Manoj Bajpayee may well be one of the top draws of commercial cinema, but the actor feels more at home with content-driven stories which help him break the mould of stereotypes. The actor's film 'Rukh', currently in cinema halls, has been acclaimed by critics. The coming-of-age drama, directed by Atanu Mukherjee, revolves around a young man grappling with his father's sudden death.
Bajpayee, widely praised for his short but memorable turn as the father, said the "classic novel" structure of the script prompted him to take up the role. "When I read the story, I found all the elements of a classic novel in it. I play a middle class man who is struggling to deal with one situation after another. He is breaking, but still trying to hold everything together. The story is told through the eyes of his son," he said.
The actor, whose performance in Hansal Mehta's 'Aligarh' will be remembered as one of the most poignant portrayals of what it is to be gay in India, said he took up the character of Ramchandra Siras, a professor in Aligarh Muslim University, "with a great sense of responsibility". "I was never doubtful about my character or the director. If there is a strong film like 'Aligarh', it can dent a stereotype but you have to play the role with a great sense of responsibility," he said, adding that the film was an "important aspect" of his career.
As a trained actor, Bajpayee said he looks for roles that help him interpret his character for it is not enough to just learn one's lines and deliver them well. "We somehow try to flow with stereotypes and try to play to the gallery and that's where the danger comes in. If you are a trained actor and have the experience of so many years, you have to have your own interpretation of the character. Otherwise what is the use of mugging your dialogues and delivering them? If you are experimenting with your craft, then you are contributing in the real sense," said Bajpayee, who worked for many years as a theatre actor before joining films.
The actor said he mostly took up commercial roles because of his relationship with filmmakers, but was always "surprised" that mainstream directors wanted to work with him. "I have nothing against commercial films but it is just that I have never trained myself in that manner. I cannot boast of having been a part of the great commercial cinema. So when they offer me such roles, I always consider them, but mostly I do it (take them up) for friendships," he said.
Content-driven films were a familiar platform, but he enjoyed working with directors such as Neeraj Pandey in the commercial space, he said, referring to their latest collaboration, 'Aiyaary'. "'Aiyaari' is the ideal Neeraj Pandey kind of commercial cinema where he does not compromise with the realism of the story. He has a unique and realistic voice which is woven in a fantastic manner in the script. I don't feel I'm out of my zone while working with him," he said.
The actor believed though the audience was more receptive now to alternative cinema, the genre had still a long way to go. "I have been fighting for the co-existence of all genres in the industry for a long time. The viewers should have choices. Earlier, commercial films would rule the roost but we have certainly reached a place where content cinema is doing well. But the fight is not over yet," he continued.
Bajpayee, who along with Irrfan Khan inspired a new generation of performers such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi, said new artistes needed patience to discover their potential. "The journey of an actor is difficult as films are a mix of creativity and commerce. You go down because people are not there to back you up commercially but at the same time you must have the courage to stick to your convictions," he added.
Despite all the odds, he said, an artiste had to hold on to hope. "People will rally around you if you don't break down," he concluded.