A-lister Manoj Bajpayee, one of the few Indian actors who scores critical acclaim and commercial success in equal measure, has notched up another triumph with ZEE5 Global film “Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai.”
Directed by Apoorv Singh Karki (Prime Video series “Flames”) and written by Deepak Kingrani (Disney+ Hotstar series “Special OPS”), the film is a courtroom drama based on the real-life case of a once-revered and powerful Indian religious leader who is currently serving a life term in jail for the rape of an underage girl. Bajpayee plays the prosecuting lawyer who is pitted against a phalanx of celebrity lawyers.
“Usually what happens is that, you spend some time with the real person. Somewhere, I realized it’s a two-hour film, you have to have your own preparation away from the real guy, who is somebody who’s not even known to the world. And he’s achieved a feat in five years of continuous court hearings that is remarkable,” Bajpayee told Variety. “Instead of just creating or imitating a real person, let’s have the essence of him – the relentlessness and the courage and somebody who is stubborn about what he’s doing, completely focused, and he’s a good son, good father. I wanted to take all of it and make a character of my own and take a little bit of his physicality when I got to meet him before the shoot – I think it worked.”
What Bajpayee found the most strenuous was understanding the legal jargon and then interpreting it in a way that a lay audience would understand. Courtroom dramas are unavoidably verbose, the actor said and excelling in scenes where he is mostly uttering technical legal terms was the challenge.
“To make the character work, he has to be consistent, it should not leave realism at all. It cannot at any cost, just because it’s a two-hour drama film, it has to be real. And as a character, and even if he’s arguing in the court, it should be very real and should have that kind of an edge when people are watching it,” Bajpayee said.
Another challenge was a seven-page monologue that the director wanted to shoot in a single take. Bajpayee says that after the 150th time he read the pages, he stopped counting and once he’d memorized it, he’d catch hold of anyone and begin practising the monologue on that person. “By God’s grace, the first shot, first take, it was okay,” Bajpayee said. “You can achieve all of these things, if you really put your mind into it, put your focus into it.”
On the underlying themes of “Bandaa,” Bajpayee said, “You can’t trust your child even with your brother in a room where there is no monitoring happening, and there’s no female member there. So, we are talking about all of that, we are talking about child safety, we’re talking about how a family is also responsible in all of this because in 95% of cases, most of the predators were known to the family. So that means as parents we failed, we took it for granted.”
“It is an eye opener that way and our focus is mostly on the security and safety and protection of the child, which is an issue which is very close to my heart – always been,” Bajpayee added.
Bajpayee has won several acting awards including best actor at the Asia Pacific Screen awards for “Aligarh” and “Bhonsle.” The latter film, for which he also won best actor at India’s national film awards, is directed by Devashish Makhija, with whom he reunited on “Joram,” which bowed at Rotterdam this year and will next be at Sydney.
“It’s a world that people have not experienced before. It’s a conflict that people don’t talk about anymore, a socio-environmental conflict,” Bajpayee said about “Joram.” “And he’s [Makhija] weaved the story so well. Really proud of him. He’s been remarkable with all the things that I have done with him.”
The busy actor is having a stellar year, having starred in Disney+ Hotstar film “Gulmohar” earlier this year. He has Abhishek Chaubey’s Netflix comedy-drama-thriller series “Soup” that is due in September or October and “Pahadon Mein,” the sophomore feature from Raam Reddy, who debuted with Locarno, Shanghai and Palm Springs winner “Thithi.”
Bajpayee is also the lead in journalism thriller “Despatch” by Kanu Behl who’s previous film “Agra” premieres at Cannes this year. “‘Despatch’ has been a great experience in many ways. Kanu is one of a kind – he’s not for the weak-hearted. He’s a taskmaster,” Bajpayee said. “He doesn’t get bothered by anything that is happening on the set. This is what I loved about him and the learnings that I’ve had from the workshops or through the shooting process. Yes, it was strenuous, excruciatingly hard. But, when I saw a few of the shots, I was dazed completely. He only warms up after 15 takes. So, you can imagine the grind that I’ve gone through. But in the end, when you respect and trust a director of that caliber, everything becomes easy. In the end, we managed to make a very good, fascinating, intriguing film. And this is going to be a totally different cinematic experience for the viewers.”
And, as for what is Bajpayee’s arguably most popular work to date, Prime Video’s spy thriller “The Family Man,” a third season will commence production imminently. “All the commitments and understandings are in place. And now we are waiting for the contracts to start going to and fro. We are hoping that we’ll start shooting November onwards,” Bajpayee said.
“Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai” is streaming now on ZEE5 Global.