It’s Manoj Bajpayee’s second outing at Cannes. The last time, he was promoting Gangs of Wasseypur, and it was a brief stay. “I landed in the afternoon, got my photos taken at the red carpet, and flew back the next morning,” the actor says. Posing does not come easy to Manoj. “I prefer the movie camera,” he says. “You’ve lived with the character for a month or two. You’ve worked it all out. You know what you are doing.” With the cameras at the red carpet, it’s different. “Everyone’s shouting, asking you to look here, look there. I don’t know whether I am doing it right or wrong. It would be so much easier if I could pose as a character I am playing in a movie”
If he had his wish, he’d be attired like a policeman — one who is terminally ill and falls into a relationship with a 23-year-old woman. That’s the character Manoj plays in Bhonsle, directed by Devashish Makhija. (And that’s the film he’s promoting here, with his back to the Mediterranean and the yachts bobbing on it.) “You can’t really define their relationship,” he says. “It’s about silences. It’s about caring for each other. But you can’t give it a name.” He then goes into his process. “Actors put all their experiences in a hard drive, so it’s all there when you want to access it. For this film, I drew a few segments from my parents, a few from my friends, and some from my own self. You also take what you can from the films you’ve seen, the books you’ve read…”
Manoj considers, carefully, my question about mainstream roles. I wondered if his increasing presence in films like Aligarh and Bhonsle meant that he wasn’t being offered enough mainstream roles or that he wasn’t opting for them. “The opportunities will always be there for someone like me who has been around for over 20 years. I do mainstream films for two reasons. One, it’s a friend like Ahmed Khan, who directed Baaghi 2.” They met on the sets of Satya as actor and choreographer. “I did the film to support him.” The other reason? “When they ask me and offer a whole lot of money,” he smiles – and no, he won’t name a film in this category.
Manoj adds a PS. “I am busy with independent cinema because this is the time. This is the time we have all fought for. I can easily relax and do a film a year, but I get great offers from young filmmakers. I have slaved and slogged and burnt myself to get to this day. Why would I let other actors walk away with these parts?” Time’s running out, so I look at his black suit and ask him something actresses are asked at Cannes: “Who are you wearing?” He takes the question as seriously as he takes his roles. “This one’s by Krish. He is from Dubai. I like to try new designers. They have grown up with world-class photography and models, and they are very stubborn. They want me to come out of my comfort zone.” Given his career, this shouldn’t be a problem at all.