The story of Raavan and his southern island kingdom never gets old as a central theme of Hindi films, and Bolywood screens will have another such rendition this weekend with the release of Maqbool Khan’s Lanka. Starring Manoj Bajpai in another powerfully gripping and off-beat role, the veteran award-winning actor, who made a name for himself in Satya and most recently starred in Aarakshan, is primed to take on the villainous Raavan in Lanka (which also stars Arjan Bajwa, Tia Bajpai, Yashpal Sharma, Manish Choudhary, and Yatin Karyekar).
In speaking about the film, Mr. Bajpai also talked about how character actors are treated in Bollywood, his approach to acting, his appeal to Lanka, and his personal and career outlook.
Simran Mody: You have quite the reputation of deviating from the norm and taking on non-traditional roles. Is that becoming a new trend? Or does the industry still cater to mainstream roles?
Manoj Bajpai: In Bollywood, character actors are not treated well. They are not even paid well and are treated as second citizens. I would rather be in my territory and rule it.
SM: Let’s elaborate on that. Are you treated as a second citizen? What attracts you to taking on off-beat roles?
MB: I always wanted to play different roles from the day I decided that I want to be an actor. I also know I have a very unconventional face. I mean, I know my limitations, and I also know what I am good at. I am someone who loves to experiment with new genres and roles.
SM: What is your mindset as you prepare for each of your characters?
MB: As an actor, it is very important that I approach each role differently and with focus. I always make sure that I understand the character properly and try to execute it in the best possible way. But it’s not very often that I get to read such roles. The role should challenge my acting skills, and Vikram Bhatt offered me one such role in Lanka.
SM: You do not view characters as black and white but more as living in a grey area. With that, how do you characterize Raavan?
MB: We call them villains of the film. I don’t like playing a negative character, as I don’t believe in it. Grey characters are very close to real life. They are human beings, like any other common man in the world. They have good as well as bad qualities in them, so that’s why we call them grey characters. Grey characters look more real and believable.
SM: Is Lanka another exploration of religion through film?
MB: Raavan was a very religious person, but he was known for imposing his will on others. He was known as a pinnacle of misuse of power. This film is a modern adaptation of Ramayana, and my character is similar to Raavan.
SM: Tell us more about your character. Is your version of Raavan the same as in tales past?
MB: My character in Lanka is inspired from Raavan’s character in the Ramayana. He is wise and he loves his city. He is loving, caring, powerful, and confident of what he wants in life. The only mistake my character makes is he falls in love with someone who doesn’t love him back.
SM: You have claimed some major awards, including Best Actor nods for Satya and Shool, as well as Best Villain in Road and Aks. In light of all that you have done so far, how would you define your film career?
MB: I want people to talk about me and my work, so I try to give my best in whatever I do. My teachers and my parents always taught me not to talk about myself and let others know what you are and let them say good things about you, and I am following that advice.
SM: Your career got off to a start on television with Mahesh Bhatt’s Swabhimaan. Do you see yourself back on the small screen?
MB: I cannot do fiction, as it is very time-consuming; you work on deadlines daily. Maybe I will think of doing a fiction show, if I stop getting films.
SM: If not fiction, what other television opportunities would you consider?
MB: I would love to host a show, if given an opportunity, and I know I will do it well.
Asa Productions' ‘Lanka’ is released on December 9, 2011.