He loved to cheat and had tonnes of ego because of his acquired strength. But little does the world know that if you study the Mahabharata’s most feared character Duryodhana closely, you’d come to a conclusion that Duryodhana loved death, because he thought that death was not powerful than he was. Does death in the Mahabharata really come before us as a commentary on life? Does it really present the life of its characters in a new light before us? Come June 4, Raajneeti will bring Duryodhana to life and the many other great warriors like Arjuna, Karna, Bheema, etc. And despite all the plaudits, fire still burns inside Manoj Bajpai. The actor who has given Indian cinema the most memorable feared characters on celluloid (Bhikhu Mhatre, Raghavan, etc) is once again playing the ferocious Duryodhana from Mahabharata. Here he tells UK’s Harrow Observer columnist and Bollywood Hungama‘s London correspondent, Devansh Patel, about the eternal battle for perfection in a film that’s going to change the shape of Indian politics for good and a film that shouts the message out loud and clear – Life goes on and that nobody is right. Right said Manoj!
What comes to your mind when I say the word Mahabharata?
‘That nobody is right’, comes to my mind when you say the word Mahabharata. It’s so true to life. It’s a depiction of life which is written in the Mahabharata which all of us fail to realise it. Lord Krishna says that nobody dies. It’s only me who is dying all the time. He says, “I am dharma. You just do your duty and pass out. You are only going to follow the cycle.” That is what I like about the Mahabharata.
So what was that brief narration that Prakash Jha gave you before you said ‘yes’ to Raajneeti?
Prakash Jha doesn’t believe in black and white
Prakash Jha offered me two roles and asked me to choose one. I will not reveal which role because it is done by an actor and he might feel offended. I choose the first one because he was the most vulnerable in the entire unit. He is the person who is actually wrong in the film but he takes the battle so far that he himself doesn’t know how to control it. He is larger than life. He is magnetic and he is unbeatable. He is shrewd. But at the same time, when he crumbles, he crumbles like any other human being. There is so much to Duryodhana that we’ve never explored.
So you play Duryodhana. That’s wicked.
Yes, to our convenience, we always put Duryodhana in the black category because we all are going to see things in white and black. Prakash Jha doesn’t believe in black and white. He thinks that everybody is doing the right thing. Right for themselves and not right to the society.
So why do politicians wear white? To hide their black deeds?
(Laughs) The white has come because of the father of our nation – The great Mahatma Gandhi. White is being used and abused till today like nobody’s business.
Is Raajneeti Bollywood’s best political film to come out?
Raajneeti is one step ahead when it comes to all political films. You will come to know about politics much more in Raajneeti because it is not only coming through the eyes of the director but through the eyes of the director who is also a politician. Prakash Jha has been dealing with politics since ten years and more. Raajneeti is an inside take on what happens in the closed doors of politics.
Will this role of yours be fitted amongst the great roles like Bhikhu Mhatre, Raghavan and many more you’ve done?
(Laughs) I don’t know. But yes, this is so far the most challenging role I’ve ever done in my career. I can only decide for myself but cannot decide for the crores of audience. They will then decide for themselves once they enter the theatre to see Raajneeti. You have so many great actors that in order to make your performance outstanding, you need to tower above them. And believe me, Raajneeti is a towering performance. I am not playing a role, I am playing Duryodhana. He is a towering personality. You have to look vulnerable, charismatic and yet look like a human when you’re playing Duryodhana. This role didn’t require spontaneity; it required craft and a sheer direction from Prakash Jha.
It’s a fantastic look into the unknown side of politics. It’s a film for voters across India
And credit for that goes to the writers: Anjum Rajaballi and Prakash Jha.
You should give them two all the credit in the world. To write a film like Raajneeti isn’t an easy thing and then to direct thousands of people and yet focus on the main characters is quite a task.
How vulnerable and dangerous were you off the sets? Did Duryodhana sink into you like the Joker of Batman?
(Laughs) More than getting into the character, I am very restless. My wife often asks me why I am smiling or why I am mumbling or what did I utter, etc. Yes, I am into my own zone and practising my character. For me, work never ends and I don’t mind saying that I take my work home. Yes, I do. If I don’t take it home, I don’t feel fully satisfied. There is nothing called perfection but there is something called – extending your ability
Will Raajneeti do what Rang De Basanti did for Jessica Lal case?
Raajneeti isn’t just a film. It is a very important take on politics in our contemporary times. It’s a fantastic look into the unknown side of politics. It’s a film for voters across India. You know the person when you vote for him or her but you don’t know what they do inside their closed doors. Raajneeti is a great glimpse of that. This is the kind of politics we need to take a transition and exit from.
Raajneeti isn’t about the evil getting defeated. It’s about ‘Life goes on’.
And does that message come out loud and clear?
It’s too loud and too clear for the entire nation to hear. The message hams (laughs).
Describe Prakash Jha…
Prakash Jha is a visionary. He doesn’t look at anyone with a judgemental eye. He has seen contrast in them and sometimes those contrast castings does wonders. It has done some magical stuff. Ranbir Kapoor is there in the film because from his age group, he is the only one who fits in perfectly. Arjun Rampal is known for his good looks, and that’s how he comes in politics and the kind of politics he believes in. The casting is just apt. Raajneeti is a winner when it comes to casting. Who would’ve ever thought of Nana Patekar as Lord Krishna? You see the film and you’ll know what a great and contrast casting can do.
Raajneeti is a winner when it comes to casting. Who would’ve ever thought of Nana Patekar as Lord Krishna?
So tell us, who’s who in Raajneeti?
As I said, Nana Patekar is playing Lord Krishna, Arjun Rampal is playing Bheem, Ranbir Kapoor is playing Arjuna, Ajay Devgn is playing Karna, Katrina Kaif is playing Draupadi and I play Duryodhana. The main conflict of these characters is taken and put into our modern day politics.
What do you take back from a film like Raajneeti?
What I take back is – Life goes on. Raajneeti isn’t about the evil getting defeated. It’s about ‘Life goes on’.
Ok, one word to describe all.
Prakash Jha – Visionary
Arjun Rampal – Businessman
Nana Patekar – Brotherly
Ajay Devgn – Secure
Katrina Kaif – Hardworking
Ranbir Kapoor – Naughty
Manoj Bajpai – Restless