The maze-like city walls of Old Delhi form the setting of Manoj Bajpayee's upcoming film, Gali Guleiyan. Directed by LA-based filmmaker Dipesh Jain, the film follows a lone wolf electrician named Khuddoos (Bajpayee) who places clandestine CCTV cameras to observe the lives of his neighbours. One day, he discovers the violent cries of a young boy suffering abuse at the hands of his father.
And thus begins an atmospheric and deeply psychological drama about a loner's struggle to free a child from oppression. In this interview with Express, Manoj Bajpayee opens up about his love for playing intense characters and his need to balance commercial outings with artistic endeavours:
The space of a psychological thriller is home ground for you. Your roles in Aks and Kaun are considered landmarks in the genre. Did Gali Guleiyan take you back to the same zone?
It was a little different, as the film is more of a psychological drama than a thriller. We are not playing with the mind of the audience but with the mind of a character. He is mentally entrapped in his own world. There are endless thoughts and questions colliding in his mind; he is constantly questioning his reality. And then, he hears the cries of a small boy and feels compelled to rescue the child. It was a very difficult character to play, perhaps the most difficult of my life.
Internalisation is a big challenge for any actor. You are known to explore your characters from within, sometimes at the risk of your own sanity.
That's a journey every actor has to take. Internationally, we see great actors going very deep into their characters and later visiting a rehab to come out of it. In India though, chaos is a part of everyday life. So you are naturally trained to deal with complex mental situations and come out unscathed.
But was there ever a specific character you played that took a toll on your mental well-being?
(Ram Gopal Varma's) Shool left me in intense psychological turmoil. I couldn't sleep for days after doing the film. A psychiatrist friend of mine warned me against using such a method ever again. But since I come from theatre, method acting comes very instinctively to me. I applied it in Gali Guleiyan too, but I managed to snap out of it later.
When a serious actor of your stature does films like Baaghi 2 and Satyameva Jayate, there's criticism that you have sold out.
You must understand that one Satyameva Jayate enables me to do five films like Gali Guleiyan. More importantly, I thoroughly enjoy working with a filmmaker like Milap Zaveri who is so convinced about making massy, entertaining films. He even took me to theatres to see people whistling at my dialogues. That's a very gratifying feeling for an actor. I enjoy playing to the gallery from time to time and then returning to my own zone.
Your co-star in Gali Guleiyan, Neeraj Kabi, has received widespread acclaim for Sacred Games. His roles in Hichki, Detective Byomkesh Bakshi and Ship of Theseus have also been appreciated. How was the experience of working with another powerhouse actor in this film?
Neeraj has an impeccable method towards his craft. He picks his parts carefully and delves very deep into them. He is interested in challenging himself and putting out a performance that is remembered. These are the actors who will be counted among the greats of Indian cinema.
On the whole, how would you describe the cinematic experience of Gali Guleiyan?
Our director, Dipesh, is a creator of pure and compelling cinema. He gives importance to each and every department, which shows in the film. It has been edited by Chris Witt (Kavi, Catching Fireflies) and mixed at Skywalker Sound in Hollywood. It has an immersive and experiential feeling to it that you’ll experience only in theatres.