THE FIRST TIME I INTERVIEWED MANOJ BAJPAYEE, about six years back, I told him that I was his biggest fan. I still remember how empty the words sounded, how the fan whirred above us in complete silence. You know that feeling when you compliment someone, and it just feels unnecessary? “I am your biggest fan”. Millions before you have said the same thing and millions after will say it as well. He knows that you know that, and the moment you say those words, they sound hollow and insufficient. Who does not admire Manoj Bajpayee’s films? How do you tell him that you think he is one of the most important acting talents in this country, without gushing for hours? More importantly, it’s not brand-new information for him.
I remember sitting across Bhiku Mhatre in his sprawling Mumbai apartment, and he looks at me, expressionless when I compliment his body of work. I can almost hear him think “Shut the fuck up and get on with it, kid”. The fan whirred and I stared at him, curled up on the couch in front of me. He has intense eyes, which hardly waver from you, looking intently, scanning, measuring you up.
I have often wondered about the art of complimenting stalwarts without sounding sycophantic and insincere. Manoj Bajpayee is definitely one of the best actors this country has ever produced. Yawn. He knows that. We know that. Every time one of his films — and now shows — releases, we don’t walk out surprised that he has done a fantastic job. We walk in knowing that he is going to be crackling. And the man never fails to deliver. Even in the weakest of films, Bajpayee shines.
In fact, with The Family Man, along with flaunting his acting chops, Bajpayee made it very clear that he has a finger on the pulse of the entertainment business. He understands what the future is, is aware that the world is changing, and definitely knows that it is foolish to not ride the wave. Bajpayee has never shied away from ensemble casts and has been a worthy captain with every single outing. The first season of The Family Man was a similar success, where Bajpayee led a sterling cast but ensured that he was memorable too. That is a skill few actors possess — to neither overshadow nor, worse, be overpowered.
Like Irrfan Khan, Bajpayee’s comedic style is a combination of physical comedy, deadpan dialogue delivery, and a chaotic headless-chicken quality that helps in adding humor to an otherwise serious sequence. I vividly remember the scene in season one, where Srikant is meeting his daughter’s principal to hear grievances against her, while his colleague constantly calls him on his cell phone regarding an urgent piece of information. Bajpayee portrays internal struggle versus external stolidity with such comic dexterity, that a mundane scene turns into a relatable and tragic-comic one. Along with Sharib Hashmi, Bajpayee was solely responsible for setting the comedic tone for the show, and the both of them, like a desi Sherlock-Watson, infused the show’s heavy intensity with some much-needed frothy lightness.
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