Rise of an unlikely star

Talent unleashed

Rise of an unlikely star

He is the unlikeliest star on the horizon, physically and in every which way. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s choices of films defy commercial acumen, which is something you would never expect from a man who has struggled so long for recognition. Happily today, he is as much a household name as any of the A-list stars.

A trained actor — a National School of Drama graduate of 1996 — who has been around in cinema for 14 years, Siddiqui made his debut in the bit-role of a ruffian in Sarfarosh (1999) and kept on struggling in such ‘cameos’ — the waiter in Shool (1999), the informer in Jungle (2000), the pickpocket in Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), the small-time goon in Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007) and even the man who sings Emosanal Ataychar in Dev.D (2009) and so on, besides his television appearances and slightly bigger roles in films like New York, Family, Black And White and more.

Belonging to a remote village in Uttar Pradesh named Budhana, Siddiqui, who left his wife and parents behind to make a name (they still stay there), says that his agenda in Mumbai was simple: “I wanted to prove myself and get noticed, even if it was in one scene or two. I never had the time to get depressed or frustrated — that would have been counter-productive. My expectations from myself were very high and remain so.”
While Siddiqui featured in the Sarfarosh scene with Aamir Khan, he admits that the actor did not recognise or remember him when he did an important role in Aamir’s co-production Peepli Live. “I had to remind him,” Siddiqui recalls with a chuckle. “Of course, now I have done my major role of Taimur in Talaash too.”

It is inspiring to note that Siddiqui has turned down more films than he has accepted, even now when he can cash in on his success. His first major role was in Black Friday (2005), but what turned the tide was the year 2012, which began with his intense cop’s role in Kahaani and went on to feature Gangs of Wasseypur and Talaash. Siddiqui too became Lady Luck’s progeny, as she suddenly smiled on him: even Paan Singh Tomar, a film ready in 2010, released and succeeded in 2012, though his role was not as prominent as in the other three.

Why are his roles prone to be violent? Does he have a special liking for such subjects? “I don’t agree with that,” says Siddiqui after a pause. “If you are talking mainly of Gangs Of Wasseypur, let me tell you that I am from a North Indian village and the real-life violence there is much worse. There was a time when my family was personally affected by it too.”
Siddiqui, last seen this year as the protagonist of Dibakar Banerjee’s story of a failed actor in Bombay Talkies (“Was that violent?” he quips) and as the dead husband obsessed with his living child in Aatma (in which he actually co-starred with Bipasha Basu), would not consider language a barrier if he can sink his teeth into a great role. “I am open to every cinema,” he says.

After his recent triumphant outings, however, Siddiqui’s priorities have changed. “I will consider only male leads now,” he declares. What if the supporting roles are fantastic? “That doesn’t matter,” he says dismissively.

And Siddiqui has his bag full. One of his fascinating films to come is Ketan Mehta’s Mountain Man, the real-life story of Dashrath Manjhi, known by that name because he single-handedly built a 360-foot-long and 30-foot-wide road through a mountain in Bihar; Monsoon Shootout, a cop and gangster drama; Lunchbox, on a relationship developed through notes sent in lunch-boxes; Patang, on kite-flying in Gujarat; Miss Lovely, about C-grade filmmakers in the ‘80s; Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, about a unique detective who starts investigating his own life; the as-yet unreleased Chiitagong, on the freedom struggle; Haram Khor, which recently made waves at the Cannes Film Festival; Dekh Indian Circus, on a Rajasthani couple’s struggle for their children, and now his younger brother Shammas Siddiqui’s (who has a background in television too) directorial debut titled, as of now, Ganna Gehu Aur Gun.

What about international offers after the huge accolades he has received in write-ups and at Cannes? “I will accept only key roles,” he says. “There have been offers for small cameos. So let us see whether my dream to work outside comes true or remains a dream.”

We finally move to his unique achievement: a special National award for his work in all his films in 2012. “It is a reward for my mehnat. This unique honour conceived for me has boosted my confidence. My hard work has paid off after a vanwaas of 14 years.” he laughs.

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