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‘In love with a craft called acting’



WHEN Indian filmmakers want to add weight to a power­ful drama, one of the go-to actors is versatile performer Manoj Bajpayee. 

Ace director Neeraj Pandey has recruited him to play a fearless army officer in big-budget thriller Aiyaary, which releases across cinemas globally this month. The actor en­joyed the challenge of playing a good man who will do what­ever it takes to complete his mission, even if it means be­coming a cold-blooded killer. 

The twist-laden story, which also stars Sidharth Malhotra, Naseeruddin Shah, Anu­pam Kher and Rakul Preet Singh, has been shot at interesting international locations in­cluding London. Eastern Eye caught up with acclaimed actor Manoj Bajpayee to talk about Aiyaary, his interesting character in the film, acting and more… 

You are busier than ever; where are you finding your massive energy levels from? 

(Laughs) When you are as young as I am, you have loads of energy available to work. So this is the time to work, work, work, because after a few years there will be no energy left and you will be conserving it to work in one or two films a year. So it is better to exhaust yourself at this point of time rather than regret it in years to come. 

You always immerse yourself in characters; how are you coping with the mental strain that must come with playing such intense roles? 

In our country we make too many films and create too many great characters, especially for an actor like me, and it is happening quite frequently nowadays. So there are too many great roles being written and some of them are being offered to me. 

I don’t want to lose a chance on getting a good role. I am a very greedy actor who just wants to do good work. I want to perform each and every role that is being written. Inde­pendent cinema is gaining momentum for the first time and strength within the industry, so I can’t afford the luxu­ry of doing few films or retire­ment like Daniel Day-Lewis. 

How did you feel when Neeraj Pandey approached you for your latest film Aiyaary? 

Neeraj is a great writer, espe­cially in the mainstream genre. He is a rare talent and somebody who doesn’t follow the formula. He creates his own characters in a story that always has a nice pace and flow. The stories always have dramatic moments and such great conflict, so I was very happy when he approached me for Aiyaary. 

Once again he has great characters you have never seen before, yet he will still manage to touch each and everyone of the audi­ence. His films make money and do well because he doesn’t get too self-indulgent while telling a story. For him, everyone sitting in the theatre is more important. 

What can you tell us about your character in the film? 

I can’t tell you much because there are many surprises in this film, but Colonel Abhay Singh is a military guy and a very experienced hand. He is someone who is very smart, is a wonderful husband, a great father, a fantastic mentor and tremendous colleague. But you would never like to be on the wrong side of him. 

He is very cold-blooded when it comes to chasing or killing the enemy or the anti-na­tional. One thing he can’t compromise on is his honesty and national duty. He has these amazing combinations in his personality. 

From the trailer, you can also see he is a master of disguise… 

Yes, he has amazing elements where he changes his face to get closer to his target or to another coun­try. He tricks people at the airport and can do anything. But if you give him a hint of being dishonest, he may kill you. 

You are known to be a method actor; did you encounter any real-life army agents like this? 

I know some people from vari­ous government jobs who have retired honest, but if you talk to them and ask why they didn’t think of taking bribes they will lose their cool. These are the people society is proud of and why this socie­ty, country and world is surviving.  

With your characters you can’t tell if they are good, bad or grey. Is it fair to say your role in Aiyaary is a good guy? 

I don’t know what the defini­tion of a good guy is, Asjad. Each and every person has that grey side, which I always try to find. I found those shades of grey in-between the lines and small moments. When you get to see me play Colonel Abhay Singh, you will find those moments where he is vulnerable or weak, but in totality, if you look at him he is a guy with a very strong resolve.  

He is a guy with a certain amount of goodness with­in him. He is also cold-blooded, and is that a good thing? No. When it comes to killing somebody, he can do it after having a bottle of rum. 

Do you have a favourite moment in the movie?  

The parts where Abhay Singh changes his face to track down the informer. Those are amazing moments and ones I enjoyed.  

What is Sidharth Mal­hotra like as a co-star?  

He is a lovely chap, someone who is raring to go and very competitive. He’s very much a mainstream actor. What I admire about him is that he has come from the outside and made a place for himself in the mainstream, into an industry where most of the successful people are related to each other, which is quite remarkable.  

For me, you are the greatest actor in commercial Hindi cine­ma right now; but what’s the secret of a great performance?  

I can only speak from my personal experiences. I just try to stay true to myself and the intention with which I have come into this industry. I am just in love with this craft called act­ing, Asjad.  

The rest of the things that are given to me while doing this work are a bonus. My mind is always on playing the charac­ter and nothing else. I just focus my mind and bury my head into the script.  

You’re a very versatile actor; but do you have a dream role?  

Honestly speaking I have never had a dream role in cinema. The only dream role I had was Hamlet when I was doing the­atre. I kept on chasing directors to do Hamlet with me, but sadly it never happened and I couldn’t do it. The closest I came was in workshops where we did some scene work.  

But the full-fledged play I never had the opportunity to do. I really feel sad about it and always thought I would have had some unique interpretation to give to that character, which I didn’t get to do.  

You have played intense and grey char­acters well, but what about doing some comedy?  

I have done it in the past. I don’t want to do comedy just for the sake of do­ing it. I want to do a comedy that is a well-crafted script, where the genre is being experimented with and has something new to offer. Sadly in our country, the buffoonery is called comedy.  

Why should we all go and watch Aiyaary?  

As an audience, you want to buy a ticket for a movie where you get to see a new kind of a subject, story and charac­ters. And you want to be en­thralled and entertained by that story which you haven’t seen before.  

Aiyaary offers that with new conflicts and fighting for a different thing. There is a new type of mission. Oth­erwise, why should you invest your hard earned money on something which is so futile and bo­gus? Aiyaary will give value for money and more. I’m sure of it.  

  • Aiyaary is in cinemas on February 9