The Family Man is completely different from the clutter that is available on any OTT platform: Manoj Bajpayee
MANOJ BAJPAYEE IS a no-nonsense actor — somebody who dives deep into the script and learns it backwards so that he not only knows which scene will fall where in a story but also understands its backdrop and the consequences. When it comes to preparing himself, he invests in getting the mental and physical aspects of his character right. His physical prep is not about losing or gaining weight but more about developing the physical personality of a character — how he should he walk, at what pace and how he should climb stairs, for instance. Bajpayee also takes pride in calling himself a director’s actor. In the last 25 years, the actor has brought to life characters like Bhiku Mhatre (Satya), Sardar Khan (Gangs of Wasseypur), Ramchandra Siras (Aligarh) and Man Singh (Sonchiriya) among others. Ahead of his ‘digital debut’ with The Family Man, Indulge tries to understand the actor, his process, his approach towards scripts and what keeps him away from donning the hat of a director. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What intrigued you about The Family Man?
Manoj Bajpayee: I found it very exciting, engaging and unique — how a man is trying to create a balance between his duty and his family. There are other aspects which I can’t reveal but all I would say is that it is completely different from the clutter that is available on any other OTT platform. That was something I was looking for.
Q: After being in the industry for 25 years, do you still have to prepare yourself when you take up a new role?
MB: Acting is the most difficult job in this entire world, believe me. It is not a kid’s job. Actually kids are far better actors because they believe in the situation. For an adult to become an actor, they have to learn the craft. There is a lot of mental and physical preparation that goes into it. There is a process, and it may look very easy from the outside but only the actor knows what he is going through. There is a Bible called the script, and one has to know it backwards. In The Family Man, we were shooting 10 episodes at a stretch. If I give you five scenes and if you are not familiar with every episode, you will never know which scene is going to fall where. That’s why I say, to act is a different thing but to really put a soul into a flesh and blood, it is very, very different. It takes away a lot from you.
Q: You make it look so easy…
MB: That’s my job. What Bhimsen Joshiji does might look easy but only he knows the kind of riyaaz (practise) he has been doing for 45 years. The more you work on it, the easier it appears.
Q: How do you approach a character? How important is it to do your homework?
MB: You never approach every character with the same set of process or equipment that you have. One has learnt various ways of doing things for different characters. Some of them really torture you and make you go through the sleepless nights, and while doing that kind of preparation, your family has to be very supportive, or they may take it badly. There are certain kinds of roles that your family doesn’t even come to know that you’re preparing for. For instance, for The Family Man, they didn’t know, even though I mentally and physically prepared myself until I exactly knew what I was going to do. Seventy per cent of what you see is the preparation and 30 per cent is something that happens on the set when we are blocking every scene. That’s when we reject some things, put in new things or go with what we have prepared.
Q: How did you prepare yourself for this character?
MB: All I can say is that there are 10 episodes and when you go through each episode, you jot down every element of the character. And, then you go through the script again. In this case, I’ve gone through it many times. At times, they kept on improving the script and I kept reading them. The essence of the character has to be brought about in such a way that it helps the vision of the director, not obstruct it. My job is to enhance the vision and the script that is given to me.
Q: Is doing a web series any different from doing a film?
MB: The only advantage is that you get 10 episodes, each 45 minutes long, so you get to work on different facets of the character. Plus, you get loads of time, so you can really afford to indulge yourself at times. In cinema, a pause after a point is cut on the editing table as they are always struggling against the duration. Other things that are challenging too. For instance, there are 10 episodes and to remember all of them backwards is a hell of a job. If some people do it without any preparation, they must be very gifted. I am not. I work very hard.
Q: How do you go about picking a project?
MB: The story has to be fantastic, something that hasn’t been told before. The character has to be something which is staring back at me and keeps challenging me if I can do it or not. And, the producer should be good and reliable, the director should be capable. I should be able to trust what he brings on the table — his vision. And, above all that, there is something called instinct. It is very important. There are bound to be some roles that give you sleepless nights.
Q: Can you tell us about some of them?
MB: There are too many — Satya, Bandit Queen, Sonchiriya, Aligarh, Galli Gulliyan — I think my character in Galli Gulliyan and Shool troubled me a lot. On the other hand, if you see Bhonsle, you will think it is the most difficult role for me, but it didn’t seem difficult to me because I was trying to set up that project for five years. I had gone through the script several times. So, when the time came, I was all done with the mental and physical preparations. It will appear that I had sleepless nights but I didn’t.
Q: Between mental and physical preparation, what do you find more taxing?
MB: Both. Getting the physical aspect right has to come from the mental space. It is the brain of the person that decides the physical aspect. Both mental and physical preparations have to be in place or it will look as if too much effort has gone into it, which I don’t like. I like it when I make everything a part of the whole personality of the character.
Q: Do you like to get involved in the scripting process?
MB: I love to, but certain directors don’t want me to be involved, and there are a few who want me to be sitting there. So, I let it be at the discretion of the director. Cinema is the director’s medium, a technical medium. So when there are too many departments involved, there is one guy whose vision everybody is trying to enhance, that’s the director.
Q: Are you a director’s actor?
MB: Always. You have to have chemistry with the director. I love to listen to the director quite a lot. Some are very vocal and communicative and some are not. But, I try to get them to answer any questions that I have so that I can get exactly what they want. I like to surprise my director.
Q: Do you see yourself donning the hat of a director?
MB: No. There are many offers but there is no time. I like to sleep on time. I usually go to bed between 9.30 and 10 pm. For a director, there are too many responsibilities — night shoots, etc. I don’t think I want those responsibilities.
Q: Is there a role that you wish you could do?
MB: Too many. I am a greedy actor. Recently, I saw a film and the actor bored the hell out of me. It was such a fantastic part, there was so much that he could do to make it legendary. Sometimes, when you see such things, you feel frustrated that it didn’t come to you.
The Family Man streams on Amazon Prime Video.