side, he is fearful and dangerous. On the other side, he is a father, mentor, guide and saviour of the girls. You see everything in him, but you can’t mess with his business as he calls it. I’m supporting the film because the issue is close to my heart. I fail to understand why in the world, none of the governments of any country could bring this into the forum of the United Nations and make it a global rule that people involved in human trafficking are given such a strict punishment that the message goes out to everybody. 

Globally, films like Aligarh, Gali Guleiyan and now, Love Sonia have been earning you a lot of notices. How does that feel?

Demi Moore didn’t speak to me after Love Sonia. She was very chatty with me before it started. When Simi Garewal saw it in Melbourne, she said please don’t talk to me (laughs). So, I know for a few days, I’m going to lose some of my female fans because of the feelings my character evokes. 

With your performances garnering international acclaim, are you looking at more opportunities in the West?

Yes, at the insistence of a few of my friends, I’m looking westwards. I’ve spoken to some and they have been selflessly working on finding a way to promote me. David is one of them. Tabrez is doing it in his way. Deepesh Jain, who is based in Los Angeles, is doing it for Gali Guleiyan. There are other friends in LA, and they have been at it, too. Also, because they love me as a performer, they feel I should find some work there. 

How does being a suitcase daddy work for you? How does your daughter Ava Nayla react? 

Since the last few months, I have been at home. My wife Shabana says this is what she likes. She knows that I will be coming home for a few months. It doesn’t matter if I’ll be leaving early morning and returning in the evening. So, it’s a good feeling. I’m loving it too. But now, they’re bored of me (smiles). That’s the life of an actor. 

You’re looking leaner. Have you been hitting the gym and eating healthy? 

Yes, I’ve been eating well, leading a very healthy life. I quit smoking 13 years ago and hard liquor as well. I used to have white wine earlier, but now I’ve quit that, too. For the last few months, I’ve been a teetotaller.

Has that been easy?

It’s very easy. In the 24 years that I have been an actor, you know how to switch off. I started believing that it was not all fluke, it was a lot of hard work. That’s the good feeling I have.

How good a driver are you considering you started late?

I’ve become a good and safe driver. I’ve been learning cooking also. I’m learning to become a good husband and a good father. When I’m at home, I try to be with my daughter. She shouts at me when I’m on my phone. She immediately says, ‘Papa, shut your phone.’ She demands my attention, which is good.

If others can want your attention, your daughter can also want it.

My daughter doesn’t want it, she grabs it (laughs).