'Some say Raajneeti was another Satya'
Manoj Bajpai is enjoying the attention, thanks to Raajneeti's success.
The "nervous actor" as he calls himself, spoke to Nithya Ramani about the success of Raajneeti, his co-stars and why he's terrified of growing old. Excerpts:
You were great in Raajneeti. What was the best compliment you got and from whom?
Thank you. I have been getting more than 100 messages every day on phone and Twitter. It feels great.
Mahesh Bhatt's wishes were very touching. He said he had been observing my work since I started acting and "even in this sheer mediocre atmosphere, you have not stopped growing."
So I think that was the biggest compliment.
Image: A scene from Raajneeti
'We tried and tested different looks for my character'
How was it playing Veerendra Pratap?
Prakash (Jha, director) wanted me to be larger than life but he didn't want me to have a scene before hand; he didn't want it to look rehearsed. And that is so not like me. I like to sleep and wake up with the script in hand. Prakash was different. But I had to trust him and did so because he was working on a milieu that he is good at. So I blindly trusted him.
He wanted me to be one of the feudal lords' sons. He made it clear that I shouldn't feel wrong about what I was doing. He wanted me to bring out the sympathy for the character.
Your look is also something that is spoken about a lot. How and who decided on your look?
A lot of discussion with make up artists and hair stylists went into the look of the character. We tried and tested different looks. I had a very vague image of this look in my mind and I wanted to nail it somehow. Once we did that there was no turning back.
There were rumours that the look is inspired from south Indian actors...
I think the more the look got publicised, the better it was for us. It created curiosity among the audience. It was never inspired. It was just a face I had in mind.
Talking about Mahabharat, everybody has a negative connotation attached to Dhuryodhan, but what they fail to understand is that he was fighting for his own right and so were the Pandavas. The biggest politician was Krishna and not Dhuryodhan.
Image: A scene from Raajneeti
'Nana is a complete brat'
Nana Patekar played Krishna beautifully. What do you have to say about him as an actor and person?
He is a terrific actor who takes acting very seriously. He is always competing. I must say, for his age (60), he is more competitive than Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Rampal or even Ajay Devgn.
The film has actors from various levels of experience. There is Ranbir and Katrina Kaif who are the current generation heart throbs. Then there is Ajay Devgn and Arjun Rampal, and then Nasseruddin Shah and Nana Patekar who are senior actors. How was it working with such a varied cast?
There is always a sense of respect for senior actors. I didn't get a chance to work with Nasser. Nana on the other hand is a complete brat. He will not miss a chance to pull a prank on you. After pack up, he makes sure that you sit with him and have a drink and eat the mutton he cooks. You have to appreciate his food or else you've had it [laugh].
Ranbir, Katrina and Arjun are very excited and enthusiastic people. We were all living in the same hotel. There wasn't a time when there was no masti. Arjun was jumping from one terrace to another just to be with everybody.
Image: A scene from Raajneeti
'Karara Jawaab Milega is a tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee'
Since you have most of your scenes with Ajay, what is the kind of bond you two share?
I developed a respect for Ajay. He is co-operative and supportive. He maintains a distance and doesn't interfere in your performance. At the same time, whenever he thought I gave a good shot, he would never miss a chance to pat me on my shoulder. He would tell everyone that the other actors are performing well. He is a very secure actor.
I would ask him a lot of questions about himself, his life and professional career. He is a very chilled out guy. Post release, I remember sending him a message saying thank you for being so supportive.
Your speech 'Karara Jawaab Milega' has become very popular. What kind of research went into your speech delivery?
That is Atal Bihari Vajpayee for you. That particular speech is a tribute to him. The gesture and intonation that I use are very similar to Vajpayee's. He has this thing where he stretches his words and sentences. You will also find a Raajnath Singh in my speeches.
Do you follow the world of politics?
I do. I am not a political minded person but from the kind of place I come from, newspaper reading is a must.
How was it working with Jha?
All his films have a social message. This is the first time he has used politics in his film with the element of Mahabharat. Most of us actors were completely unaware about the territory he works in. So it was very exciting for us to go into his world.
Image: A poster of Raajneeti
'I am a very nervous actor'
What would you say about Jha the person and Jha the director?
Prakash the person is like a child. He is childlike. But when is working he becomes this complete workaholic. He loves to fly whereas I am scared of flying. I wonder many times how he managed to fly so often. He is a very organised person. As a director, he can handle any crisis or situation.
Is he a good actor too?
He appears in two scenes in the film, one of which he edited out. He is a great actor himself and I discuss my performance a lot with him. I never missed a chance to harass him and discuss my line or speech with him. I would call him up at 12 in the morning to ask him about my performance. I am a very nervous actor.
Why do you call yourself a nervous actor? Your performances are all strong and confident...
You have no idea how nervous I get before doing a scene. I end up chewing my nails just before 'action' is announced.
Many eagerly anticipate another Satya or Shool from you. Would we see another Biku Matre on screen again?
Some say Raajneeti was another Satya. Just like people said "Mumbai ka king kaun", they are also saying "Karara jawaab milega." From Biku to Veeru, it has been a great journey.
Dus Thola, Chittagong Uprising, Anurag Kashyup's next and Arakshan -- Prakash's next.
Where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I am scared of getting old as I will be losing out on many great roles. In Bollywood we don't have different roles for old people which means I will be working less. Till then I will try and be part of a great filmmaker's projects.
Image: Manoj Bajpai