Often referred to as an ‘earthy talent’, actor Manoj Bajpayee has had to tread a rather difficult path to get to this position of success. The son of a farmer — Manoj spent many summer vacations home from boarding school, tilling the field. He mentioned in an interview that even though his father was a farmer, the desire to ensure that his children completed their education was very strong.
“He (father) in fact wanted me to become a doctor, a dream that he had for himself and could not realise. However, I think I was born with a dream of becoming an actor. It wasn’t something that happened along the way,” Manoj said. Watching movies was something that he enjoyed along with his parents. But he was all of 7 when he was sent away to the hostel and spoke about how he was often bullied by the seniors at the hostel.
The 67th National Film Awards ceremony that took place on 25 October presented the actor with the Best Actor Award for his performance in Bhonsle (2018). We take a look at his difficult yet scintillating journey so far.
Rising Like A Phoenix
It was only after reading an interview of Naseeruddin Shah in a magazine that the thought of applying to National School of Drama (NSD) struck Manoj. He did not know of its existence until then. This desire to get into NSD in Delhi was further strengthened when he found that actors like Raj Babbar and Om Puri were all alumni of this prestigious institute. The first rejection at NSD was hard on Manoj. He also spoke about breaking down and crying when he could not get a seat there on The Anupam Kher Show.
“I was close to committing suicide, so my friends would sleep next to me and not leave me alone,” the actor said in this Humans of Bombay (HOB) post. He was so distraught that many of his friends were worried he would attempt something untoward. His friends had divided the responsibility of always being with him and watching over him. After coming out of this shock, he went back to street theatre and continued to work and the second time he went for the NSD selection, he was rejected again.
This then led to Manoj working with Barry John, who took him on as an apprentice. This earned him a small salary. But none of this dampened his desire to join NSD and Manoj went back for a third time and applied for the seat.
Unfortunately, he was rejected yet again. However, they offered him the position of a faculty member.
In 1994, his life would go on to change forever. “That year, I was at a chai shop when Tigmanshu came looking for me on his khatara scooter — Shekhar Kapur wanted to cast me in Bandit Queen (1994)! So, I felt I was ready and moved to Mumbai. Initially, it was tough — I rented a chawl with five friends and looked for work, but got no roles. Once, an Assistant Director (AD) tore my photo and I also lost three projects in a day. I was even told to ‘get out’ after my first shot. I didn’t fit the ideal ‘hero’ face — so, they thought I’d never make it to the big screen. All the while, I struggled to make rent and at times even a vada pav was costly.”
From 1993 to 1997, Manoj earnestly did the rounds of all big and small studios in Mumbai and often describes that period as a difficult one. Being in a new city with no one to turn to was not easy. “The hunger in my stomach couldn’t dissuade my hunger to succeed. After four years of struggle, I got Rs 1,500 per episode — my first steady income,” the actor shared in the HOB post. Things changed with his casting in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998) and the rest as they say is history.
The recipient of several notable awards, the 67th National Award for the Best Actor is yet another feather in his studded cap.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)