How has your outlook towards life changed after you crossed 40?
I am still 40, I haven’t crossed 40 yet (laughs). Age does not mean anything, it’s just a number in your mind. I think you get wiser and more experienced over the years. So it’s okay, as long as you don’t go through a mid-life crisis.
What’s a mid-life crisis for an actor?
If you are a 40 or 45 year old and want to play an 18-year-old, then that’s what I called a mid-life crisis.
While your career has reached an even keel today, do you ever feel appreciation should have come earlier?
No, not at all. If you become rich tomorrow, would you say ‘It’s too late to get rich?’ You grow. When people appreciate the choices you make, you feel happy. But then there are also times when the audience will not like a part. I can’t please everybody all the time. I have been appreciated for my previous work and now, too, I am being appreciated for my work. Today, the kind of films that I do shows the direction I want to move towards.
I believe in surprising myself. And when I can surprise my audience, it is my biggest victory.
It is said that your character was not part of the final script of Satyagraha; your role was specially created by director Prakash Jha.
While I was doing Chakravyuh, he asked me whether I would play a character in the film, though it was not a big role. I said ‘Prakashji, if you want me to say just two lines in the film, I will do it’. Fortunately for me, while developing the script, it became a full-fledged role. The character I play, Arjun, is a youth leader with political ambition and is very connected to the grassroots. He became an integral part of the screenplay, as he becomes the muscle power of the revolution that the film speaks of.
Prakash Jha also has a soft spot for Manoj Bajpayee whom he casts repeatedly. Does that make you feel insecure?
I thought you are going to say that he has a soft spot for me ... I am very jealous now (laughs). I don’t feel insecure. Manoj is a very fine actor and there is always love for him. You don’t get insecure when you are in a good team and a good project. You help each other; you work as a team player, especially when a film has such a big cast because if even one guy’s performance suffers, the film suffers.
You have worked with Amitabh Bachchan in many films such as Aankhen, Ek Ajnabee, The Last Lear and now Satyagraha. Tell us one definitive quality about him.
He is such an inspiring man; I have learnt a lot from him. For example, in a shot for Satyagraha, he had to have a shawl wrapped around him; and though the temperatures soared to 50 degree Celsius, he sat in his cot with that shawl wrapped around him without complaining. People were running towards the air-conditioners and coolers to beat the heat but he never made any noise. This speaks volumes about the level of his dedication.
What are your plans, post Satyagraha?
Villain will release next. And then I have Roy.
After you burnt your hands with your first production, I See You, are you hesitant to make another film?
Not at all.
So when will you be producing your next film?
Soon, I hope. To produce a film you basically need to get your script and a team who will gel well with each other.