Crowning Glory: An interview with Manoj Bajpai

Manoj Bajpai is all set to create ripples on the international arena with his first English film Return To Rajapur that will be screened at New York film festival shortly...

Your film Return To Rajapur has been selected at the Robert De Niro organized film festival in New York...

Yes, the film must have shaped up very well for it to be selected at this prestigious festival. But I must confess that I haven't seen it. It is going straight from the editing room to the festival for screening. This augurs a good beginning for Return to Rajapur.

This is the second time you are playing a prince...

Yes, the first time I played a prince was in Zubeida. However, the prince of Return.. is completely different from the one in Zubeida. The story of Return... is fictional and my prince is completely imaginative, while the one in Zubeida was close to life. It was based in an era when India had princely states. Return..., on the other hand, is about the relationship between a prince who runs a heritage hotel in Rajasthan and a married woman who comes to India with her husband. Her's is a troubled marriage and they both get attracted to each other. A certain chemistry is formed between the two but it doesn't translate into physical intimacy. Years later, her daughter comes to India to find out the reason for her father's death. The film traces her journey.

What is your criteria in choosing international films?

I keep getting offers from international filmmakers every other day. I don't get attracted to a film just because it is being made by foreigner. Nor is language an issue. What matters to me is the role and the project. 

When will the film release in India?

I have no idea. The distributors, Arclights, will be in a better position to answer that.

So, which is your forthcoming film?

My next release is 1971 directed by Ramanand Sagar's grandson Amrit Sagar. It is a very special film written by one of the best writers in the industry, Piyush Mehra. The film is based on the prisoners of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. There are around 54 Indian prisoners languishing in the Pakistani jails and their families here are still waiting for them. India has forgotten them while Pakistan claims they have no more POWs. Though our film is not based on any real life stories, we have taken some incidents from newspapers. Our characters are as close to reality as possible. There's no heroine in the film nor are there any songs. Apart from me, all the actors are from theatre and relatively unknown in films. All the same, it's shot on a big scale and no expenses have been spared to make it realistic.

Where has the film been shot?

We shot the film in a single stretch over two-and-a-half months in Manali. Rohtank Pass which is the highest Pass in Manali was the scene of action. Before the actual shooting started, we had to get acclimatized to the extremely cold weather for which we held a seven day workshop. In fact, I had to face a life-taking situation when my foot got numb due to frostbite. But at the the end of day, I am happy that the film has shaped up well and it is scheduled to release in May.

You have played a soldier earlier in LOC. What do you feel when you are playing an army man?

A soldier's profession is like any other profession. It is just that the situations and hardships he faces form a different backdrop. As far as I am concerned, any character that I play, be it a soldier or a prince, I try to be as realistic as possible. I don't like to play exaggerated characters.

What are your expectations from the film, considering it lacks the commercial ingredients for success?

A story is a story is a story. Had anybody predicted the success of Black? Look at it this way, we have made a good film though not necessarily a successful one but we are happy with it. Box office success is not the only criteria, I can show you many successful films which are atrocious.

Since you claim to do realistic roles, how does Fareb fit in?

I did Fareb because director Deepak Tijori convinced me to do it. I have no regrets as I enjoyed every minute of shooting. And for anyone who points out Fareb, I can counter with Satya, Shool, Kaun, Pinjar, I have a long list. Also, one must remember that some films don't turn out the way you expected them to.

Which are the new films in your kitty?

I have just signed a film to be directed by lyricist Mehboob. It is his debut directorial venture. The script is being finalized and the music is composed by AR Rahman. I am also doing a film directed by E Nivas which is a thriller with a tinge of realism. The script is rocking, though I can't divulge anything more at this point. We are coming back together after Shool. Then there's a film with Prahlad Kakkar who is also making his directorial debut feature film. Called Delhi-The Capital, it is penned by my favorite writer Piyush Mishra.

That should be a break from the spate of Mumbai-centric films that have released recently...

Yes, it will definitely break the monotony. Delhi... talks about a rare phenomenon which keeps happening only in the Capital. I enjoy doing films where I get to travel to different areas. For Return... I shot in Jaisalmer and had a blast. We used to work hard and party harder. That's how the Americans work. I shot Whisperer which is made by an independent American filmmaker in Texas alongwith Rahul Bose. A psychological thriller, the film is in the editing stage.

Weren't you doing a film with Ashwin Kumar who won the Oscar for Little Terrorist?

Yes, unfortunately the film has been stalled because I couldn't match my dates with his.

How much does Manoj enjoy hosting Kam Ya Zyaada?

...Zyaada I have a contract of 100 episodes with the producers and we are almost reaching the end of it. I don't know whether they want to do another season but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I can easily relate with the people who participate in this show because I come from the same strata of society. I have been through similar trials and also found happiness . For me, this show is like going back to my roots.

Has there been any contestant who has touched you?

Yes, just a couple of days ago I shot with this contestant who had just lost his brother and sister, but he won an enormous amount. He was experiencing a strange feeling of loss and triumph which touched me. Then there was this Sardarji who fell unconscious after winning because the amount would help his son battling with a life threatening disease.

Now that you are hosting a show, will you be interested in doing any serials, considering you started with television?

No, serials are very demanding. For that matter, I agreed to do Kam Ya Zyaada, only for the sake of my friends in the channel.

What about theatre? Will you make time for that?

I definitely want to do theatre. In fact, I was all set to do a play with Barry John but unfortunately, the dates he wanted were already given to another producer. However, I promise that next year, you will see me on stage.   


More by :  M. H. Ahsan

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