Ah, I love the sight of this picture and sound of this gratifying news. Manoj Bajpayee receives Padmashri Award for his contribution in Art (Cinema).
On this occasion, I time-travel back to the late 90s and reminisce his powerful and promising performance in Satya as Bhikhu Mahatre – A role and film I couldn’t appreciate back then for obvious reasons. In retrospect, Bhikhu happens to be the impetus of what has transpired into a legend today.
While actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and others from the parallel cinema have found their niche, Manoj Bajpayee has been profoundly versatile throughout his career and has delivered performances of contrasting characters with absolute perfection.
Here’s my unsolicited list of the best characters played by Manoj Bajpayee (IMO) – A trifle tribute to who I consider one of the best actors in Indian Cinema ever –
1. Bhikhu Mahatre – Satya 
If I am to pick a character by Manoj Bajpayee that will be enamored even after 100 years from now, it certainly has to be Bhikhu Mahatre. A well-written and idiosyncratically crafted local don character who is perfectly ingrained with the qualities of a ruthless shooter and an endearing family man – praises to Anurag Kashyap for the portrait but hats off to the eminent actor for performing it and thriving on “make-believe”.
2. Sameer Purnavale – Kaun 
Sameer is by far one of the most creepy characters ever written in Indian Cinema. I remember watching this film at a tender age of 11 years, and the character had occupied my mind for a long time. What is so strangely disturbing about Sameer is that he happens to appear normal at the very first countenance, but as the narrative proceeds, he acquires weird attributes. Just like the film, the actor’s performance in Kaun as Sameer is a bit overshadowed by his other more flamboyant roles.
3. Maharaja Vijayendra Singh – Zubeidaa 
I remember reading Manoj Bajpayee’s filmfare interview a few years ago, wherein he mentioned that he was being patronized by a film critic who said, “You don’t look like a prince”, and he was deeply offended. Today, Zubeidaa is hailed as one of the best movies of his career. Enacting the class and royalty and adding extra embellishment to the character with his unlikely charm, the actor seemed to have stolen the show from the titular character played by Karishma Kapoor.
4. Raghavan Ghatge – Aks 
An aptly cringeworthy character designed to give creeps to the audience and successfully so when played by Manoj Bajpayee, Raghavan would go on to spawn Nawazuddin Siddique who emulated the peculiar laughing style in his role as Shiv Gajra in the 2014 movie Kick. Raghavan is unarguably the most horrific character played by the actor.
5. Yogendra Singh Yadav – LoC Kargil 
Yogendra Singh Yadav, PVC is a Kargil War hero who had a great contribution to the victory in the battle of Tiger Hill. But my reverence for the real life character is not the reason I include the reel life character in this list. Yadavji, as played by Manoj Sir happens to be an ever happy Army Jawaan that every Army person can relate to. The scenes depicting his camaraderie with his counterfeit Yadavji and a retained jovial vibe amid the chaos make the character even more lovable and charming. What’s so special about the character is that it has been played with sensitivity and the actor brings all the nuances of playing an Army Man on the screen.
6. Veerendra Pratap Singh – Rajneeti 
Rajneeti is one of my favorite films on politics and in my opinion, the film belonged to Manoj Bajpayee as much as it belonged to Ajay Devgnn and Ranbir Kapoor. The actors impeccable dialogue delivery can observed in his role as Veerendra who happens to be the contemporary counterfeit of Duryodhan from the mythological epic Mahabharata. His “Karaara Jawaab Milega” reverberates in my mind while I write this.
7. Sardar Khan – Gangs of Wasseypur – I 
Playing one of the most loved gangster in Indian Cinema, Manoj Bajpayee gets into the skin of the character called Sardar Khan in this Wasseypur vengeance saga. The character depicted no trace of performance whatsoever. The parlance is flawless and the mannerisms are brilliantly portrayed. What’s so great about Sardar Khan is that even though he has all the abominable qualities, he bears a likeability factor throughout the film owing to his sarcasm and intermittent emergence of quirky gags.
8. Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras – Aligarh 
This is one of the most praiseworthy performances by Manoj Bajpayee, especially because of the way he could depict the melancholy and loneliness of being Dr. Shrinivas. Had it not been for this actor, this character and the film couldn’t have transpired into a masterpiece. The best thing about the character portrayal is the fact that the act was subdued and never really attempted to preach a message on 377, notwithstanding the fact that it was self-explanatory.
Writing about Manoj Bajpayee and documenting his best characters can be a thankless task, because there will always be a scope for quoting more characters and moments enacted by him. So, this list is not exhaustive and it cannot be so.
In his career that spans over 25 years now, he has been a victim of inconsistent film choices, but only until he emerges out to be warrior in his next role…
On this note, I would like to congratulate and send good wishes to Manoj Sir for the well-deserved Padmashri….
Feel free to add names of other character that the actor has aced.