Renaissance Man: Manoj Bajpayee

by | April 27, 2021, 21:45 IST

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Renaissance Man: Manoj Bajpayee

The butterfly effect is described as a phenomenon whereby a minute localised change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. That’s what the emergence of OTT platforms has done to the lives of both content creators and viewers. Actors have benefited most from it as now they’re being judged on the merit of their performance and not their star value. Manoj Bajpayee, a star performer for the last 20 years, found himself marginalisd in movies lately. But he made a resurgence, thanks to the humongous popularity of The Family Man, where he played the title role. He was an unusual choice to play a secret agent but proved to be the show’s leading light, thanks to his split-second timing. The second season of the show will start soon and Manoj is understandably excited about it...
You seem ahead of your times. You did short films much before anyone else and won awards for them. Then you jumped on the OTT bandwagon and won the Filmfare Best Actor In A Drama Series (Critics’) Award for The Family Man as well…
Thank you very much. When I was in Cannes a couple of years ago to promote Bhonsle, I saw a 20-year-old boy getting mobbed by the French audience. And when I enquired about it, they told me that he is a YouTube star from France. No other Hollywood or French actor got that kind of attention from the audience. So I learnt that this is the way ahead. This is the way the world is spinning these days.  My wife kept pushing me to do short films. All of them got so many awards. Looking at the world and the changing patterns, you can realise what’s the way forward. This is not rocket science. I just keep my eyes open about every activity and the way the world is responding to it. I have an eye on each and every actor who’s working today. All the young actors and how they’re experimenting with their performances and how they’re reinventing the craft. So you keep changing, reinventing yourself — otherwise, survival would be difficult.

How has the COVID-19 situation changed things for an actor?
Our immediate entertainment source was only cinema earlier. Then the next preference was satellite channels and then OTT. But suddenly because of the pandemic, everyone got locked inside their homes. OTT platforms were already there for people to watch anything and everything from anywhere. That changed the  demographics. When people started watching more and more OTT stuff, they started investing heavily in their own favourite shows, favourite actors and suddenly by the end of nine months, you had a parallel world of entertainment. When theatres were still struggling, this emerged as a viable option even for filmmakers. The audience got exposed to not only different content, but also to content which opened their eyes to different kinds of talent that weren’t fully utilised in cinema. Because cinema has its limitations — due to box-office and/or its length. I just hope, even after cinema-life comes back to normal, these new choices made by the audience will continue to flourish.

If The Family Man were made into a film today, would the impact be the same as on the digital platform?
Let me remind you that The Family Man season 1 was streamed pre-covid. There was no sign of coronavirus back then. It was a massive success. And it was not only a successful show nationally, but it kind of crossed the borders as well. It was a hit even internationally. And the second season, will stream at a time when the cinema halls aren’t still fully functional. So you can understand how much the fan base is going to increase. It gives you all the more reasons to be hopeful and optimistic that if The Family Man could be that kind of blockbuster pre-covid, the next season will definitely get higher ratings in today’s scenario when cinema halls are reportedly being shut down again.

Manoj Bajpayee

But would it be as impactful as a film?
It gives you the experience of three films put together. You really dig into the characters and understand every aspect of the story, of the characters. Thinking aloud, I feel the impact would still be the same if it were made as a film because each character is so relatable. If you present the audience with relatable characters, they will take to them no matter what the format is.
You’re shown to be super secretive in The Family Man. Are you like that in your personal life as well?
I am a good keeper of secrets for my friends. In my friendships, I keep the secrets of all my friends, but  if it is a secret I am not so proud of… I always kind of warn them. And reprimand them. But you know, the only place where I’m completely myself is with my family. With them I can be both black and white. In that way, I am not Shrikant Tiwari at all.

What can we expect from The Family Man Season 2?
It’s far bigger than what came earlier. And it’s a lot more intense this time as well. Because Shrikant’s life has changed in Season 2. So definitely his relationships are looked at differently. But his quirks, his way of responding to other characters, his way of handling his marriage and his job… at times it’s quite baffling and funny — that hasn’t changed.

What’s your wife’s take on The Family Man?
Neha loved it. She was chosen as one of the test audience for the second season. Even I was not allowed by her to watch any episode. She is strict about her responsibility. All she said was that the show is good. She shared her observations directly with Raj and DK. But she loved the series. I hope once she feels a bit free of her responsibility towards Ava, our daughter, she returns to acting. Ava and I will cheer her from the sidelines.

You got to spend a lot of time with Ava during the lockdown...
I haven’t  seen any child with that much energy. She is like a doll who wakes up and starts moving and never thinks of stopping for a moment after that. Till we are really tired and exhausted in the night and put her to bed. She keeps us busy. She was not allowed to go down and play or meet her friends. But it was good that for the initial four months we were stuck in Uttarakhand and she was hiking and trekking 10 km, 12 km every day with me. So you can imagine the kind of energy that she has. She needs that kind of activity to exhaust her.

Are you loving this phase of your career where you’re the protagonist of an action series?
Look at the kind of talent emerging from OTT. I don’t think they could have got justice in the cinema here. I am happy that the scene has changed and people are loving the OTT platforms and their content. They are looking forward to the work of good directors and actors. If you ask me, it has come a little late for me per se because I’m not in my 20s today. But at the same time, I am trying to make the most of it. Every day, I keep getting calls from people to be part of their shows. That’s where I feel completely grateful and humble. So yeah, it’s a fantastic time, we all have our hands full. And I just hope it continues for a long, long time. 

Manoj Bajpayee

We don’t think age is a hurdle or a barrier in your case...
Definitely not a hurdle. But it doesn’t give me the option of playing a 28-year-old guy anymore. All the roles that come to me are of characters who are 35 and above, 45 and above. So yes, that’s the only thing. Otherwise, I’m happy. I feel blessed. There are no regrets or complaints. I was just stating a fact.

Will people flock to the theatres again?
Samantha (Akkineni) and I were discussing this. She told me in South India people are filling up the halls to see their favourite stars and films. But in North India especially, for Hindi films, theatres are struggling because the masses are still staying away. People are still a little wary
of going to the theatres. I just hope they show a lot more enthusiasm. And courage to go to the theatres and not feel fearful. Because I somewhere feel that theatres are safe. They are as safe as flying today. So if they can sit in a flight for two-three hours, why can’t they sit in theatres where all the protocols are being followed. Theatre owners are making sure to sanitize the seats, wearing a mask is compulsory and the seating capacity has been reduced to 50 per cent. I think we should go to the theatres. All the medium of entertainment should do well simultaneously.

How was your experience working with Samantha Akkineni in The Family Man?
She started shooting with me in Chennai and then we got pally. She has been very dedicated. She’s become a big star by giving it her 200 per cent both physically and emotionally. She delved deep into the character while she was shooting for the challenging sequences. That’s commendable indeed. And even during the promotions, she made sure she had the full attention of the media. I just hope we get to do more stuff together.

Why are you not a part of South cinema? Are you open to doing South films?
Since last October, I have been shooting back to back. There is no breathing space or window to take up another project. And all the last year’s commitments have been pushed to this year. It will take me another year before I pick anything else. I am open to doing South films provided they offer me something worthwhile. Let’s see.

OTT is a new industry. Is there pay disparity here as well?
I haven’t experienced it. I have always been getting a fair amount of compensation for all the work I have done. But yes, I expect better compensation. I don’t think there should be any kind of disparity if there is an already established name coming on OTT. It has its own audience base and it has its own market. And at the same time, I would say that whatever the budget allows, you are paid accordingly. And till now I don’t have anything to complain about. 

Manoj Bajpayee
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