Manoj Bajpayee says the film industry’s nepotistic culture will change only when established people work towards making Bollywood a more inclusive place for new talents.
Bajpayee believes the structural shift that everyone in the industry wants to see will begin once the powerful abolish the “insider-outsider” divide.
The debate around outsiders finding it hard to move up in the industry is back in the discourse after the tragic death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14.
Bajpayee, an outsider himself, said it was the responsibility of everyone in the industry to make the film industry a “fraternity”.
“The whole functioning of the industry, nepotism has been in the debate for few years now. It’ll change only if each and every individual who is positioned well, who is established and powerful starts making efforts to make it healthy and democratic for all the talented people who are coming in.
“This whole term ‘insider-outsider’ should vanish immediately. It isn’t the right way to define the industry. We will have to work very hard to turn this industry into a fraternity where each and everyone is welcomed,” Bajpayee told PTI.
Like Rajput, Bajpayee made his way to Bollywood from Bihar, getting his break with Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen in 1994 and bursting onto the scene four years later with Ram Gopal Varma’s cult, Satya.
The National Award-winner has seen tremendous acclaim in his career with films like Shool in 1999, Anurag Kashyap’s 2012 gangster drama Gangs of Wasseypur and Hansal Mehta’s poignant Aligarh.
He has also featured in mainstream affairs like Akshay Kumar starrer Special 26, Milap Zaveri’s Satyameva Jayate and Baaghi 2.
Yet, it’s his unconventional choices that have made him stand out as an inspiration for outsiders who came after him.
When asked if the industry still reminds him of his outsider roots despite him owning a space for himself over all these years, Bajpayee said he never felt it.
“Maybe because they know you can’t mess with me! I don’t know but I never felt it. I don’t think in anyway anyone tries to remind me that I’m an outsider. They must be thinking that but never let me know.”
The 51-year-old actor observed that the slotting and division of people as insider-outsider started about two decades ago.
“Only in the last 15-20 years, some people started talking about it within their gangs, lobbies and started dividing the industry. I never felt that because I never looked for validation from anywhere else. I wanted to achieve what I wanted to achieve. I pushed my way through.”
What Bajpayee did face was undercurrents of projected insecurities of the established, who felt threatened by him.
The actor said he battled the inner politics and “discrimination”, which isn’t necessarily film industry-specific.
“When you come in the industry and start getting noticed, there are always people who think you’re a threat to their position or you suddenly may come into the competition. This is the kind of politics and competitiveness which happen in every industry. I don’t mind it.”
Bajpayee said he remained unfazed by how people perceived him.
“You have to work your way through. I never shied away from having that kind of competition. Everyone feels discriminated, I don’t mind it. As long as your resolve, your goal is clear, you can go on chasing that without caring about any kind of competition and ill feelings towards you.”
The actor is now gearing up for the release of his film Bhonsle, set to stream Sony LIV from June 26.
Directed by Devashish Makhija, the feature narrates the story of a police constable (Bajpayee), who tries to help migrants fight against local politicians.
Bhonsle, which premiered at Busan International Film Festival in 2018, travelled to several festivals and also bagged Bajpayee his second best actor trophy at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards after Aligarh in 2016.
Bajpayee said it took more than four years for the film to be made, and the decision to travel to festivals was in the hope to generate buzz for the independent movie.
“We decided to take it many film festivals to gain credibility because independent films don’t have many mentors here, they don’t find distributors and exhibitors easily. It was better for the film to keep travelling to festivals, be in the news, so that someone somewhere gets interested.
“In the end, it was quite a tumultuous task to sell the film to a corporate house which could mentor and distribute it. So we decided to release it ourselves in March-April but then the lockdown happened and Sony LIV came as a blessing to us.”
The Family Man star hopes the film finds its audience.
“I hope and I’m sure the journey we started five years ago proves worthwhile in the end. We are very hopeful that Bhonsle is going to leave a mark with the audience,” he added.
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