Actor Manoj Bajpayee says he can pen a book on the hurdles he has faced in trying to get a good theatrical release for the many independent films he has championed in his career.
The 54-year-old actor, whose latest release is the much-acclaimed survival drama ‘Joram’, said he has often felt ‘powerless’ in trying to get his films such as ‘1971’, ‘Budhia Singh – Born to Run’, ‘Gali Guliyan’, and ‘Bhonsle’ a good release window.
“I’m too proud of all those films that I’ve done. They have made my filmography look so rich, and have helped me evolve as an actor and as a person. But the struggle is something that one can’t forget, and it is deadly,” the three-time National award-winning actor told PTI in an interview.
“You can’t fight with exhibitors, you are a powerless person standing helpless in that situation. I can write a book on all these experiences... ,” he added.
Recalling the problems he encountered during the release of ‘Budhia Singh...’, Bajpayee said he ‘ran pillar to post’ to get decent timings in theatres but without much success.
“We got two-three shows in a day and the word of mouth started increasing. In the next week, when we thought that now the audience is coming and increasing, the main shows were given to the big film,” he said.
There is no guarantee that if a film has done well internationally, it will find a similar acceptance in theatres in India, Bajpayee said.
“I started losing interest in being in international festivals because you are being celebrated, people are watching and talking about it and you are put on a pedestal but the next flight that you are taking home, you know the reality out there. When the plane is landing in Mumbai, you know what kind of struggle is lying ahead for you.”
The actor said he is often the person who speaks to the distributors and exhibitors for an independent film to get showcased in a good time slot, a tedious process that, according to him, is ‘a dent on your self-respect’.
Bajpayee said while he may not be a distribution expert, morning shows are not suitable for small budget off-beat films.
“I want a fair deal, a little bit of a share so that my film can get that small amount of respect in the theatre. That’s the struggle film after film and in the end, you are human, you start losing hope,” he added.
Bajpayee is hopeful that with the Zee Studios backing ‘Joram’, the film, which had a long run at festivals, including the Busan International Film Festival, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, will have a different fate.
“What has changed (now) is Zee Studios (producer) is going to theatres with ‘Joram’ with a lot of confidence. This has not happened before. They have all the money and power, also they are a corporate house,” Bajpayee said.
Written and directed by Devashish Makhija, the film features the actor in the role of a father, who is on the run with his baby girl across half the country to safeguard her fate from the ‘ghosts of his past and the forces that want him dead at any cost’.
Bajpayee said he always enjoyed working with Makhija because they both have a good understanding of each other’s sensitivities. The two have worked together on ‘Bhonsle’ and short film, ‘Tandav’.
“We hardly speak to each other. We do a lot of talking before the prep starts, then he leaves with me with all his notes and vision. After that, he trusts me that I’ll go through it again and again, and prepare for it. With three films, we have seen our mood, understood each other that we don’t need to say things.”
But it was not easy to shoot the film with a toddler, especially the climax scene, which is set in an iron ore mine in Jharkhand.
“With a baby, it’s a huge responsibility. In one shot, I had to fall with the baby. In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Where should I fall so that she is not hurt because she is so fragile. She is three-months-old, plus the performance, plus the fall’,” he said.
Actors Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Rajshri Deshpande, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Smita Tambe, round out the cast of ‘Joram’.
A collaboration between Zee Studios and Makhijafilm, the film is produced by Shariq Patel, Ashima Avasthi Chaudhuri, Anupama Bose, and Makhija.