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Manoj Bajpayee: I’m a living example of making a career out of flops

The Naam Shabana actor holds his flops more dearly than his very few commercial successes.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

The last time we met Manoj Bajpayee, the actor did not appear to be in great spirits, wearing a frustrated look on his face. He barely spoke during the press conference of Budhia Singh – Born To Run (2016).

That was then. On Saturday (25 March), Bajpayee was in a cheerful mood while promoting his upcoming film Naam Shabana (2017) which hits the theatres on 31 March. Looking much leaner, Bajpayee called it the peril of working with a supremely fit actor like Akshay Kumar. The film's publicist insisted he was running short on time, but the actor requested to be allowed to speak a bit more.

Bajpayee spoke briefly about Naam Shabana, slammed the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) again, explained why he does not envy Hindi cinema's superstars, and also expressed the hope that one day his films would get as many screens as theirs do. Bajpayee, however, is not swayed by the few commercial successes he has had. In fact, he says, he is more fond of his duds. Excerpts:

Looking at you in the Naam Shabana trailer, I was reminded of Special 26 (2013) where you were conned by Akshay Kumar's character. On a lighter note, can we say that Naam Shabana is redemption for your follies in Special 26?

Maybe, but the two characters are vastly different. There [in Special 26],  I played a CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] officer. Waseem Khan was a conservative person. He didn't like his wife stepping out without her dupatta. He thinks he is very smart, but he ends up being conned. So, he is an idiot too. Here [in Naam Shabana], I'm playing an intelligence chief. He is no-nonsense guy, an unemotional person. You don’t get to see his family life. He is the person responsible for training Shabana and he is a hard taskmaster.

How does an actor like you go about preparing for this role?

When I’m doing a film, I don’t meet anybody. You won’t find me entertaining any interviews. I don’t entertain interaction with most people except my family.

You were not part of Baby (2015). As we saw in the film, the protagonists capture a wanted terrorist. The character was largely based on Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. It’s all right to bring villains to justice in films, but the reality today is that it is very difficult to get a Hafiz Saeed or a Dawood Ibrahim.

No, it is not dificult. Do we know how Yasin Bhatkal [the Indian Mujahideen chief] was caught? It was the job of the intelligence department. Inputs were given to the local police. The kind of job they have done on the basis of the inputs is commendable. So, what you have seen in Baby is not impossible.

You are an excellent actor, but sadly most of your films don't do great business. Whereas there are stars who are not as talented as you, but their films make big bucks, and so do they. How do you look at this disparity?

They are very good at what they do. I can’t do that. I feel they are blessed with it. They have charisma and power over so many people of the country and the world. Their mere glimpse makes people go berserk. It always amazed me how this happens. I have realized that you can't create this phenomenon – either you are born with it or you are not. My characters leave an impact on people, but nobody will go berserk if I land at an airport or public place.

The stars have their charisma, I don’t. What I have is the ability to deliver, the ability to perform. That is what people expect from me. I try to stick to my strengths rather than thinking of having a superstar’s charisma. It is better to know what you are gifted with and just follow that.

You can’t complain about the pay. When their film releases, people go and watch the first show. No matter how much money a producer puts in their films, he makes a profit. With our films, they are made at a very restricted budget, where we cut down on our salaries. We make it because we are passionate about those subjects. Our prime concern is that the producer gets his money back.

Your films like Aligarh (2016) and Saat Uchakkey (2016) had issues with the CBFC. Were there any issues with Naam Shabana?

It is simple. If our director and producers have no issues with the cuts, then it’s all fine. We had no issues with Naam Shabana, but there were issues with Aligarh and Saat Uchakkey. We had to get the films cleared through the tribunal.

Talking of Aligarh, I was shocked to find that the film got very few screens. The closest theatre had a couple of shows in the morning while the last one was at 11 pm. So I missed out on the film. Are distributors and studios also to be blamed for not taking your films to a larger audience?

We always have to fight with multiplexes for the shows and right timings for our films. They prefer the big-budget films because the moolah is coming from there. That, though, won’t stop me from going ahead and making films that I want to. I enjoy these films the most.

Don’t you think they [film corporations] are bull-headed in their thinking that they will only put money on stars, irrespective of whether their films work?

We don’t mind them giving loads of preference to them, We also want a fair amount of justice from them. There are people who fight for the rights of Marathi films. There is no one to fight for us. We are left alone to fight our own battles. The day the screens are divided equally, that is when things would improve for us. I will continue to be stubborn and do films like Aligarh. I have done that for the past 20 years. I’m here because of those flop films which were appreciated by the nation as opposed to the hit films which I can count on my fingers. I’m a living example of making a career out of flop films.

Coming back to the CBFC, today films are being denied certification for fear that they may upset a community. A prime example is the Konkona Sensharma-starrer Lipstick Under My Burkha. It is not just the CBFC, but also the political authorities who fear that such films may lead to trouble. Is this fear growing in the current political climate?

There is one CBFC, but then we have too many CBFCs outside — the fringe elements. In this environment, it has become difficult to create a story. People start hitting filmmakers just on presumptions. They don’t even know the script. They start protesting on presumptions. My film Aarakshan (2011) suffered because of this. I agree with you. It is difficult to create anything. You never know which part of a film will offend which group and when they will start pelting stones at my place.