Sardar Khan Naam Hai Humara

If you didn't already know it, Katrina Kaif, during the premiere of Prakash Jha's Rajneeti, walked  up to Manoj Bajpai and touched his feet to show her appreciation for his brilliance in acting. She did so in front of all media and Manoj's wife, when they were called in for a group photo. A man who enjoys such powerful influence on his co-stars, based purely on talent is sure a man to look out for.

So since the world did not come to an end, I thought of putting my idle time to use today. I wanted to write on Manoj Bajpai for long now, but I had to delay it so that I did not use Gangs of Wasseypur dialogs all over the place, but well, I was helpless with the Title. This man here has impressed me with everything I learned and witnessed about him, from his filmography, to the roles he has done, his portrayal of those characters and also his views and interviews. Talking of which, when asked how he feels on increased use of "foul language" in Hindi movies, he said - "as an actor, you are not supposed to have any morality of your own. You are there to put to life, the vision of the director. Morality ghar pe rakh ke aaiye." And then he supports Anurag Kashyap's argument that this use of foul language is seemingly odd because Indian cinema has had for too long, very flowery and literature-heavy dialogs, far away from reality, sentences you would never imagine saying in real lives.

Yes, he was born Bihari in Belwa village near Narkatiyaganj (a town very infamous in history for smuggling across Nepal border, the name also suggests some history of violence) town in Bettiah, West Champaran. His roots still show in his down-to-earth manner and his originality as a person, as TOI's Sandhya Iyer calls him - "asli ghee ka paratha that your mother cooks" in her 2003 article. He recalls to have been mesmerized by Zanzeer as a child, and on expected lines, had found his favorites in the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan. He still emphasizes that he has never looked to be a star, but an actor and his desire to convert his passion of acting into a career was helped when he saw Naseeruddin talking of NSD (National School of Drama) in an interview. He used the fact that NSD offers a diploma for what his parents discounted as "nautanki", to convince them.

His Delhi chapter didn't start very well as he was rejected at NSD four times straight but he studied History at Ramjas College under DU and joined Barry John's theater group with SRK (yes, our very own The SRK) as a classmate. He was praised by John and also assisted in direction which fetched him his first salary of Rs. 1200 per month for working from early morning to midnight. He had married and also founded a theater group Act One and got decently famous in the Delhi theater circle around 1990 but then came the Mumbai chapter.

Shekhar Kapur (who, according to Manoj Bajpai is the best director alive in India, second only to Satyajit Ray) picked Manoj Bajpai's photo from among 100 others, while looking for new faces for his Bandit Queen and interestingly, he picked Manoj because he looked like Naseeruddin Shah. Kapur convinced him to move to Mumbai and Manoj Bajpai was stupendous in that role of dacoit Maan Singh in 1994 released Bandit Queen. Then started his share of the struggle in the "city of dreams". He shared a chawl with 6 others, was ill, was divorced from his 2-year marriage, and was penniless. He shyly mentions that he spent days without food, and would try to meet up with well-off friends to get a meal a day. He did what every other acting aspirant does, travelling to major production houses in hopes of having eye contact with known directors, dreaming that Subhash Ghai walked into his chawl with a role for him (he actually said he imagined so), and finally he got his role in the mega-hit daily soap Swabhimaan (which is to be thanked for launching Ashutosh Rana, besides this man) in 1995 and recalls - "I was never fully out of money since then".

He played some small roles in Droh Kaal (1995) and Dastak (1996). He was picked by Mahesh Bhatt for a role in Tamanna (1997) before he was about to meet the man who will stage his arrival - Ram Gopal Verma. He met RGV for a small role in Daud (1997) and on learning that this was the man who played Maan Singh, Ramu offered him Bhiku Mhatre from Satya and insisted he doesn't do insignificant roles like the one in Daud. Manoj Bajpai convinced him to keep his role in Daud and admits that was the only time he was so desperate for money that he would take up any offer, since many directors had promised him big roles which never materialized. 1998. RGV. Satya. Bhiku Mhatre got him the National Film Award for supporting actor and Filmfare Critics Award for best actor.

The 9 awards and 4 nominations do not tell the whole story of the man who still thinks the industry keeps him at home most of the time, and that only his 25% potential has been utilized by the industry. There has not been a single appearance of this man on the silver screen which has not been acclaimed critically. From inspector Samar Pratap Singh in Shool (1999), the random creepy guy Sameer Puranvale in Kaun (1999), the dark character of Rakesh Ghadge in Aks (2001), the psycho Babu in Road (2002), the super-praised role of Rashid in Pinjar (2003), he had made his mark as a brilliant actor and a one who prefers meaningful cinema (call it parallel if you may) over money-guzzling starrers. Just looking at the pictures I have compiled here gives you an idea on how deeply this man understands and indulges himself into a character.

He had a quieter phase of a few years where he got married to Neha (Shabana Raza) and settled down and then came Veerendra Pratap in Raajneeti (2010) which made Katz touch his feet (Tabu did the same to show her appreciation to Manoj a few years back after his performance in Satya). 2011 release Aarakshan had him in a negative role and Mithilesh Singh literally personified the so many of our modern tutors and teachers who look at teaching as a business and a profession more than a responsibility. Though I haven't seen any of those movies, his roles in some Telugu films like Vedam are also very highly praised.

Gangs of Wasseypur came his way when Anurag Kashyap (who wrote both Satya and Shool) looked to sort out the problems (seeking help from the script of GOW and a bottle of red wine) they had for nearly 10 years of no-talking-terms after they had become almost-room-mates earlier. Sardar Khan couldn't do a thing wrong in the movie and Anurag Kashyap was usual in his immaculate presentation. The movie also marks a significant change in non-commercial movies, with serious actors and realistic story-lines gaining commercial success. Manoj Bajpai also regrets that he would have replaced Abhay Deol in Dev D (playing a role of Devdas has been his dream) had Kashyap and himself been on better terms.

Surprisingly though, he is not flooded with offers after GOW and believes that directors like Anurag Kashyap, who can do justice to him knowing his strengths and weaknesses, need to gain more success for actors like him to get more movies. He says he just doesn't get different roles whereas he is open for even a David Dhawan mindless comedy. He is a man interested in the reality of the script, his role must be believable, must look like a real man in a real world. He is still a simple man with simple dreams and simple views, and good ones at that. He says he is torn into three by his dreams - one, to settle down in Bihar with a small piece of land and some money, in his village; two, to settle in London for the education of his daughter; and three, to move back to Delhi and settle down with his parents and siblings. For Filmistani's and Bollywood's sake, I hope selfishly that none of those three dreams of his, come true.

Chittagong and Chakravyuh didn't do much to utilize this man, but what he has done with Sardar Khan is brilliant beyond discussion, and he still feels that he has not arrived, yet. Actors like Manoj Bajpai, to me, still define the meaning of "being true" in your profession. Here's hoping we see a lot and lot more of him, and in meaningful roles like we have known him for. As a suggestion from my side, just go to youtube and watch all the scenes of GOW you can find - worth it, truly.



{ Rahul } at: December 21, 2012 at 6:09 AM said...

i saw him first in 'satya', only to realize that i have seen him in 'DD1' hit 'Swabhiman'. felt really good after his nation award winning speech, in which he showed the love and respect for bihar. loved his role in all of his movies but can't go without mentioning the impact he made on our minds with GOW, Aksh and rajneeti. i wish to see him working for prakash jha as lead actor.

{ Techno Brat } at: December 21, 2012 at 7:44 AM said...

I've a blurred memory of 'Swabhimaan', in which he played a lawyer (if I'm right). The best role which I really like is from Shool, specially the climax speech. I had shivers down my spine watching that. I wish there could be more performers like him and ofcourse directors and writers to utilize the talent.

{ Rahul } at: December 21, 2012 at 9:10 AM said...

out of context but just want to mention. guys do u remember the epic tv show on dd1. "......". just for fun can any1 fill in the blanks

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