Manoj Bajpayee On Naam Shabana, Balancing Mainstream And Independent Cinema And The Issue Of Censorship

Leading up to the much-awaited upcoming Naam Shabana, the formidable Manoj Bajpayee chatted with Magic Of Bollywood about issues of censorship, how he chooses his roles and his freedom to experiment with movies.

In today’s cinematic landscape, Bajpayee is one of the most revered performers in Bollywood, garnering wide acclaim for recent roles such as that of Professor Siras in Aligarh and Sardar Khan in Gangs Of Wasseypur. 

In his latest mainstream outing Naam Shabana, Bajpayee will be seen as the agent in charge and handler of Shabana Khan, played by Taapsee Pannu, who had an iconic supporting role in the 2015 Baby, following which she gets her own dedicated story by way of this film, which explores her troubled backstory and looks at just how she came to be the force of nature she is.


Naam Shabana  looks like a high energy, story-driven action flick. Your renowned for doing both mainstream and smaller, independent projects. Is there any particular approach or strategy you use in how you balance both of these?


Now you can also add short films to that list. I’ve done three of them last year and I’ll hopefully be doing two more this year. But yes that’s the fun of being an actor and taking risks. They may be successful or unsuccessful but after 23 years of doing this, the audience accepts you for who you are and they give you the liberty and acceptance of doing anything and everything. Today I have been granted the freedom by the audience to go ahead and experiment, so these thoughts don’t occur to me now and I don’t employ any strategy. I did used to a long time ago, but now my mind is completely free. I just look at a script and decide whether I want to do it, for whatever reason and I just go ahead and jump into it.


You’re widely considered to be one of the finest actors working today and you must get your fair share of offers. Are there any particular directors you’d want to work with that you haven’t yet been able to?


Pardon me if I sound a little flamboyant, but for me the director is actually reflected in the script. When their script is really mind blowing and you completely understand where the director is coming from, whether he’s new or old doesn’t matter. For me the script is the backbone of everything. Just earlier today I said yes to a director from a different country, who has only made ad films and short films, but the script was amazing so I immediately said yes because somewhere I felt that if the director wants to make this script then that means he himself must have some substance to him. So the script tells me everything I need to know about the director. So I don’t shy away from working with a first time director, especially if he has a mind-blowing script.


Aligarh, like many films these days, had its fair share of issues with the censor board, the most recent example being Lipstick Under My Burkha. Things don’t seem to be getting any better. Do you think there is any solution to the issue of censorship?


Filmmakers have been struggling with the issue of censorship for many years now and this is not at all a new phenomenon. But its happening very frequently these days. Shyam Benegal recently headed a committee formed by the government to tackle this very issue, and they provided many valuable recommendations about this very issue. Now the government has to enforce them for things to get better for filmmakers. Otherwise this tussle between the filmmakers and censor board will go on indefinitely.


The film industry is in a difficult period of transition at present. On the one hand, we are making increasingly interesting films,  but overall commercially the industry isn’t doing too well. Would you say its something to be worried about?


When you have big production houses only going by the names of the stars and director and not by the content, things will go wrong. There’s also the budgeting factor, with the inflated budgets of certain films only causing issues because they have an extra burden of promotional money. They are only aimed at making more money and profit. It’s not the filmmakers at fault, but the production houses who are buying directors’ films. They have to be far more strict about the content they are trying to make. Whether it’s a new director or big star or newcomer, the content has to be the king. If the star or the ‘hit director’ is the king then things will go wrong.

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