Prakash Jha's upcoming film Aarakshan puts the spotlight on the contentious issue of reservation and Manoj Bajpayee, who plays a negative role in it, says his character shows how education is used as a medium to mint money.
'Here I am the face of commercialisation of education. Nikhilesh Singh (Manoj) is tempted to make money and he uses education as the medium to do it,' said Manoj.
'There is constant trouble between my character and Amitji's (Amitabh Bachchan) character. There is a continuous tiff between idealism and money,' he said.
Manoj, who has and edge for grey characters, claims that in Aarakshan, for the first time he is playing a purely negative role.
'This is the only purely negative character I have ever played. Otherwise I have only played grey characters. I love grey. Everyone is grey. If anyone claims that he is white, then he is lying,' said the 42-year-old who rose to popularity with his portrayal of gangster Bhiku Mhatre in Satya in 1998.
Produced and directed by Prakash Jha, Aarakshan is a high voltage, socio-political drama about caste-based reservation in educational institutions.
To be released on August 12, the film will show various aspects of the education system through important characters played by megastars Amitabh, Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Prateik Babbar and Tanvi Azmi.
Amitabh essays an erudite, upright principal of an institution. Having worked with him previously in Aks, Manoj was comfortable working with Big B.
'I am always in awe of him. But, yes, I feel much more comfortable working with him now. I enjoy working with him because he is always prepared and with his discipline he makes others come prepared to the sets,' he said.
Manoj maintains that Jha sketched his look keeping someone in mind, someone who is still anonymous to him.
'Prakash Jha has given me the look because he had someone in mind. He never disclosed the identity of the person, but he was very insistent that I should have long hair with a grey patch in front. How the character should look, smile, move, his confidence, his arrogance - everything was in his mind. He was very particular about it,' said Manoj.
The actor, who is from Bihar, grew up in a caste-ridden society, but is thankful for his upbringing that helped him not to get consumed by the idea of casteism.
'I was not alien to the caste system of our country but was not in favour of it either. I grew up in a caste-biased society, but I was thankfully able to stay away from such differentiation as my family was very open-minded and never paid heed to it. I am married to a Muslim,' said Manoj, who tied the knot with actress Neha, (real name Shabana Raza) in 2005.
He prefers to let Jha work his magic rather than add to it.
'No, I didn't contribute anything. When I work with Prakashji, I always listen to him because he understands the milieu and issue so well that you just need to stick to his idea of the character and listen to him,' Manoj said, having worked with him earlier in Rajneeti'.
Apart from Aarakshan, Manoj has filmmaker Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur and Chittagong releasing this year.