Sunday, May 26, 2013
Last Updated: 25 May 20:09 PM IST
10 November 2012
The man from Belwa is an inexhaustible storehouse of talent, writes ac tuli
An unpalatable truth about our film industry is that here the most talented people are not necessarily the most successful ones. Take, for instance, actor Manoj Bajpai, indubitably one of our most talented actors. But if we look at his career-graph and analyse whether what he deserves has actually been given to him by the film industry, we’ll find that the answer is an emphatic no. In a career span of about 18 years, Bajpai has acted in only 35 Hindi films so far. In quite a few of these films, he had supporting roles, while in some others just guest appearances.
Manoj Bajpai, one feels, is a somewhat neglected actor. One wonders why his talent remains underutilized. He is not seen as often in films as some other actors. Sometimes he gets films which are rather indifferently made under obscure banners. And one feels that, but for his presence in them, these films would have sunk without a trace at the box office. It was obviously Manoj Bajpai’s impressive performance in those films that sustained viewers’ interes. Otherwise films like ‘Jugaad’, ‘Return to Rajapur’, ‘Happy’, ‘Money Hai Toh Honey Hai’, and ‘Dus Tola’ are only a tad better than non-events in the history of Hindi cinema.
Many people wonder why an actor of Manoj Bajpai’s great potential chooses to work in such inconsequential films. Harsh realities of today’s Bollywood should not be ignored while considering Bajpai’s choice of films. In this fiercely competitive industry, an actor cannot afford to sit idle at home and let himself be forgotten by people, simply because he is not getting what he thinks is commensurate with his talent. To remain in circulation, and also to keep home-fires burning, he has to work, and that exigency sometimes compels him to accept even inferior type of films.
Manoj Bajpai is not one of your mainline actors. By mainline I mean actors who are conventionally good-looking, or who at any rate are considered good-looking and therefore deemed fit for the Bollywood type romantic roles in films.
Of course, Manoj Bajpai does not fit into the typical image of a starry-eyed, tousled-hair romantic hero who has dashing good looks and who can make young girls miss a couple of heartbeats as he goes around merrily strumming his guitar on the screen. But, then, perhaps Manoj Bajpai himself has never shown any interest in moulding himself into that kind of actor. He knows it will never suit his persona to be a singing and dancing type romantic hero.
A well-trained actor, Manoj Bajpai has come to films from the world of theatre. He has always been a votary of meaningful cinema – cinema which portrays harsh realities of human life in as realistic a manner as possible. Beginning his acting career with the Doordarshan serial ‘Swabhimaan’, he soon made his way to films by first getting small but significant roles in films like ‘Droh Kaal’, ‘Bandit Queen’, and a few others. Then he appeared in Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Satya’ (1998), which proved a watershed in his life as an actor.
The story of ‘Satya’ was woven round bloodthirsty underworld goons perennially engaged in unending gang wars. As Bhiku Mhatre of ‘Satya’, Bajpai gave such a power-packed performance that the viewers in cinema halls watched him with awed absorption. Bajpai was widely admired for his role in ‘Satya’.
‘Saya’ was followed by ‘Shool’ (1999), a gripping film in which we find a scrupulously honest and fearless police inspector arriving in a town, somewhere in hinterland Bihar, where a corrupt police force has made life miserable for the common man. All these degenerate policemen are subservient to a viscerally corrupt politician named Bachchi Yadav. Thus, in this town the politician-policemen nexus is making a mockery of the laws of our country.
As police inspector Samar Pratap Singh in ‘Shool’, Manoj Bajpai was simply unsurpassable. The intensity with which he gets into the nitty-gritty of his role kept the viewers glued to their seats in cinema halls right till the thrilling end of the film.
Even when a Manoj Bajpai film could not do well at the box office, his role in it never failed to grip the viewers. For instance, in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s film ‘Áks’ (2001), Manoj Bajpai played a dark and negative character. He won several awards for this role. Even though the film was not much liked by viewers, Bajpai’s role in it was a delight to watch.
‘Zubeidaa’ (2001) shall always be rated as one of his best films. In the role of the ruler of a former princely state in India, he looked very impressive. His versatility was also thrown into sharp relief after the release of ‘Zubeidaa’. In ‘Satya’, we saw him as the ill-clad, unwashed, and unbarbered Bhiku Mhatre who could be mercilessly truculent as well as warmly compassionate. But in ‘Zubeidaa’, he comes before us as the sophisticated, dapper-looking potentate of a princely state who carries himself with becoming royal dignity. These two roles were of course vastly different from each other, but Bajpai acquitted himself with admirable aplomb in them.
Bajpai has earned plaudits for his work in films like ‘Road’ (2002), ‘Pinjar’ (2003), ‘LOC: Kargil’ (2003), ‘Rajneeti’ (2010), ‘’Áarakshan’ (2011), and his latest ‘Chakravyuh’ (2012). In Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’ (2012), his role was that of a lustful womanizer and a megalomaniac out to settle old scores with his enemies. Bajpai has acquitted himself so superbly in this role that it has won him wide critical acclaim.
Normally, Bajpai is now considered by filmmakers for only offbeat and unconventional roles. But he is such a versatile genius that he can perform every role with aplomb. Even in films where his role was brief, he impressed viewers with his ability to get under the skin of his character. For instance, in ‘Veer Zara’ he played Zara’s betrothed. It was a small role, but he leaves a deep impression on the viewers. Similarly, in Madhu Bhandarkar’s film ‘Jail’, in which he co-starred with Neil Nitin Mukesh, his brief role was lauded by critics even though the film could not last long at the box office.
This man from Belwa, a small village in Bihar, has been rightly acclaimed by many as an inexhaustible storehouse of talent.