The twilight hours never seem to disappoint as far as unhinged characters and macabre twists go. Zee5’s latest thriller, Rensil D’Silva-directed Dial 100, plays on this theme. Told over the course of a night, the film brings a solid cast comprising Manoj Bajpayee, Neena Gupta and Sakshi Tanwar. On the face of it, it’s a simple story of revenge: One night Nikhil Sood (Bajpayee), a police officer who is an emergency call operator, gets a distress call from Seema Pallav (Gupta), who holds Sood responsible for the loss of her child. Now Pallav wants to get back at the cop and holds Sood’s wife Prerna (Tanwar) and son hostage. Simple it may be, but when you have an actor of Bajpayee’s calibre, the simple can be uplifted to the sublime.
For Bajpayee, it’s not the uniform he plays, but the person who is wearing it. In the case of Dial 100, it means playing a middle-class guy who is reluctant to give time to his family. “Somewhere he’s failed as a husband and a father. Here is a person who could keep the family together, but he chose to look away. And now life has thrown a challenge, and he has to deal with it,” says the actor about his character. Also, the choice of the antagonist in the film—Gupta—is a surprising one. After her recent outing as the family matriarch in Sardar ka Grandson, Gupta turning a few shades grey is certainly a casting coup of sorts.
While the plot of the film may be a done-to-death storyline in Bollywood, the treatment—keeping the timeline to a night’s story—is decidedly different. But for Bajpayee, this too is familiar ground. One of his early films—Ram Gopal Verma’s Kaun (1999)—was an exciting experiment in this genre. A thriller that pitted him against Urmila Matondkar on a stormy night, with the audience left to debate which psycho was scarier once the credits started rolling. The film has become a cult classic now.
“The challenge of getting the ‘one-night story’ right is immense, though it looks very easy. One needs to make the performance look completely lifelike, otherwise, you can’t manage to engage the audience or do justice to the character, which needs to be fluid and consistent. You need to be aware that people are following you in the moment,” says the 52-year-old actor who debuted with a blink-and-you-miss-it role in Govind Nihalani’s Drohkaal (1994). Later the same year, the actor was cast in his first major film, Shekhar Kapur’s iconic Bandit Queen.
This year has been good to the actor. He has won critical acclaim and mass praise for two very different roles—his turn as the Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell senior agent Srikant Tiwari in Season 2 of The Family Man web series, and the endearing kleptomaniac-cum-ghazal singer in the Ray anthology, ‘Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa’. Coming back to Dial 100, Bajpayee has earlier worked with D’Silva in Aks (2001). The film, helmed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, was co-written by D’Silva.
Talking about his relationship with his director, Bajpayee says he feels protective towards this “friend for life”. “He’s such a soft-spoken and mild person. I almost feel like cushioning him from any kind of mishap and feel responsible for him,” the actor says.
It’s not just D’Silva that the actor is protective of. He opens up about his co-star Tanwar, whom he first came across when he was invited to her college for a play. Quick to spot talent, Bajpayee was impressed by Tanwar. “I told her to consider acting as a profession. And I feel so proud of her achievements today,” he says. Coming from a nondescript village near Bettiah in Bihar, the man, who as Bhiku Mhatre in RGV’s Satya (1998) cemented his place in Hindi cinema, today inspires even seasoned actors such as KK Menon and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Not one to rest on his success, Bajpayee is now looking forward to a Malayalam film, Kurup, co-starring Dulquer Salmaan.