In Dipesh Jain's Gali Guleiyan, Manoj Bajpayee plays Khuddoos, a resident of Old Delhi who thinks he hears sounds of child abuse through the walls of his home. As CCTV cameras fail to capture concrete evidence and his friends begin to doubt his tale, he spirals into frustration and insanity. The film premiered at the Busan International Film Festival last year and will be released in India on September 7. Bajpayee spoke about why this was the hardest role of his career and why there's a need to make such films more accessible to audiences:
Anupama Chopra: Manoj, you said that Gali Guleiyan is the hardest role of your career. But you've done really tough stuff. Why is this the hardest?
Manoj Bajpayee: This is the hardest because at the end of the film you realise that it's the journey of the mind. And when you say that it's the journey of the mind, you don't try to play it down or underplay it just for the sake of it. There are loads of thoughts put behind it. For each and every movement of your eyeball, you have to be specific. Because there is nobody. There are four walls, one old fall, three CCTV cameras. It's a solo show. So all you're left with are your thoughts and how they are colliding with each other. For me, that was very important – to create new thoughts and make them collide in my mind so the eyes show it. It's easier said than done. You really put all your craft and skill that you've learnt over the years, even from theatre, and sometimes you fall short of it. And then you improvise something new, you go for a new method. You are thinking about it. Most of the time you are thinking about it, you are left alone. Nobody's there to help you. Nobody can help you. When it comes to mental struggle, even if you go to a director, he will not be able to help you. He's taken you so you can figure it out. So underplayed and layered performances are easy to explain but if you sit down with me and watch the film, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking in what shot. That's how much preparation has gone into it.
AC: It's tough in what you've brought into it as an actor, but also now when you're actually trying to sell it to the audience, right? It's a tough sell
MB: I don't find it difficult to sell it to the audience, I find it difficult to sell it to the distributors and exhibitors. I really feel that there is an audience who is ready to go for these kinds of films, provided we give them the shows. I will never go and watch Gali Guleiyan, though it is my film, at 9.30. I will never get out of my house to see it. We have to make these films accessible to them and the major blockades are the distributors and exhibitors.
AC: Because they've not grown with the audience?
MB: No, they've not grown with the audience. They find it easier to sell a Satyameva Jayate than a Gali Guleiyan.
AC: Is there any impact? Once you have this blockbuster hit, for the next one, which is smaller and tougher, will any of them say, 'But he's just given us a Satyameva Jayate, let's go for it.' Do you see that?
MB: There's a little relief that you find.
AC: I know you've always said that you don't care about the box office. You've said, 'I'm an agent of change'. But does this get tiring? Do you ever get frustrated when you see people with far less talent than you enjoy the perks of fame – the endorsements, big cars…
MB: First of all, if you really look at yourself as the agent of change, you have to keep your needs limited. You should be able to go to Sanal Sasidharan who has made S Durga and say 'If you ever have a script, please give it to me'. And I do it because I enjoy being a part of their creativity. I feel working with such directors who could make me a better actor. But if you're going to do that, you can't be passing by a Mercedes showroom and looking at it with greed. Believe me I have everything, thanks to the mainstream or middle-of-the-road cinema I have done. But once the greed seeps in, then you're done. There are times when the director or the producer doesn't have that kind of money to pay you. At that point of time, what I do is just go with the production, put my fees with their profits so that lessens the burden on the project and on the production budget. And if the film is making money, I make money too. And in all of these films, we found a way to make money. Believe me. It's sustainable, we make money. It's a myth that a Bhonsle will not make money. It's a myth that a Gali Guleiyan will not make money. They have their avenues – not the mainstream ones, but the unconventional ones that we find our money from.