Manoj Bajpayee is best remembered for his character roles, be it Bhiku Mhatre from Satya or Ramchandra Siras from Aligarh. The National Film Award-winning actor is mostly seen playing supporting roles, each of which has been as substantial as the lead. Some of his most notable performances were seen in movies like Shool, Pinjar, LOC Kargil, Raajneeti, Special 26, and Aligarh to name a few. Cited as one of the industry’s most effortless yet impactful actor, Manoj is said to have opened the doors for other method actors in Bollywood.
Son of a farmer and his wife, Manoj Bajpayee was born in Belwa, a small village in West Champaran, Bihar. Although his father found it very difficult to provide funds for his education, Manoj, second of the five siblings, studied in a small-scale school in his village, which was in a hut, till the fourth standard. Upon completing his schooling from Khrist Raja High School in Bettiah, Bajpayee studied at Maharani Janaki College in Bettiah till his twelfth grade. He then moved to Delhi where he attended Satyawati College and went on to graduate from Ramjas College, Delhi University.
Having a keen interest in acting since his childhood, Bajpayee attempted to join National School of Drama thrice, all of the times he was rejected. Dejected, he even considered committing suicide but was introduced to Barry John’s acting school by a friend. Impressed by Manoj’s work, John decided to make him his teaching assistant. He then applied to join NSD for the fourth, where he asked to be a part of the organization in the capacity of a teacher.
Before making his acting debut, Manoj was married to a girl in Delhi. However, the two got divorced during his struggling days. In 1998, four years after his Bollywood debut, he met Shabana Raza, a Bollywood actress known by her stage name Neha. The two got married in 2006 and became parents to their daughter Ava Nayla in 2011.
Having trained under Barry John, Bajpayee made his screen debut with a one-minute-long role in Govind Nihalani’s crime drama Drohkaal in 1994. The same year, he made his debut with Shekhar Kapur’s biographical drama Bandit Queen, where he played the role of dacoit Mann Singh. He was, however, considered to play the lead role opposite Seema Biswas in the National Film Award-winning movie, but the role was eventually played by Nirmal Pandey. He was then signed by Mahesh Bhatt to play supporting roles in his directorial ventures Dastak and Tamanna before Ram Gopal Verma offered him the role of Bhiku Mhatre in the crime film Satya in 1998. His performance in Satya is considered one his most memorable work, winning him a National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor and Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor.
He then collaborated with Ram Gopal Verma for the 1999 psychological thriller Kaun alongside Urmila Matondkar, which failed at the box office, and the action crime drama Shool opposite Raveena Tandon. His portrayal of an honest police officer in a crime-stricken Bihar in Shool, won him the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor. Next, he was seen in the 2001 supernatural thriller Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Aks, which although was a commercial failure went on to receive critical acclaim. Manoj’s portrayal of Raghavan Ghatge in the movie won him a Filmfare Award nomination for Best Performance in a Negative Role. Receiving a National Film Award – Special Jury Award / Special Mention for his performance in the period drama Pinjar, Manoj portrayed the role of Rashid in the movie set during the partition of India. Highlighting the Hindu-Muslim issues, the movie co-starred Urmila Matondkar and Sanjay Suri in pivotal roles.
Yet again winning a Filmfare Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Manoj was seen in the 2003 war film LOC Kargil, which was based on the Kargil War fought between India and Pakistan in 1999. He was seen in movies playing significant supporting roles in Veer-Zaara, Fareb, Dus Kahaniyaan, and Vedam before being cast alongside Ranbir Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn and Arjun Rampal in the political thriller Raajneeti. Playing the role of Veerendra Pratap in the movie loosely based on the mythology Mahabharata, the actor was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Actor. His most memorable role in recent times is that of Sardar Khan’s from Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur. His role of a gangster seeking revenge for his father’s death is considered to be one of his most negative characters. The movie went on to become a commercial success, receiving positive reviews internationally.
Starring alongside Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill, and Divya Dutta, Manoj was seen in the 2013 heist crime thriller Special 26, which is inspired from the 1987 Opera House heist, where a group of men posed as CBI officers and executed an income tax raid at a jewelry store, stealing most of its money and precious stones. The movie became a critical success and was considered to be the best movie of the year. Next, he was seen in the biographical drama Aligarh, which explored the real-life story of Prof. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who sacked from his job after the faculty of Aligarh Muslim University find out that he is homosexual. With Rajkummar Rao cast alongside him, Bajpayee’s performance won him the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor.
In 2017, the method actor was signed to play the role of Ranvir Singh in the action spy-thriller Naam Shabana, which is a spin-off from the 2015 movie Baby. The movie explores the journey of Shabana Khan, portrayed by Taapsee Pannu, into becoming a spy. With the third installment in the Sarkar series, Bajpayee was cast alongside Amitabh Bachchan, Amit Sadh, and Yami Gautam in Sarkar 3. Reuniting with his Gangs of Wasseypur co-star Richa Chadda, Manoj was seen in the 2017 drama Love Sonia, which explores the story of a young village girl, who finds herself amidst the vicious network of global sex trafficking.
Before making his movie debut, Manoj had already made his television debut in 1993 Doordarshan’s drama series Shikast alongside Shammi Kapoor, Kitu Gidwani, and Ashutosh Rana, with Naseeruddin Shah being the narrator. Next, he appeared in Hansal Mehta’s Kalakaar, and in DD National’s serial titled Imtihaan, which co-starred Alok Nath, Renuka Shahane, Raju Kher, Firdaus Dadi, Ninad Kamat, and Sachin Khedekar and was directed by the then novice Imtiaz Ali. Among his other television appearances have been on the shows Hum Bambai Nahin Jayenge, Kurukshetra, Swabhimaan, and Badalte Rishte.