There may be several gangs and goons in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, but there is only one Sardar Khan, and he is owned by actor Manoj Bajpayee. In his 18-year film career, Bajpayee has had three “career- defining" roles: Bhiku Mhatre in Satya (1998), Veerendra Pratap in Raajneeti (2010), and now Sardar Khan. The two-time National Film Award winner’s (for Satyaand Pinjar) repertoire also includes critically acclaimed films such as Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!!, Zubeidaa, Aks and 1971, yet the 43-year-old dislikes watching himself on screen.
“Overwhelmed" by all the praise for his performance in Gangs of Wasseypur, Bajpayee tells us that it all began over a bottle of red wine. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What attracted you to the part of the villainous Sardar Khan?
Sinister: Manoj Bajpayee as Sardar Khan.
How did you manage to make the villain likeable?
While on set, Anurag and I were exploring and searching for shades of white in this grey character. Some people have less shades of white and more black. Sardar is one of those. So finding white shades in him was difficult, but it was important to do so because he is the protagonist and people have to connect with him and move with his journey.
How did you prepare for the role?
Anurag’s brief was that Sardar should be nothing like anything I had done before. He wanted me to find a new method of doing this part. I spent months practising and we also had workshops. For 15-20 days of the shoot, I didn’t interact with anyone. I later told my co-stars Richa Chadha and Nawazuddin Siddiqui that I am trying something risky. I want the viewer to forget he is watching Manoj Bajpayee; it should only dawn on him after he has left the theatre. My inspiration was Iranian cinema, where the actors are so natural, they are real people. I had to unlearn the craft and look so real that it should not feel like acting.
You are mischievous and endearing when flirting with Durga in the film. Was that your interpretation or the director’s vision?
That happened during Reema Sen’s (who plays Durga) audition. Anurag called me to improvise as Sardar during her test. I went ahead and played it that way. Anurag loved it so much he wanted me to incorporate it into the film. So that interpretation was completely improvised. I had 104 degrees (Fahrenheit) fever when we were shooting the outdoor bathing scenes in extreme winter. There was no real medical help available either, but when an actor gets a film like this, you take medicines and let the passion take over.
The role appears to be tailor-made for you.
It appears that way now, but I don’t think any role is tailor-made for Manoj Bajpayee. There are lots of talented people out there. It’s about the director’s choice.
What do you hope ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ will do for you professionally?
I no longer think, or get excited, like a newcomer. It’s a good time for new actors and technicians who want to be associated with good films. The industry is changing; commercial/mainstream and independent cinema are starting to coexist. Directors like Anurag and Dibakar Banerjee are creating their own space. I have never been busier, with Chittagong ready for release, Special Chabbis, Chakravyuh and Shootout at Wadala.
Do you still deconstruct your performances?
Deconstructing your performance is the curse an actor has to live with. That’s why I don’t watch my films. Anurag made me watch the final edit of Gangs of Wasseypur. I cursed him for torturing me and cursed myself for not doing certain things in the film a certain way. I don’t like anything I see of myself on screen. I might like one scene or a few shots but mostly I feel bad and keep kicking myself.