Although he may disagree, it's no fluke that Manoj Bajpais' CV is stacked with real-life figures, including some of the most towering names like Bheeku Mhatre, Samar Pratap Singh, Raghavan, Babu and Swami. Manoj is a submersive chameleon whose own subtle, taciturn personality allows him to vanish under the skin of the person he's playing. Nor is it a coincidence that Bajpais' most renowned, iconic role – Bheeku Mhatre – is a blood-curdling sophisticate, able to charm and seduce but flip the switch in a millisecond to unleash the rage-fuelled currents underneath. Off screen, Manoj is a mellow, soft-spoken presence, pretty unusual huh? But these days, he's content to mix it up professionally between the ones he does for quality (the upcoming Money Hai Toh Honey Hai), the ones he does for the bank balance (all his films) and the ones he does for friends (Sanjay Gupta's, Acid Factory), and if meeting this actor in flesh is a rare privilege, over the phone is even more exclusive because he hardly ever does interviews. Bollywood Hungama's Devansh Patel gets this rare exclusive of an actor who winches his films up several notches with performances that packs in charm, determination, eccentricity and humour.
Your career has not only given you an oppurtunity to be a part of successful films but all the roles you've done so far in Tamanna, Satya, Shool, Kaun, Aks, Pinjar and Swami will be most remembered for Manoj Bajpai's versatility. Any comments?
This has been a very conscious effort in choosing the films that I wanted to do and these were the kind of films I always wanted to do as an actor. Versatility is just a word but eventually what counts is the effort and the choices you make.
Money Hai Toh Honey Hai is your first role where you are seen doing full fledged comedy from frame one and what a U turn for Ganesh too. Was that a really difficult choice for both of you?
It wasn't a difficult choice for Ganesh but because of his conviction in me and the film, I agreed to do this film. Our friendship started with Swami and he always wanted to make Swami as his first film and after that Ganesh felt very emotional about me being in Money Hai Toh Honey Hai and I just went by the flow. For me, this wasn't a difficult decision.
You are the senior most actor in MHTHH. Does that make the film extra special?
It's a unique film because of so many other factors. It's Ganesh's way of making a comedy film, it's completely different from all the other comedy films being churned out from the industry, MHTHH's comedy is just not senseless, it's not just slapstick but the films comedy comes more from the characters and their circumstances. MHTHH's comedy is the struggle of these five losers who want to do something with their life.
Are you trying to say that MHTHH is going to give out a meaningful message?
Yes. It brings out a message that together you can win the world.
Did you go through any research or study for your role because you haven't done any physical comedy before?
Ganesh did not give me enough time to prepare for this role. This role came to me in Novemver 2007 and the crew were about to leave for Mauritius. I was nursing my shoulder injury and was in no physical condition to accept any role. I did not work for the entire 2007. Somehow Ganesh wanted me to be a part of MHTHH and he dragged me out of my bed and the next thing I knew was I was flying to Mauritius.
We've also heard recently that your best pal Sanjay Gupta is praising you left right and centre for your look in his next film Acid Factory.
This look has happened because we wanted to do something drastically different with my character. It is not something that is a part of our imagination but it has a lot to do with the character also. My role is very child like, loyal and quite unpredictable. Sanjay Gupta is somebody who is hell bent on giving me such a kind of role. His conviction for me is hundred percent and I'm just going by his conviction and vision.
I've already asked this question to Hansika bu it now gets pass on to you. What were your reactions when you saw Hansika, the same small girl with whom you acted in 'Jaago' nearly three years ago?
Wow! Hansika was playing Raveena's daughter in the film Jaago. But the first time I saw her as a kid I knew that she would grow into a heroine. I somehow could see that in her behaviour on and off the sets. Even though she was just a 13 year old girl, she wanted to do very well in her career. This is just the begining. She is talented, ambitious and wants to grow big fast.
Actors turn directors, choreographers turn directors too. Who else is left to take on direction? Isn't all this becoming a trend now?
All this is a natural progression. You can't stop it. Farah Khan and Ahmed Khan turned to direction. These people are always dealing with the camera angle and the choreography is the part of the story line. All these people are experts when it comes to techniques and portraying emotions. So if you go by Ganesh's first film, all the things I've just said would make sense. There are no set rules for direction.
The name Manoj Bajpai is associated with quality cinema. Is that what we will see from Manoj Bajpai in the future as well?
Definitely. I am made in such a way that I don't like many of the offers that come by and it becomes very difficult for me to work for 365 days a year. You can call me a lazy or a choosy person, however it may suit you, but I have never given more than three releases in one year. Last year it was 1971, Swami and Dus Kahaniyaan. This year you will see me in two films, Money Hai Toh Honey Hai and Acid Factory.
Brief us a bit about your interactions with your co-stars in MHTHH and who do you think will steal both, Honey and Money by the end of the film?
Govinda is a super star. Both of us got along very well with each other. Both admire each others work so the chemistry was evident on the sets and will be evident on the screens too. I know Aftab since his Mast days and a versatile actor. MHTHH will prove it yet again. Celina is a fantastic person and very obedient. Hansika, as I said is a very talented, hard working and an ambitious girl. But what is going to surprise people is Upen Patel's track 'Awara' in the film. Ganesh's choice of Upen works wonders in the track and then Govinda takes it to another level.
So how far do you think these new comers can go? You are a senior, veteran and a vastly experienced actor. Do you give any advice to freshers like Upen and Hansika?
I try to create an atmosphere which is congenial and comfortable for them. It's helping them in a way but you can call it a bit selfish too. I want my scene to be fantastic and if the actor is a new comer who is nervous, that will not help me in any way. So I have to make things very comfortable for them.
Can you recall any funny moment while filming this funny movie?
When you're doing a comedy film, each and every moment becomes very funny because all of us were making each other laugh. I remember a moment when Govinda and myself couldn't stop laughing and it became very difficult for Ganesh Acharya to start the shoot. The moment he said 'Action', we would fall down laughing.
From all the films you've done so far, I'd rate Tamanna, Satya and Shool as your best three. What about you?
Pinjar and Aks are my favourites and also 1971. I think it somewhere tops the list. According to so many army people, it is the best army film ever made. That was the biggest compliment which came to us. 1971 didn't boast of a great star cast but it did boast of great quality.
What's important for you - box office success or critical acclaim?
Most of the actors in our industry don't care about the critics. Critics, I think, are the people most unaware of the making and process of any film. They are intoxicated by the power of the pen. They have their own agenda's. A little bit of box office matters so that you have the freedom to choose and work the way you want to work but at the end of the day what's important is that if the quality of cinema fails, you fail. One Friday the box office success is there and the other Friday it's gone.
Describe your role in this film.
I play a loser whose name is Lalabhai Bhadoriya. He is from U.P. He is somebody who wants to become a millionaire over night and wants to start his own business. But at the same time, he is the biggest optimist in the world. He doesn't consider any crisis as crisis but for him it's the experience that counts. Bhadoriya hates manupulation and that is why my character and Govinda's is always at loggerheads.
How did you manage to shake a leg Manoj?
It's not difficult at all. I have a sense of rhythm. I used to dance when I was in theatre. I've done a semi classical dancing course. So everything is there. I don't dance unnecessarily. If it is required, I'll do it and make sure that it's not me who is dancing but Bhadoriya.
Any message for your fans who are looking forward to see the talented Manoj Bajpai after a sabbatical?
I love my fans and just want to appeal to them that they should see quality films and support quality films. If they keep on supporting commercial films, only commercial films will be made. So quality will take a back seat. Love you all.