Manoj Bajpayee: South films working as they’re rooted in our culture

15 May,2024 05:17 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Mohar Basu

Unfazed that his maiden production is releasing in a volatile market, Manoj says people want to see heartland stories like Bhaiyya Ji and not urban films


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At one point in our interview, Manoj Bajpayee abruptly pauses our chat because he remembers he had to make a call two hours ago. That is just a glimpse of how swamped he is as a first-time producer. The actor is not only leading Bhaiyya Ji, but also turning producer with it - a role that he describes as "a hell of a job!" "As an actor, when the shoot is over, the film is over. But here, the work starts early and it ends way after the release. I'm taking baby steps, trying to get a hang of it," he smiles, visibly happy about the next chapter in his three-decade career.

The idea is to produce all kinds of stories, some that won't even star him. "The purpose is to find fresh voices, new directors and talent. I want to give people a chance to tell their piece. I don't want to be genre-restricted; middle of the road, massy, indie, I want to create a home for every story. It's important that storytellers get the space to tell their tales how they want to and be treated with respect."

For his first step in that direction, the actor-producer has reunited with Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai (2023) director Apoorv Singh Karki. With Bhaiyya Ji, the duo has designed a masala action fare set in Bihar. It is a monetarily turbulent time with most movies under-performing at the box office, but Bajpayee is unperturbed. "Call it my naïveté or faith, but selling a film isn't such a tough job as people make it out to be. Get the budget right. I've tried to make sure that every stakeholder feels safe and happy. The industry is in a flux. So, the solution is to plan well, stick to the budget, get a good story, make the best film you can and minimise risks, but certainly make the films," he explains.

To him, the action fare - also starring Zoya Hussain - has the advantage of being a story rooted in Indian culture. He believes that is what the Indian audience is seeking. "If we are to get past this phase [of uncertainty in movies], we should go back to our stories. Stories should be rooted in our world, and the hero has to represent the people of the country. I believe this is why south Indian films are working; their emotions are pure, they are rooted in our culture and people relate to the protagonist's fight. Our [Hindi] films are set in urban areas and most of these characters are alien to the country's masses."

A few weeks ago, Bajpayee's acclaimed work Joram (2023) was the subject of a social-media furore. On behalf of director Devashish Makhija and him, netizens were angry that the thriller was released on YouTube. Was it not getting OTT takers? The actor clears the air, stating, "People took past interviews where Devashish had spoken about how hard it is to make an indie film, and posted them on social media. When the news came, the film was running on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, and then Zee Music released it on YouTube. It is being watched and recovering money. What else do people expect from a Joram? It can't become a blockbuster! People like Devashish and I make a Joram because cinema is art for us. What hurts me is that despite winning love from people, the film hasn't been getting many mainstream awards. When it comes to giving respect, films like Joram are forgotten. It happened to me with Pinjar (2003) too. When I won the National Award for it, I felt there was some poetic justice."

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