A Padma Shri recipient and three-time National Award winner, Manoj Bajpayee is without a doubt one of our industry's finest actors.
An actor who has constantly challenged the idea of a film 'hero', Bajpayee shines just as brightly from the sidelines, as he does while leading a film.
Despite being rejected from the National School of Drama 4 times, Bajpayee didn't give up on his childhood dream of becoming an actor. Finally, in 1994, he made his movie debut with Drohkaal.
Much like his struggle with NSD, his debut too was followed by 4 years of no major role until finally, in 1998, Ram Gopal Verma cast him as Bhiku Mhatre in Satya.
Satya won him his first National Film Award, establishing him the actor to look out for.
But instead of being stereotyped as the "gangster", Bajpayee quickly shed his thug image to play an officer in Shool.
The same year he also starred in the thriller Kaun?, leaving us equally scared and impressed with his creepy act.
Both Kaun? and Shool proved that he was not a one-hit-wonder. Though the following year he had more misses than hits, Manoj Bajpayee bounced back in a completely different avatar with Zubeidaa in 2001.
As Maharaja Vijayendra Singh, he exuded an unparalleled suaveness. We were still catching our breaths and getting used to his royal look, when he transformed, yet again, for the experimental action thriller, Aks.
A film far ahead of its time saw Bajpayee share screen space with living legend, Amitabh Bachchan, and still hold his own.
But the role that truly made him a critics' favourite was Rashid in Pinjar, based on Amrita Pritam's novel of the same name.
He conveyed a million emotions with his eyes, and his character perfectly described the trauma and turmoil of partition and the cost is exacted from people.
Unfortunately, despite winning a National Award for his performance, Pinjar's success didn't translate to the silver screen and Bajpayee had a string of flops, barring the memorable cameo in Veer-Zaara.
Despite delivering brilliant performances in movies like 1971, Dus Kahaaniya, etc. Bajpayee struggled to find his audience.
Until in 2010, when he reinvented the 'negative' character with his role in Raajneeti.
Thus began his second innings at Bollywood, and he brought to us the iconic Sardar Khan of Gangs of Wasseypur.
Even those of us who had been following his career trajectory since Satya, found it difficult to find even a sliver of similarity between his two 'gangster' roles. The only thing common to the two is how famous they got.
Soon after, he had a series of hits like Special 26, Shootout at Wadala, Satyagraha, Tevar, etc.
But it was the 2016 biopic Aligarh, that sealed his place as one of the finest character actors of our generation.
The film showcased a whole different side of Bajpayee. His restrained anguish and sensitive portrayal ensured that there was not a single dry eye in the audience when he portrayed Prof. Siras.
Fast at the heels of Aligarh's success came a series of commercial hits like Naam Shabana, Sarkar 3, Aiyaary, etc.
But the film that won him this third National Film Award was the 2018 drama Bhonsle - that he also produced.
Of course, in 2019, even though he delivered a stellar performance in Sonchiriya, all that anyone could talk about was his web series debut The Family Man.
As Srikant Tiwari, Bajpayee exhibited a unique mix of desi dad behavior and international spy skills, that made him one of the most unique yet lovable fictional characters ever. And finally, Bajpayee courted the widespread fame that he well and truly deserved.
He was just as delightful in the anthology Ray, where he played Musafar Ali, once again breaking the mould of what drama and comedy can look like.
With a filmography that redefined diversity, Bajpayee has time after time delivered performances that are nothing short of a masterclass in acting. And we can't wait to see what more he has in store!