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Birthday special: Roles Manoj Bajpayee deserved an award for but didn't win

As the Aligarh star turns a year older today (23 April), we take a look at some instances when the actor was overlooked for his excellent performances in films like Raajneeti (2010) and Gangs of Wasseypur (2012).

Sonal Pandya

With the recent announcements of the National Awards, most film fans were expected to see the Best Actor category become a fierce fight between two fine actors, both of whom gave extraordinary performances in 2016. We are talking of Aamir Khan in Dangal and Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh. However, both actors were passed over when Akshay Kumar walked away with the best actor laurels.

For Bajpayee, this seems a familiar place. Bajpayee’s performances have been overlooked over his career so that more popular actors are honoured instead in his place.

He consistently turns in strong performances in his films since his debut in Govind Nihalani’s Drohkaal (1994) in a small part. He’s worked both in television and film, starting out on Mahesh Bhatt’s TV show, Swabhimaan in the mid 1990s. He came to audiences’ notice with a raw, unforgettable performance in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998). He won the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor.

Aligarh (2016)

Though Bajpayee is two-time National Award honouree — he also received the Special Jury Award for his role in Pinjar: Beyond Boundaries... (2003), but he has never won the National Award for Best Actor.

In Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh (2016), Bajpayee puts himself in the shoes of a 60-something professor of Marathi at Aligarh Muslim University. The 48-year-old actor displayed Professor Siras’s humanity and loneliness when he was persecuted for his sexuality with a quiet dignity that still haunts.

Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)

However, this isn’t the only time that his work has been unrecognised. As Sardar Khan in Anurag Kashyap’s epic saga Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Bajpayee was passed over by Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar at the National Film Awards and by Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi! (2012). One could argue all three were exceptional performances in each actor’s career, but it often seems that Bajpayee seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes recognition.

With Ajay Devgn in Raajneeti (2010)

Similarly, in Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti (2010), the political machinations of the Pratap family in Bhopal are akin to characters in the Mahabharata. Bajpayee plays Virendra Pratap, the long-suffering cousin of Prithviraj (Arjun Rampal) and Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) who feels he been wrongly ignored as the party president.

As the character of Duryodhana in the film, Bajpayee could have been overshadowed by ensemble cast of Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgn, Arjun Rampal, Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. Instead he held his own amongst all the stars. But once again, at awards time, Patekar, Rampal and Bajpayee were all up for the Supporting Actor Filmfare trophy and Udaan’s Ronit Roy walked away with the prize.

Kaun? (1999)

Going further back to 1999, Bajpayee backed up his breakthrough performance in Satya with Kaun?. Co-starring Urmila Matondkar, Ram Gopal Varma’s film was a bare bones thriller with only three actors. Matondkar, Bajpayee and Sushant Singh all played their characters with something to hide. The actual truth of their identities remained hidden until the shocking end.

Bajpayee’s character Sameer Purnavale veers from sincere bystander to someone who’s in over his head. But as luck would have it, another film of his, Shool (1999) in which he played the upstanding police officer who stands up against the corrupt system shone brighter. He won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor while Sanjay Dutt won the Best Actor award for Vaastav, and actor Mohanlal won the National Award for Best Actor for the Malayalam film Vanaprastham.

Looking ahead, Bajpayee’s upcoming films include Sarkar 3 (2017) and Aiyaary (2018). We sincerely hope that instead of just being part of the awards consideration, the actor can burst through and finally pick up the National Award for Best Actor that’s eluded him for so long and that he rightfully deserves.