MUMBAI: Manoj Pahwa describes his Bollywood journey not as an over-night star but as a planet: forming slowly, steadily, struggling and eventually becoming habitable, finding himself to be now in his best phase.
Over the years, the 54-year-old actor has featured in supporting roles mainly in big commercial films like "Ready", "Singh is Kinng", "London Dreams", "Jolly LLB", "Dil Dhadakne Do" among others.
But reaching this far wasn't easy for him.
The actor says he is aware that in the country, it is a star who draws the audience to theatres.
It's a fact, Pahwa says, and it doesn't hurt him.
"People aren't going to come to theatres unless there's a star. Coming to the theatre today with family is expensive. They want to see big event films like 'Avengers' or 'Baahubali'. Even Hollywood is turning to event films as theatres there are also running empty for normal films," he told PTI.
"In India also, unless there is Salman Khan or someone else, people won't come to see Manoj Pahwa or any good actor. It doesn't hurt me, it's a fact."
It all comes down to, according to Pahwa, what one wants to be: "an overnight sensation, or a horse in the long run".
"When I used to do 'Office Office' I used to work only 10-12 days a month and during rains, I used to stay at home, enjoy my drinks, we would cook and just chill. There was a 'Bahadur' who we had appointed."
"He had just worked for 15-20 days at our place. Neither Seema (Pahwa) nor I were going to work so one day he said, 'who goes to work in this house?! Who will give me my salary?' That's the kind of life we selected. I want to live on my own terms."
Walking down memory lane, Pahwa says he had an automobile business in Delhi's Daryaganj but never saw himself in the regular 9AM-9PM set up.
He took a liking for theatre and soon began his journey on the small screen with "Hum Log", country's first drama series aired on Doordarshan in 80s.
For the next ten years, Pahwa continued doing theatre in Delhi before deciding to move to Mumbai in 1994.
"It was a gamble. By that time I was married, had two kids but the plus point was both my wife and I were actors and had a lot of experience. There was no illusion of becoming a hero-heroine. By the time we came here, we were 30. We knew we were going to be character actors," he says.
By the time he came to Mumbai with his family, the actor found himself in the midst of what he calls "the golden age of TV."
"A lot of big film producers came to TV after 'Hum Log'. GP Sippy, Kundan Shah all came in. We knew somewhere that it isn't only films that we are dependent on. Now good actors are going to be required in TV," he says.
In their initial days, his actor wife chose to stay at home and look after their kids while he was out there working.
He insists, he did not have this attitude that he will only do films, he happily worked in TV shows and somewhere he knew he will have to work hard to make his mark in the industry.
"I never had a project where there was a 'boom' and I became an overnight star. I formed myself slowly, over the years. By the grace of God, today Seema and I both are getting our dues," he adds.
In between his TV career, Pahwa did a few films but the actor says they were mostly done because he had "free time."
But then, doing films soon became a way of survival.
"I did TV for 15 years till it was weekly. After 'Office Office' daily shows started which I refused to do. I did films not out of choice but survival. I couldn't do daily shows so I had to do films."
"Whatever commercial films were coming my way, I did all of them. Now that I've become stable, in the last three years I've started being selective about choosing the script."
Thanks to the audience who today gives importance to content, Pahwa says, he enjoys doing films as he has the liberty to chose the best among what is offered to him.
Pahwa is getting immense accolades for his work in Anubhav Sinha's recently released film "Mulk", where he plays a man who gets embroiled in a terror plot.