He is known for choosing roles that excite him, that allow him to go deep into the character to become someone else. With each new performance, Manoj Bajpayee proves that he is one of the finest actors in Hindi cinema. Coming off huge accolades for his performance in Prakash Jha’s epic Raajneeti, he now takes on a smaller film, Dus Tola. However, it seems the character he portrays in this small film was actually quite a challenge to play. Manoj once again agreed to chat with me about his work and once again was filled with enthusiasm and wonderful answers.
You got tremendous response for your performance in Raajneeti, how did that feel?
It always feels good when your performance is appreciated and you are a part of a film, which many people have seen. For me, it is always about how much the work has been appreciated and how proud I feel to be part of a particular project. That is very, very important to me.
What was the best compliment you received?
Many actually, soo many. I think I am forgetting them… I am getting old now. (laughs) Many people said many great things on a very personal level and on Facebook. Also people have bombarded me with messages on Twitter and some of them are really fantastic. I came to realize how much one section of the audience really loves me and really looks forward to my films. It actually has been quite a humbling experience.
Tell us about your new film Dus Tola.
It is releasing on October 22nd and Warner Brothers is releasing it. It is a very cute little film about a goldsmith. It is about his love, about his family, about his journey, about a very simple life. This is the first time you will get to see this kind of milieu: small dreams, small wishes and how people very funnily try to achieve those dreams. It’s a very Malgudi Days sort of a film (An old television series based on books by R.K. Narayan, which focused on the tales of the people of the rural fictional town called Malgudi -ed). It is very humorous but still it is very, very realistic.
What made you accept this film?
The role is very unique. Actually when you watch it you will realize that this is something that has never been done before on Indian screens. It is something, which will remind you of old days. All the values that are shown in the film are something which are very, very rare in society today. We still try to get back to it but we don’t, because we are so stuck in our own race towards nothing. It is a film about those small people; their small wishes and they come across as the happiest!
It is based on folk tales…
Yes, it is based on folk tales and the director has dared to convert them on script with the help of the scriptwriter. The language of the film and the words that have been used in the dialogue is something, which has completely floored me.
Tell us about your character Shankar in the film.
My character is of a goldsmith. He is a small time goldsmith who wants to open his own jewelery shop and that is all the dream that he has. He has his family responsibility and he loves somebody a lot. He is somebody who is very sweet. He is very much village folk, who is completely away from the modern world in his mind. He is a sweet but also a smart person and he is someone you cannot make a fool of. The balance of the smartness and the innocence is something, which was very difficult to portray.
These kinds of films are very tricky to do. The performances and the story should look simple, but all the hard work that you do, you have to be very careful that it shouldn’t show on screen. That is why it is very different, very tricky. These films are a difficult zone to get into.
How was it working with a first time director Ajoy?
He is a first time director, but he has been an editor for a very long time. He is a very ambitious guy, but this character of mine is there in him as well, you know. My director is a perfect example of my character. He comes from a small town and he wants to retire there. The first house he bought is not in Bombay, his first house he bought is in Kerala in his native place, he wants to settle there. But there is a certain amount of competitiveness or I should say smartness, which is there in him. He is somebody who I modeled my character on, even the hairstyle.
How was it working with the cast?
All of them are new – though some of them are veterans of theatre. It was a party time, I love to party with theatre people, I really relate to them! I relate to their journey since I come from the same background – the middle class, small town background. I have been very active in theater too. Whenever I work with theater guys it is such a refreshing change. And they come with such vision on the set. There is so much to talk about, so much to share with them. So, yes it was a great time shooting for this film.
And I imagine you prepare differently for a play than a film, so…
Oh, they will eat you up…they will completely eat you up. They are the people who are true professionals. They know the job. Everybody was really on their toes. Everybody wanted to surprise not the others but themselves. That becomes the real problem because if you are not prepared then you have had it!
What do you think audiences will enjoy about the film?
The story. The story itself is something that has never been told. The lead character is not somebody who is working in some corporate office; he is a goldsmith living in a small town. These are the things that people are going to take home.
How does the music weave into the story?
Sandesh [Shandilya] is a great music director; he hasn’t gotten his due till now. I am very happy that he is doing the music for the film and that Gulzar saab has done the lyrics. The three/four songs, which are there in the film, they are so hummable. They have so much rhythm and so much melody to them. It has such great shelf life, which is so rare in today’s music.
How different is it to shoot something as epic as Raajneeti and then also shoot something smaller like Dus Tola?
Raajneetiis something that doesn’t happen to me often, there are very few times that I have been part of such a big kind of film. In Raajneeti, everyone comes from a mainstream movie world. They belong to a different background but all of us take time to know each other. Since it was a big film the stakes are very, very big. When you come to a film like Dus Tola, the stakes are small. The people who are there, I somehow know them. Even if I don’t know them, I can relate to them since I come from the same background. Mostly what happens is that I try to balance both worlds when I am working in two different kinds of films. I just try to be honest on the set. Try to charm everyone with your work. If your work gets you closer to people there is nothing like that.
What do you think audiences will take away from the film?
A good film. A family film that you can sit with your children and watch and you will still feel so full with entertainment. You will come back with a smile on your face.
How would you describe yourself as an actor?
I am a very hard working actor. I am not an instinctive actor; everything comes to me not so easily. I don’t know how to rate myself. I would not like to rate myself because with every film you are standing on zero.
What’s next for you?
After this I have another small film called Chittagong releasing back to back. Chittagong is about the Chittagong uprising in 1930 and the leader of the uprising is Surya Sen. His contribution is not really known to the rest of the country since he was from Bengal. This will be an amazing opportunity for people of the rest of the country to know about one of the biggest and most genuine freedom fighters of our country. The story is told through a child’s eyes. Surya Sen fought this war against the British with the help of children, they were all 14-15 year old children. So, the main character actually in the film is not me, I am the second character. The child is the main lead.
So, besides this have you signed any other films?
I am about to sign Anurag Kashyap’s film and Prakash Jha’s film. I have said yes to only doing these two films. I am reading scripts, about 3 scripts in a week, but still have not found something else that I can go-ahead and say yes too.
It is really cool that Manoj always says yes, when I call and say can we chat about… and it is always such a great conversation. I would like to thank him for taking the time to give us insight about this intriguing film. Be sure to check out this new character of Manoj, I am sure he will impress us all once again! Dus Tola opens Friday, October 22nd!