Its five minutes into Acid Factory before it dawns on me that I've seen this psycho somewhere. Oh yes, he played one in Aks and Road too. Before that, he did play a bit of it in Satya too, though it was a compressed version. But he's also Manoj Bajpai, although it takes another five minutes before I accept that this must be true. Yes, it was meant to be. He ain't a pretty boy with a sardonic smile; he ain't a pin-up either. He is just a guy who only knows how to act. He has an edge and a magnetic charm that attracts directors so that they can cast him and every time he is cast, he gives a performance of his life. We meet a man with a heart of steel. The only difference is, it doesn't pump blood, it pumps acting.
Is Acid Factory all about style and no substance?
What makes you think that? It's a very unique story with a unique plot. Yes, action is a part of it and style is an integral part of it because you can't do away with it when you're working for a White Feather Film Production. And yes, they present all their male and female actors very beautifully. Acid Factory is a Cape Town classic.
Can we relate to any of the characters in the film? Today's cinema needs to be believable. Don't you think so?
I think you've got it all wrong. If the story is good, executed and performed beautifully. Each and every department falls in place. If the story doesn't work, your actors don't work; then what's the point in having a film that is realistic and makes you believe in. I mean, there is nothing to believe. So many films after Satya wanted to capture the essence of Mumbai, but they all failed miserably. So you have to be sincere to your script and everything starts falling in place.
You've worked with risk takers like Ram Gopal Varma in Satya, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra in Aks, you've worked on Shool, Road and now Acid Factory and Rajneeti.
Satya happened and people loved it. It became successful because the story was narrated beautifully. Not only that, for the first time people were watching the dons of Mumbai walking and talking realistically. Satya also happened because Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen happened. So Ramu was quite inspired by it. He wanted to make a similar kind of film on the underworld. Thus Anurag Kashyap happened to the film, Saurabh Shukla happened to the film, Allan Amin came into the film. So many new talents came into the film that all wanted to prove themselves and wanted to kill it in the first go itself. The risk paid off and after Satya I kept on looking for the risk takers and challengers.
So that was your focus?
Yes. My focus was never to look for a hit film but for a director or a story which was saying something new and giving something new to the industry. Like Aks, Zubeida, Pinjar and Road. Ramu, Rakeysh, Suparn Verma, Prakash Jha, etc inspire me. All these films and directors can be termed as 'classics' and I hope all the films released in the 1990's like Satya and Aks and all get a re-release in the multiplexes.
But this is a different era. How has it changed from an acting point of view for you?
As an actor, my focus has never changed. I'm doing Rajneeti with Prakash Jha. From no angle you can say that it is the first political film coming out of Bollywood. Suparn's Acid Factory happens in one factory. The whole film is shot in a factory. There are some flashbacks but most of the happenings are inside the factory like Ramu's Kaun. Suparn is experimenting in his own way with this film. Even Madhur Bhandarkar in Jail has experimented a lot with my role and the film.
I'm sure you must've made some mistakes too?
Yes I have and I wouldn't like to name the films nor the directors. I admit that those were my choices and I went wrong somewhere. But there are very few films which went wrong and that is good.
Do you learn the good from the bad?
You never learn anything in life and that's my theory. You encounter the same second chances in different disguise. The film is the same but it has a different form all together. It may be bad but may turn up good for you.
Can we make an effort to educate the audiences to accept different cinema than the usual rom-coms?
You can't expect Sanjay Gupta to make a Vicky Cristina Barcelona. In the same way you cannot educate the audiences to accept different cinema. They will go and watch what they like. We are experimenting on many fronts today. Acid Factory is doing the same. It is breaking its own barriers. Actors are breaking it too. You're in for a shock when you see Dino Morea performing the scenes. You are in for a shock when you see a new and an inspired Dia Mirza, you see Fardeen Khan walking in a way that may appeal to you. I'm not making this statement because I'm a part of it but because I've seen the film.
Do you make an effort to surpass your previous best?
I don't think I can surpass my performances. I am not brilliant. Yes, I pat my back and encourage my wife to appreciate my work but when you are getting an offer to perform something new, it's a whole new script, a new damn character and it'll rip your a** apart. That's the time you start questioning your own ability, you start having sleepless nights and you start getting insecure. I feel that success hasn't got into my head.
What do you have to say about the media today? Free marketing, isn't it?
Actually, media is offering themselves to be used today. They've never offered so much before. Not during Satya, not during my other films. They are offering themselves to be manipulated by big banners for their own films. But there is something good about the media too.
What is that?
I still remember one Hindi newspaper wanted me to travel to Lucknow and Kanpur for a special screening of Satya. I was supposed to be present there as they were offering themselves as the sponsors for that screening. Ramu thought that it's a bulls*** thing. I thought it's a great idea. So I carried my own film to Lucknow and Kanpur, used to stand inside the projector room, monitor the loading and the unloading and then I used to go to the audience and talk with them about the film. Then I went to Patna too. I travelled all alone because Ramu wasn't aware of such an exercise as he did not believe in it.
You like giving names to your characters too, don't you?
Yes I do but who told you that? I love names. I love to give some relevant names to my characters. Each and every name has to have some reason. I have given the name 'Mhatre' to 'Bhiku'. 'Bhiku' was Ramu's choice and 'Mhatre' was my choice. Samar Pratap Singh of Shool was my choice too. I proudly say this. I've also given the name to my character in Kaun. Though his name is only pronounced once in the film. I gave the name 'Sameer' because he is like a wind. He comes from somewhere and he wants to blow inside. He is trying to find his way inside.
Is Sanjay Gupta too intelligent a film maker?
I've realised one thing. Nobody takes Sanjay Gupta's intelligence seriously. This man is a well read person, a well informed person and knows exactly what he is making. He is someone who is interested in poetry and English literature. Ram Gopal Varma only reads newspaper and according to me he is a fantastic film maker. Shekhar Kapur does not read novels but he makes some path breaking films. You have to have a cinematic emotional intelligence to be able to become a great creative personality.
And you too join the brigade of people who don't attend Award functions.
Yes, I do. I love to attend those award functions because there is a film fraternity going to be there. You get to meet all of them and celebrate with them. They applaud for you too. But all these Awards have become a complete hoax. They have become an event management. It's a function where somebody is getting some award which is going to be forgotten one hour after the event gets over. That's the significance today.