Omkar Das Manikpuri, the farmer of Peepli Live, has his hands full. He speaks to Veenu Sandhu about his films and dream role.
Ever wondered what happened to Natha, the poor farmer from the 2010 satire, Peepli Live? We know he lost his land, fled his village and ended up as a labourer in a construction company in Gurgaon. But what after that? Well, here’s what. In the city, one fateful day, he banged into a car and got transformed. The man whose car crashes into him recognised him as Natha and gave him a new life, as Nath, a hip-hop dancer!
With unmistakable laughter in his voice, Omkar Das Manikpuri, the actor from Bhilai in Chhattisgarh who had shot into fame with his first Bollywood break as Natha, speaks about this twist in the tale. Manikpuri, who played the desperate farmer with such conviction that everybody he met started calling him Natha, will appear with a bandana on his head and chains around his neck and wrists in his forthcoming film Qasam Se Qasam Se scheduled to release in April. He’ll also hip-hop with Rakhi Sawant. But the first scene is where the connection with Peepli Live ends. The 2010 film, which was then India’s official entry for the Oscars, was directed by Anusha Rizvi and produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao. This one is directed by Ashfaque Markani and has unknown names and faces.
Many would view it as a comedown. Manikpuri, 42, who started out with a village folk-theatre troupe before theatre doyen Habib Tanvir spotted him and took him under his wings in his Naya theatre company, doesn’t think so. “The last two years have been very busy,” says he. Manikpuri has relocated to Mumbai, though his three children — two daughters and a son — and wife continue to live in Bhilai. He’s got four or five films lined up. Among them are Aalaap with Raghuveer Yadav, MLA in which he plays the lead role as a farmer leader who challenges the local MLA, and Anurag Kashyap’s Monsoon Shootout in which he’s a taxi driver. Aalaap, incidentally, is directed by a distant relative from Chhattisgarh who got inspired by Manikpuri’s success and decided to try his luck in Bollywood.
His role in MLA is his favourite; second favourite, actually. “I loved my part in Hirma Ki Amar Kahani, a play in which I am a rickshaw-puller who had only one hand. It was challenging. There were few dialogues and my body language, which included lightening a cigarette with one hand, had to do all the talking.”
Having grown up on watching Amitabh Bachchan, Jeetendra and Mithun Chakraborty, and later Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, he still gets confused between the “new actors”. Once when he met Deepika Padukone, he thought it was Katrina Kaif. He speaks Hindi with a strong Chhattisgarh accent and knows that someone has created his Facebook profile, but adds, “I don’t understand these things." A Bachchan fan, back in the ’80s he wrote mard on his arm with a hot rod after watching his film by the same name. “That mark is almost gone now,” he says with a laugh. Aamir, he adds, has stayed in touch and sometimes also invites him to parties.
Though films fetch him better money — theatre gave him about Rs 4,000 a month, while for Peepli Live he got Rs 2 lakh —, Manikpuri goes to perform on stage in Chhattisgarh whenever he has the time. On February 16, he was in Chhattisgarh to perform Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor. His dream role is “to play a villain with a comic streak.”