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His astounding performance in Satya as mob henchman Bhiku Mhatre wowed fans the world over. Since then, Manoj Bajpai has been searching for another role to channel his fabulous talent -- with little success.
Bajpai's failed first marriage is common knowledge, but he is intensely guarded on all other aspects of his private life. For many months, he denied a romantic relationship with actress Neha. Recently he has started to discuss it with the press, but even in this matter, he exhibits a wary, self-effacing sobriety at odds with many of his peers' brazen self-promotion.
To Filmfare's charge that he is "an uncharitable boyfriend when it comes to compliments," he replies, "I'm a very difficult person to deal with. I really thank my parents and brothers who lived with me for years. I don't think I was a good son at all. Imagine, I left home and my parents to selfishly become an actor. I never thought of them at all. Similarly I must thank Neha for putting up with all my eccentricities. On second thoughts, I'm not all that bad. I'm just an average guy. Love to me is like a rainbow, it goes through so many emotions. It makes me ecstatic one day, low another." (Filmfare, Sep. 2001)
His attitude regarding Neha is refreshingly devoid of chauvisnism. Excerpted from the Feb. 2002 issue of Cineblitz:
Q: Apparently your friends let you down. You are said to have had a showdown with Mahesh Majrekar and Suniel Shetty over Neha. Apparently, he made a pass at her which got your goat.
A: This is the first time
I am hearing of this! Suniel and Mahesh are my good friends. Mahesh
is a very dignified person while I admire Suniel a lot. Being
a dignified person myself I would go and talk to the person I
bear a personal grudge against, rather than have a fight.
Manoj has a fear of dogs, which made shooting for a scene with wolves in his recent film, Aks, a challenge. "It was nightmarish! I didn't dare touch any of them. But I'm like that -- scared about everything in this world. I don't want to put myself in any kind of danger. I don't insist on doing my stunts, since I don't specialise in them. But yes, I admit I enjoyed myself thoroughly after three days of shooting without my shirt on. The temperature was around, say, minus 3 Celsius in Budapest with these wolves chasing me. Even now, I can't believe I actually did it. But I guess when the director shouts Action!, there's no way out but to act! I managed. I scraped through." (Rediff, Aug. 2000)
actor handles critics' censure of his more recent film ventures
with aplomb: "With due respects, I'm not interested what
a college drop out or some such has to say about my film. Just
because he or she has the pen, doesn't mean they are making a
significant point. Most of today's critics write gossip columns
and reviews in the same page. They can't tell Godard from Fellini
and Adoor Gopalakrishnan from Ashutosh Gowariker.
When asked about his dream role, Manoj replies, "I would love to play Rama. There is a typical look for Rama which I would like to challenge. Fair, with a well worked out, muscular body and an innocent face. I would like to give Rama an ordinary face, like mine. I would like to give him my body. I would like to give Rama a completely new look. I want to prove that a black man can also be sexy...In India, the black man is still not heroic material. He is the ordinary man, the man who everyone can stamp on, jump on, treat badly. I want to show that it is possible to change that image." (Rediff, Mar. 1999)
After the box-office failure of critically acclaimed Shool, Manoj's relationship with Ram Gopal Verma (the director who cast him in Satya and is widely credited for "sponsoring" Manoj into fame) seemed to have cooled. Gossips claimed that Manoj took sides against Verma with old friend Anurag Kashyap, the screenwriter of Verma's Bajpai-starrers. Kashyap allegedly blamed the failure of Shool on Verma's refusal to make certain changes to the film before its release. Verma, in turn, supposedly took revenge for Manoj's defection by ousting Neha from his next film. Manoj, now back in cahoots with the director, denies the rift ever occured: "There was nothing wrong between us but people chose not to believe me despite my telling them so." (Cineblitz, Feb. 2002) Either way, fans of the duo's fabulous films are relieved and eager to see their next production!