Manoj Bajpai has been on a roll this year. He’s enjoyed commercial success in Baaghi 2 and Satyamev Jayate and is now looking forward to his next releases, Love Sonia (where he is seen in a special appearance) and Gali Guleiyan which releases on September 7.

In an informal chat, he tells us about his success, the dark characters he plays and treading the balance between commercial and art house cinema…

Your role in the psychological drama Gali Guleiyan is said to be the darkest you have played till now. It’s the story of a man called Khuddus (Bajpai) trapped within a city’s walls.  
When you are doing a film like Gali Guleiyan, it is the most complex and complicated role that any actor could get and that is where you are tested and pushed to the brink of breakdown. Khuddus will scare you because of the manner he operates or behaves. He is mentally disturbed and always searching for something. To mentally prepare for such a character takes you to a zone where you may break down and I was on the brink of it. I kept on looking for help on the set from my director Dipesh Jain. I wanted him to wrap up shoot on the 28th day because I felt I would break down any time.

How do you switch on and off from such dark, edgy characters?
It's easier for me to play good characters like I did in SJ as the process is simple. I don’t know how you define dark but for me, dark is something where the mind is not stable. It creates too many thoughts and ideas which are clashing with each other as my character is doing in Gali Guleiyan.  Khuddus never gave me time to switch off. I find it hard to switch off from my all my characters. I think no actor can switch off without getting out of that dark zone as you end up losing the graph and consistency of the character. I stopped taking my characters home but they always came back with me… They either kept me alive like Aligarh or completely destroyed me as Gali Guleiyan has done.”

With Gali Guleiyan, Satyamev Jayate and Baaghi 2 you are finally getting the accolades and recognition you deserve. Did you know SJ would be such a hit?
When you are doing a massy, commercial, high-voltage drama with a John Abraham whose success ratio is so good, producers like Nikhil Advani and Bhushan Kumar who are on top of their game and who watch out for your back and a director like Milap Zaveri who is known for these high-voltage dialogues - you know somewhere you are in the right hands because they know their jobs. But I have to admit I was an outsider in the entire group so they harassed me, pulled my leg for it and made fun of me. Milap never listened to me (laughs) but when you know that the wolves are ganging up you have to surrender.

Are you on a high because of the accolades? 
Yes, I am happily accepting the accolades because all the success that I get from Baaghi 2 and Satyamev Jayate, I channel them into my independent cinema. For me, such successes are not opportunities to make a lot of money but a great backbone and strength to go ahead and do some more independent cinema and find more backers in the market. My two productions, Missing and Bhonsle are there. Missing is on Amazon and trending every day while Bhonsle is going for all the film festivals. I am taking baby steps in producing as I really want to support these films and new directors who have immense talent to offer and the capacity to change the grammar.

That’s unusual because most producers want to make money in their first film.
These are independent, small budget movies so the risk is very less and recovery is fast. If you put your mind wisely and market your film, you can recover your investment. Gali Guleiyan has gone to 23 international film festivals. The journey is still on and we are still getting invites from all the biggest festivals all over the world. The film and I have got so many awards and now we are getting it for our viewers. The first trailer that we released online has gone viral, with distributors and exhibitors showing a lot of interest and people responding so well that. I feel it’s a miracle happening in my life at this point in time.

But good work that is done with sincerity always pays off…
Students who come to my workshops tell me that they would like to be in my shoes but I say, please don’t ask for my shoes because there is a long journey and a battle hidden inside. I take acting workshops everywhere – whether in Delhi or if Mukesh Chhabra has new talent coming to his studio and he requests me to go and conduct some workshops and sometimes even individual talents come to me and want me to spend some time with them. I love to share my experience and pushing them to work hard and take this craft really seriously.

You have been dedicated to your craft (acting) in spite of some years of struggle.
You have to. Once you set out on a journey you know one thing – that it’s not going to be smooth. The biggest test is to stick to your conviction and keep moving on. It is very tough and easier said than done, there is too much misery, too many sleepless nights, too many questions that you don’t want to answer and too many cameras moving away from you. It’s not easy but yes, you have to be as stubborn or obstinate as me to stick on. God has been kind since few years. What I am very happy about is that slowly and gradually I have been able to create a body of work which I will be known for which for me that is my achievement.