Two years after he won a standing ovation in Busan for his searing portrayal of a persecuted gay literature professor in Hansal Mehta’s “Aligarh,” Manoj Bajpayee returns to the festival with the world premiere of Dipesh Jain’s thriller “In the Shadows.” From his breakthrough role in “Satya” (1998) through “Gangs of Wasseypur” (2012), Bajpayee has consistently forged an independent path.
Throughout your career you have almost always chosen roles that are not in the mainstream. What informed these choices?
When I started my career, mainstream formula films were doing quite well. The blockbuster success of “Satya” gave me the strength to carve a path for myself. Otherwise, there was a feeling of getting lost in the crowd by doing all these stereotypical roles which were waiting for me out there. It was quite alluring, there was loads of money, but somewhere I felt that if I have to go on a longer run, I have to set a new pattern.
What specifically attracted you to “In the Shadows”?
When I read “In the Shadows,” I found it quite a complex film and quite a complex character. But somewhere I felt that I need to go a little beyond “Aligarh.” This film was giving me a chance to experiment with my craft, experiment with my approach and take my acting a little beyond, and this was very, very difficult to achieve.
How did you prepare for the role?
It took me around 30 to 35 days to prepare for it. The first thing that was required was to lose a great amount of weight. I am a skinny guy anyway, but I had to look the part. I had to look battered, I had to look starved. I had to look like somebody who was eating just for the sake of eating; somebody who hadn’t slept for many nights; somebody whose thoughts are always colliding in his mind. It required loads of internalizing the character and the nuances. Thinking about the character, his childhood and his backstory really pushed me into it. During the shoot, I stayed in character until the last shot. I was avoiding human contact actively.
What films do you have coming up?
Next year will start with a bang. I’m one of the leads in Neeraj Pandey’s “Aiyaary.” I’m very happy with the way things have shaped up. It’s middle of the road cinema, which I think is [needed] for a country like India, where without sacrificing realism, you say things in a dramatic and thrilling way. You get people addicted to a different kind of content. And after that I have Devashish Makhija’s “Bhosle.”