Coming of age

going strong

Coming of age

He’s created a niche for himself that goes beyond his chocolate loverboy-cum-dancer image that he had in the first decade (almost) of his 14-year-career that began with Ishq Vishq. Even then, amidst the song and dance, this man showed his mettle in an assortment of meaty roles like Fida, Vivah, Jab We Met and Kismat Konnection. 

The defining chapter of his career, he feels, began with his dual role in the 2009 Vishal Bhardwaj film Kaminey, followed by Haider. Today, with his third film with the same director, Rangoon, Shahid thinks that it is a privilege not only to be a part of such films, but also to work with Bhardwaj.

“I have changed a lot. I came into films with a lot of ideas, and there were so many things that I wanted to do — dance, act and more,” Shahid recalls. “I wanted to be an actor at any cost — through dance or auditions, or whatever. As a young man with those gifts, I was perceived as a chocolate boy, who could also do comedy and make funny faces. As actors, of course, everyone is bound by his opportunities.”

Denying that the acting bug had bitten him genetically (his father Pankaj Kapur and mother Neelima Azim are both acclaimed actors), he declares that such tendencies are hidden deep within.

Wasn’t he a child model too? “Yes, I did a few ads because that fetched me good money as a kid and I could buy the kind of shoes I wanted!” he twinkles. “But that had nothing to do with my wanting to be an actor.”

His filtered choices

Shahid’s career graph was destined to go  a different way from the earlier roles that included Dil Maange More, Deewane Huye Paagal, 36 China Town and more. “I was an idealist from the beginning. Cinema then was different. There were barely any new-age filmmakers around,” he explains. “Today, only a few of the old-school filmmakers have survived. There has been a process of filtration for me as well, and I am now on to the core of my skills. I have taken off in a new direction, following and expressing what I want to do. I am happy this has happened and I hope to participate in this fulfilling journey.”

The idealist, however, does concede that there is no black and white in life and work, and there are only gray zones. A recent public statement by Vishal, that none of his films have made money, puts Shahid in a different mode. “I think one should run after the craft and not numbers. Every film in the last few years has performed completely different from what was expected. Nobody can predict the numbers. To make a film, you primarily need two things, a story and money. The first is relevant, but the money a movie makes is never known before it releases.”

Elaborating his point, he states, “If nobody can answer the question of how much a movie makes, why give it attention? I stick to what I want to see, what film I would like made, and to choose my work on the basis of whether I want to give one year of my life to it.”

Calling his work with Vishal “an enriching experience,” the actor describes his relationship with him as something “where I thought only I could make out what he thinks and wants from a distance.” Over three films, their bonding has grown to an extent that even the director thinks the same way about him, as Shahid says he discovered when Vishal was giving an interview in his presence that day.

Summing up their bond, Shahid says, “I think that we are a really good fit, like a shoe that perfectly suits your foot and I can credit him hugely with my acting achievements.” Shoes really loom large in Shahid’s subconscious, it seems. This is his second reference to it.

Process of acting

While Kaminey was a typical dual role and Haider a Shakespeare adaptation, were there any reference points for his character in this film? Shaking his head, he says, “I don’t like reference points. They take away from creating something original and different. Research, yes, conversations, sure, wondering how it will come out, what was Nawab Malik (his role in Rangoon), why did he behave like that — all that, yes. But it’s all about doing something that has not been done before. As an actor, I have to feel tentative, vulnerable, unsure and scared.”

Shahid’s biggest take-away from this role is his huge respect for the Armed Forces. “I realised how miniscule I am, what a crybaby I am for small things we find difficult in life. In my opening scene, my character is in the middle of war. The shelling and everything around on the sets actually made me feel I was a real soldier in a real war.”

What then does he think of Haider getting panned by the same Army personnel as an “anti-Army” film defending terrorism? He pleads, “Please, I do not want to talk about controversies that happened in 2014.”

Having said that, he brings to our notice that his last two characters (in Haider and Udta Punjab) were far from heroic ones, but his next two (Rangoon and Padmavati) will be the clap-worthy kind. “Nawab’s a soldier first and everything else later. He’s not really a good lover either. When Vishal-sir gave me the script, I wanted to understand how someone can be so patriotic, that too as an Indian officer in the British army. He happens to stumble upon love and is not very good at it.”

The goal for Shahid is thus to get better and keep challenging himself. Yes, he misses dance and feels that he has forgotten how to dance. “I would really love to do a lighter and dance-oriented film next,” he says.

Shahid has already termed his wife Mira lucky for the awards that have come his way for Udta Punjab. So, how has his daughter Misha’s arrival changed him? “My perspective of life has completely changed. I think human beings are largely selfish — but parents cannot be selfish,” he declares. “There is a massive change in me, and I realised how selfish I was before. But now, I know that my own wants are completely unimportant because there are so many priorities much before mine.”

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