Manoj Bajpayee plays Assistant Commissioner of Police Avinash Verma, a “lonely cop who is very good at his job”, in Aban Bharucha Deohans’s murder mystery Silence… Can You Hear It? When the daughter of a retired judge is found dead in Mumbai, Verma is brought in to crack the case.
“Avinash lives alone, while his separated wife lives with their daughter abroad,” Bajpayee told Scroll.in. “His only wish in life is have his daughter live with him. The film looks at how this man deals with the whole investigation, and how murder investigations work in general.”
The supporting cast includes Prachi Desai as Verma’s junior investigating officer and Arjun Mathur as a rising politician and one of the suspects.
“Prachi’s character is the only woman in the team and she looks up to Verma,” Bajpayee explained. “There is no love angle, romance, senior-junior issue here. We see how this girl is balancing the whole investigation. Arjun’s character is just starting out in politics and this murder happens in his family. He is a suave, English-speaking politician from a good family, and he is trying to get out of this mess.” The Zee5 original film will be out on March 26.
Aban Bharucha Deohans is an old hand at television commercials. The wife of cinematographer Kiran Deohans, who shot Aks (2001), which starred Bajpayee, she has been friends with the actor for almost 20 years.
“Aban is someone who has been fascinated with murder mysteries all her life,” Bajpayee said. “I have worked with many first-time filmmakers like E Niwas, Rajat Mukherjee, Rakeysh Mehra, Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Dipesh Jain. With Aban, I never felt that she was a first-time filmmaker. She came prepared with her storyboards and sketches.”
This is also the first time Bajpayee has worked with a female filmmaker. “It goes without saying that women directors are more sensitive and have an eye for nuances male directors will miss,” Bajpayee noted. “Especially, in matters of relationship, women are more sensitive than men.”
Bajpayee has fond memories of shooting Aks, which starred him as a serial killer who is chased by a cop played by Amitabh Bachchan. “Anurag Kashyap introduced me to Rakeysh Mehra, and I remember going to Amitabh Bachchan’s house, sitting by his side, doing the script reading, and I was simply awestruck seeing myself there in the house of someone whom I had grown up admiring all my life,” the actor recalled.
Films aside, the Bihar-born Bajpayee charmed the internet with his rapping skills in September. The Anurag Saikia-composed Bambai Main Ka Ba, about Bihari migrants in Mumbai, featured the 51-year-old actor in the music video.
Bajpayee explained how his experiences as a migrant have honed his craft: “By default, being an outsider is a great position to be in, because you are always looking at your world from the outside. Since you are internally and externally not attaching yourself, and since you feel you don’t belong here, you are in the perfect position to observe each and every nuance of your city and your life by default.”
A poster of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro in one of his finest roles, hung on the wall in Bajpayee’s study as he spoke over Zoom. “The film left an indelible mark on me because of how it dealt with loneliness in a big city, and not to mention, I can never forget De Niro’s eyes in the movie,” Bajpayee said. “Those lonely eyes. It’s very difficult to have such eyes unless you had entered your character long before shooting began.”
Does he yearn to be an insider in Bollywood?
“This insider-outsider issue is a recent one that’s only 15 to 20 years old,” Bajpayee observed. “When I joined the industry, anybody making a living out of films was part of the industry. The industry belongs to anyone who works here irrespective of their origins. Now, this debate was certainly not started by those coming from villages and small towns as they are already too intimidated in the big city. So who brought this divide? That’s the villain of the piece.”
Bajpayee is currently shooting for Kanu Behl’s film Despatch. Also under production is Rensil D’Silva’s thriller Dial 100, which unfolds over one night and stars Bajpayee as an operator in a police control room. Plus, a one-hour film in the Netflix miniseries Ray, based on short stories by Satyajit Ray.
Abhishek Chaubey, who directed Bajpayee in Sonchiriya (2019), has steered the installment. “I am curious to see how people will respond to this one because what we have shot is a gem,” Bajpayee promised. “This is something that is really going to be talked about a lot for the manner in which Chaubey has adapted this story.”