Manoj Bajpayee is one of the finest actors the industry has produced. He is often regarded as a method actor as well as a director’s actor. The man has an uncanny ability to portray a lot by doing very little. His acting prowess has truly opened the doors for many others who would never have fit the bill as a conventional lead.
Here’s a look back at some of the best performances of his illustrious career:
14. Special 26 (2013)
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Neeraj Pandey’s cat-and-mouse heist caper is a thrilling ride — well written and acted. Manoj Bajpayee stands tall against star actor Akshay Kumar and holds his own. It would be fair to say he leaves more impact than Kumar himself. Anupam Kher’s performance deserves to be equally lauded.
Watch Special 26 on Amazon
13. Traffic (2016)
Director: Rajesh Pillai
Traffic is like a thriller mind-game. It packs solid performances from Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Shergill, Prosenjit Chatterjee (Bengali film superstar), Parambrata Chatterjee (another Bengali actor from Kahani), Sachin Khedekar, Divya Dutta, Kitu Gidwani and others. Piyush Mishra’s dialogues are icing on the cake. Manoj Bajpayee’s performance exudes helplessness of a typical middle-class man. But he is someone determined to fight it out and survive. His humble roots and background add to the genuineness of a character, who is accused of corruption.
Where to Watch: Hotstar
12. Raajneeti (2010)
Director: Prakash Jha
“Aasmaan mein thookne wale ko shayad yeh pata nhi hai ki palat ke thook unhi ke chehre par giregi.” This dark political drama brought together a fine ensemble of actors. But Bajpayee shines as Veerendra Pratap/ Duryodhan, delivering one of his strongest performances. His portrayal of the many different shades of the character was outstanding.
Watch Rajneeti on Amazon Prime
11. Zubeidaa (2001)
Director: Shyam Benegal
Quite an unusual selection for Manoj Bajpayee, Shyam Benegal’s Zubeidaa is a romantic historical drama. But beneath the seemingly innocent setting is a deep and detailed tale of dreams and aspirations. In stark contrast to his previous roles, Zubeidaa introduced us to a more subdued, tender side of the actor. He really stretched his acting muscles for this role. And the results are out there to see. Yet, Bajpayee makes it seem so effortless and natural.
10. Kaun (1999)
Director: Ram Gopal Verma
Writer-director duo Anurag Kashyap-Ram Gopal Verma’s psychological horror thriller wasn’t a hit per se but has gained immense popularity over the years.
Verma pulled off a Hitchcock-esque thriller reasonably well. Urmila Matondkar was equal parts vulnerable and menacing. The story kept the audiences guessing throughout and no unnecessary songs or romance hindered the screenplay. This, at a time when it was almost criminal to make films without the song-and-dance routine and the usual masala.
Bajpayee plays an annoyingly talkative stranger. I won’t spoil the plot for you guys because the twists and the suspense are the things that have made this movie a cult classic.
Where to Watch: YouTube
9. Pinjar (2003)
Director: Chandraprakash Dwivedi
Set in the backdrop of the partition, Pinjar tells the tale of a Muslim man who abducts a Hindu woman and eventually falls in love with her. Bajpayee as Rashid strikes all the right cords. His transformation from a vengeance-seeking kidnapper to a caring, sensitive husband is striking. The deep love that is displayed through self-sacrifice is akin to the philosophies of selfhood and its destruction. Bajpayee won his second National Award (Special Jury award) for this role.
Watch Pinjar on Amazon Prime
8. Sonchiriya (2019)
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
An extremely powerful story of rebellion, guilt and redemption in the badlands of Chambal in mid 1970s. Real, raw and sweeping in its cinematography, the film is in Bundelkhandi dialect which adds to its authenticity. Manoj Bajpayee is sheer brilliance as Daku Man Singh and Bhumi is a revelation. Bajpayee may not have enjoyed too much screentime in Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya, but makes every little second count. Despite being killed in an early shootout, his haunting performance ensures that his spirit lives on. The rich legacy that he leaves behind becomes the foundation for this blood-tinged morality tale.
Where to Watch: Zee5
7. Shool (1999)
Director: Eeshwar Nivas
While being predictable, Shool boasted of some great performances. In contrast to his popular character from Satya, this film saw Bajpayee don the role of an honest cop. The sincere, diligent portrayal does not push the character into a box of one-dimensional ideals. This justice-seeking attitude earns him an enemy in a dangerous politician. The villain threatens his family and his life. The lone cop takes on the political goon. Will justice prevail?
Watch Shool on Amazon Prime
6. Bhonsle (2018)
Manoj Bajpayee stars as Ganpat Bhonsle, a retired cop who’s struggling to get a service extension. Like in most of his other films, Manoj owns the character and carries the weight of the film on his capable shoulders. He internalizes the character and even gets the demeanor spot-on with the drooping shoulders and slow but steady gait. This measured performance won him several accolades including the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and the prestigious National Film Award for Best Actor.
Where to Watch: SonyLiv
5. The Family Man (2019-present)
Creators: Raj Nidimoru, Krishna D.K.
It’s hard to box Raj and DK’s The Family Man under one genre. It’s an action-packed espionage thriller, a social satire, and a slice-of-life family drama all at the same time. Naturally, this requires Manoj Bajpayee to tap into his definitive performances over the years. Expectedly, Manoj pulls this off with relative ease. He’s terrific as the TASC operative Srikant Tiwari. One particular scene that stood out for me where he calls up his wife, Suchi and wants to pour his heart out but can’t get himself to. He tears up and in one little scene, we’re made aware of the toll this job has taken on him. It takes a lot out of an actor to rehearse and get a 10-minute single-take action sequence right.
In an interview with Film Companion, Manoj revealed that he was exhausted and was about to pass out when the climactic set-piece was being shot. This stunningly shot single-take action sequence features Srikant and Co. trying to stop Raji from flying away with a plane full of explosives. Manoj might be 51 years old in real life, but in reel life, there isn’t the tiniest indicator of that.
Watch The Family Man – Season 1 on Amazon Prime
Watch The Family Man – Season 2 on Amazon Prime
4. Satya (1998)
Director: Ram Gopal Verma
Manoj Baypayee debuted in Bollywood with Droh Kaal in 1994 followed by another brief role in Bandit Queen. But it was Ramgopal Verma’s crime drama Satya that catapulted him to the top tiers of Bollywood fame. His portrayal of Bhiku Mhatre is positively chilling. The iconic dialogue “Mumbai ka King Kaun, Bhiku Mhatre” sums up the character perfectly. The attitude with which Bajpayee plays the character is markedly, flawless. The sheer tour de force of his performance can be assessed by the fact that he got more spotlight for his role than the lead actor. Bajpayee won a National Award for the Best Supporting Actor that year.
Where to Watch: YouTube
3. Gali Guleiyan (2017)
Director: Dipesh Jain
Gali Guleiyan is a psychological drama about a man trapped within the city walls and simultaneously within his own mind. He embarks on a journey in search of some human connection. This movie comes at a time when human interactions and connections are steadily dwindling. Manoj’s portrayal of the character is nothing short of brilliant. His richly nuanced performance — every subtle movement of the eyes and fingers, the shifting expressions — is proof he’s the master of his craft.
2. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
The 5-hour-plus magnum opus is clearly Kashyap’s and one of Bollywood’s best work to-date. The novel-style storytelling deals with themes like political corruption, family legacy, revenge, cultural strife, etc.
The scope and ambition with which Kashyap treats this saga of betrayal and deceit is much subtle and deeper than the usual rise-and-fall arc. Kashyap’s visual acuity sets stage for some of the best set-pieces in this gangster thriller.
Manoj Bajpayee as Sardar Khan is a stroke of casting genius. The many dimensions of the character that were brought to life by its passionate actor allowed Khan to become a living, breathing human.
Watch Gangs of Wasseypur 1 on Amazon Prime
Watch Gangs of Wasseypur 2 on Amazon Prime
1. Aligarh (2016)
Director: Hansal Mehta
Set in the monumental Indian city Aligarh, the film empathetically visualizes the hypocritical treatment meted to Shrinivas Ramachandra Siras by one of nation’s most renowned universities. Aligarh free-floats in a graceful, lyrical way that seeps deep into your conscience to strike a chord. It starts off as a character study, a tale of friendship and gradually evolves to make a powerful social commentary.
It would be an injustice to call Bajpayee’s work ‘acting’. While many mainstream Indian actors want to harvest sympathy for their characters, Bajpayee fosters empathy within us; not just for Siras, but for every societal outcast in the society of hypocrites.
Watch Aligarh on Amazon Prime
Bajpayee has starred in countless other films. And to the surprise of many, perhaps none of them can be called outright ‘bad.’ But all through it, he has prevailed triumphant. He has made genius use of his acting prowess and never tried to stick to a genre or blend in with the mainstream. But besides his inimitable acting skills, his experimental choices set him apart from his contemporaries. And that is what has enticed us, time and again, to revisit his films, hoping to uncover something new each time. He’s defied norms and set his own standards along the way, raising the bar for everyone around. More power to him!
(Additional writing by Shreyas D.S., Arun Kumar)