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Home > Sunday Mid Day News > He has had most flops but is still working

‘He has had most flops, but is still working’

Updated on: 21 April,2024 06:14 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Gautam S Mengle |

Journalist Piyush Pandey, author of Manoj Bajpayee’s biography, says actor didn’t want to read the copy before it went for publishing

‘He has had most flops, but is still working’

Manoj Bajpayee. Pic/Getty Images; (right) Piyush Pandey

You have known Manoj Bajpayee for long. But how and when did the idea of writing his biography strike you?
This idea had been floating in my head for ages. Actually, knowing his story and the struggles that he has survived, made me want to tell his story in a chronological manner by talking to the people who’ve played a part in his life. Then, one day in 2020, I was lunching at a restaurant with my family and we talked about one of Manoj’s films. That’s when the idea of the biography hit me. I called him right away.

Was it tough to get him to open up?
It wasn’t. I’ve known him for many years. In fact, I launched a blogging platform in 2008, and he used to write on it. I was the one who typed out his blog posts back then. During that period, I learned a lot about him, both personally and professionally. And, we kept in touch and discussed various issues. As a journalist, I’ve interviewed him often. I told him to put me in touch with his parents and siblings, and I’d take care of the rest.

There is often nok-jhonk between a biographer and the subject about how much to include and what to leave out. Is there a more private side to the actor that we haven’t had the chance to see yet?
I give him full credit for this: he never asked me questions while I was writing the biography, and he didn’t ask to read it before publishing. He answered all my questions. As for his personal side, well, I’d say that a biographer has his own limitations, and I’ve done the job within those limitations. And then there’s always the problem of the word limit.

Bajpayee has had his share of ups and downs, which you have followed closely in the book. Is there anything that you, as a fan and friend, wish he had done differently?
He is the only actor to have had so many box office flops. Despite this, he has not only survived in the industry for 30 years but also continues to do a lot of work. If there had not been a rift between him and Anurag Kashyap, and if they had not been estranged for years, the audience could have got many more great films…because Anurag is a genius in his own right, and I have no hesitation in saying that Manoj is one of our most brilliant actors.

‘Manoj was spontaneous, thought on his feet’

EXTRACT He was an ace at improvising, his favourite movie is Zanjeer and he may have got into acting because of a school priest in Bettiah 

The germ of acting caught up with Manoj in Bettiah. Kamini recalled: ‘Manoj was in the sixth or seventh standard. Maa and Babuji had come to Bettiah to meet us. They owned a small house there. I was supposed to go to the school on Monday, but I was in no mood to comply. Maa tried to reason, but when I refused, I was locked up in a room. Manoj didn’t like this and pleaded with Maa to get me out. I was still not willing to go to school, but he kept pleading on my behalf. Eventually, Maa locked him up in my place, but he suddenly screamed and fell on the floor. Apparently, he was hit by a ladle. Maa got worried and ran towards him. The moment she pulled the ladle, Manoj got up laughing. We saw the first-hand demonstration of his acting capabilities that day.’

The late Radhakant Bajpayee also had a story in this context: ‘We were at his school for the Guardian Day celebrations, where Manoj was playing the part of a village priest’s sidekick. In a scene, the disciple (played by Manoj) brings a potful of sweets for the master. The pupil was supposed to look greedily at the sweets. A sweet somehow dropped on to the floor, and Manoj quickly grabbed and put it in his mouth. Everybody started laughing at his spontaneity. During the interval, I asked him if his act was part of the scene, and he said “no”. He thought on his feet. I became suspicious about his intentions that day. I knew he was going to do something different.’

The play where Manoj did such effective improvision was called Bemel Byaah (Mismatched Marriage). Manoj acted in a couple of plays at K.R. High School, but he found an identity through poetry and recitation events, which won him much appreciation. His friend Gyandev Mani Tripathi, who was a year junior to him and a hostel mate, told me, ‘He was better known in school for poetry recitations. His favourites were Dinkar’s “Rashmirathi” and Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s “Jo Beet Gayi So Baat Gayi”.’

Manoj credits this school for the development of his personality. The school had a great environment. There were four big grounds, smart uniforms and everything else to get a village boy excited.

 ‘It was the only school in that area with the infrastructure for hockey, lawn tennis, volleyball and other such sports,’ Gyandev said. ‘Manoj bhai and I were in the same hockey team, though he was better at football. Participating in games and taking a bath every day were compulsory. Sometimes, during winters, he would simply sprinkle a few drops of water on his body and step out of the bathroom. The hostel superintendent would scold him whenever he was caught acting.’

Manoj got addicted to films in this school. His favourites were films such as Zanjeer (1973), Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978), Shaan (1980) and Ek Duje ke Liye (1980), which he watched several times. In this context, Kamini told me, ‘Manoj liked to take others to the cinema. We have seen Bobby [1973], Bhabhi [1991] and many other films together. Usually, our parents would be in Bettiah during the weekends and it was an occasion to watch films. Even when they were not in town and we wanted to watch films, we had to send a letter to Manoj through the gatekeeper of our hostel, and he would then take us to the theatre.’

It was at K.R. High School that Manoj first heard about NSD. His father believes that a school priest prompted his son to take up acting. Manoj, in an interview with Rajya Sabha TV’s Irrfan, said, ‘Acting was always there inside my heart and I wanted to do nothing else, but it wasn’t seen as a respectable profession, so I kept the desire buried.”

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