“Power… that is human desire, and this is what Raajneeti is talking about!” – Manoj Bajpayee

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One of the things that impresses me most about an actor is when he can get so inside of a character that you no longer see him, and Manoj Bajpayee is the epitome of that type of actor. With each new role, he changes his look, his voice and you never see even glimpses who he really is, you just see the role he is playing. He will prove that again with his performance as Veerendra Pratap in Raajneeti. Raajneeti is directed by Prakash Jha and along with Manoj stars Ajay Devgn, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Sarah Thompson, Naseeruddin Shah and Nana Patekar. The film is a political drama on an epic scale and opens on June 4th. I got the lucky chance to talk with Manoj again and as always it was a pleasure. See what he had to say about working on Raajneeti!

How did you become a part of Raajneeti?

Prakash Jha called me to his office and we sat down and started chatting about this film he wants to do. He told me he had taken excerpts from Mahabharata and that made me much more interested about the entire idea. He read the script to me and said, ‘there are two roles in front of you, A and B, you go ahead and choose any one you want to play’. So, I chose the role I am doing now and I am so happy that I have chosen this one. Somewhere I feel it was God’s hand telling me I should go for this one.

What was it about the character that made you choose to play him?

I am playing one of the elder brothers in the family and he is somebody who thinks that he will inherit the power. He is somebody who hasn’t seen anything but power in his life, because his father has been the leader of the party since the time he has opened his eyes. He has seen only power and leadership and following for his father, and he thinks that should be transferred on to him. He is somebody who is arrogant. He is the reason for all the conflict and he is the end of the conflict.

Was he a difficult character to play?

See, genetically I am inclined towards doing something really challenging, something which really pushes me on the brink. So, yes, like any other role I have done in the past it was very, very challenging, very difficult. Also, because this was a character that I had not met earlier – I have heard about them, I have read about them – but this was a character I have not been exposed to. However, Mr. Prakash Jha was always there to hold my finger and give me a direction.

How is Mr. Jha as a director?

He is fantastic!! He is a great human being. He is somebody who has been into politics, he has been into social work, and he has a great reputation of being a fantastic director and producer. He has gotten all the experience needed to make this film, and turn this film into a magnum opus.

It is such a huge film…

It is one of the hugest films I have experienced in my entire life. Huge not only in terms of the star cast, but also in terms of the magnitude and the dimension. I mean, there are 10,000 people working in the film, and he is handling them with the flick of his finger. Everything so organized, so chalked out to the tee – everybody knew their part, everybody knew their space – so it was an amazingly monstrous, humungous work that he has achieved.

So true; just looking at the trailers at the crowd scenes is so amazing.

Yes! It was so adrenaline-pumping. You are giving a speech and you are standing in front of 5,000 people. You are actually sweating from upside down and you don’t know what to do. It is like a live performance happening. The crowd was trained in such a manner that they exactly knew where they had to clap and where they had to cheer, but sometimes it was left to them to react spontaneously. They were so professional in their behavior. All in all, it was an unforgettable experience for me.

You said there were parts taken from the Mahabharata. Who is your character based upon?

I am playing Duryodhana. There are two brothers in the family and they have their own children. I am the eldest son of the eldest brother, who rules over the family.

Like you said, there is the epic-ness of the film and there is also a huge star cast. What was it like working with them?

It was great; it was like we turned into one big family. Pulling each other’s leg, being ultra realistic with each other. It formed the shape of a small little family where everybody was cooking for everybody, everybody was serving everybody. There was no power playing happening. There were great human relationships building up. We felt really emotional for each other.

It must have been amazing to do scenes with all these great actors and feeding off each other during scenes.

It has been incredible. Looking at everybody’s ways of doing things and learning from them. It was great experience working with them. Also, adjusting with each and everybody’s way of preparation – it was a great learning platform for all of us.

You always manage to disappear into the character. When I first saw the poster of Raajneeti, I did not recognize you. How do you get so far into the character that you are not there?

Ahh, it is an addiction. I love this addiction. I don’t smoke, so this is my addiction and it is one I would love to stick to all my life. I love to transform. I love people not recognizing my voice; I love people not recognizing my face. I always love it when my wife reacts to my performance as if she is seeing somebody very new. These are the compliments that I have tried for. So yes, this has been my approach to prepare a character. I don’t like to do anything for the sake of doing it. I try to build at that tradition and then follow it.

Did you do research on your character?

My research was Mr. Prakash Jha; he was always there to help me, to guide me. Since he has been in politics I have taken loads of information from him.

What do you think is the overall message of the film about Politics?

It is how family conflicts are bad, and what you should not do in politics.

The film seems to be about the desire for power…

Yes. That is a norm of society that everybody strives for power, everybody desires to be more powerful, more powerful and more powerful. They want to be known as the biggest person in this whole world. That is human desire, and this is what this film is talking about.

Did you have trouble tapping into that essence of that character … the desire for power?

No, no because you enjoy it. Once you become part of the film, you believe in each and every thing that your character does. You try to understand where he comes from and what are the reasons are that driving him so aggressively. You only start looking at these things from a distance after you are done with the film, and it is to the people.

What can audiences expect from the film?

They can expect a great political drama. I would say don’t expect anything less and don’t think anything more. At the end of the day it is a drama, a great drama.

What will we see you in next?

After Raajneeti there is a film called Dus Tola and then there is another film called Chittagong. All these films, including Raajneeti, have finished and gone into postproduction.

Why do you love being an actor?

Why do I love it? I wish I could have an answer for this. I think I am born to act. This is the only thing I know. I keep on thinking of doing something else to make more moolah, but my mind never stops on anything but on acting or working after a few steps. So, I have settled to this. I have realized this is my purpose. That is why I am sent for, so let me do it beautifully so I can appease my God.

You can see Manoj transform into Veerendra Pratap this Friday, June 4th when Raajneeti opens in theaters. From what we have seen, he once again has given an outstanding performance. We wish him the best of luck and I look forward to our next chat about his addiction, a.k.a. acting!

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