Nuanced star

Nuanced star

Critically acclaimed for his performances, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a trailblazer who often steals the thunder from many a star, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

It’s been two decades since he started out in films — with a bit role in Sarfarosh as a suspected criminal. Before that, Nawazuddin Siddiqui had a long tenure at the National School of Drama (NSD). But his struggle in cinema lasted for over 13 years! And it is only in the last few years that he has made a mark with films as
assorted as Gangs Of Wasseypur, Talaash, The Lunchbox, Kick, Badlapur, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Manjhi — The Mountain Man, Kahaani, Raees, Mom and Manto among others, and the web series Sacred Games.

“I was never bothered about whether I had work or not!” says the actor, who hails from a family of farmers, which includes seven brothers and two sisters. “I used those eight to 10 years to observe all kinds of people, from the richest to the poorest, their nuances, their insecurities, their issues and so on. I must have
observed over 3,000 people and walked through the remote areas of the city, so I have material even if I remain in cinema for another 100 years!” he says with a tinge of pride. He adds, “Because of this, I do not think I will ever suffer from overexposure!”

Nothing stereotypical

And Nawazuddin bluntly says that he looks only at real-life people for inspiration and not at screen prototypes. “I don’t want to do those stereotypical characters, and honestly I cannot do them. I model my characters on real life, because only then can they look and sound true and real. For 60 years and more,
we have been used to fake characters, and doing truthful, honest characters is very tough,” he opines, a shade arrogantly.

Today, the actor is contemptuous of commercial cinema despite a few major hits (Kick, Bajrangi Bhaijaan) as well as other movies (Freaky Ali for one) and is doing a realistic love story in Photograph, directed by Ritesh Batra of The Lunchbox fame. Almost pompously confident of himself, he not only runs down mainstream
Hindi films but says that foreign cinema is about seriousness and not about pastime. “It’s in their blood, to be serious about cinema,” he says, declaring, “They have so many pastimes! Over here, everyone follows the same pattern. See, if you find a man who sings and dances on the streets like our heroes do in films, you will
call him mad. But we are programmed to accept such characters!”

Photograph, he says, is as real and authentic as can get, and his director told him, “Don’t act!” Acting, adds the actor, has a certain pitch, but Ritesh, who he says has evolved after watching so much of global cinema, introduced him to many real photographers of the kind he is playing in the film, and ensured he kept it real.
“These are the people who go around the Gateway of India in Mumbai persuading visitors to click snapshots,” he explains. “I spent time with them, observed how their energy was down by afternoon but they still were as active, how they took out the prints and looked at potential customers. These are men who look so common that they can be lost in a crowd in no time at all!” For this, says Nawazuddin, Ritesh made him do several retakes.

Ritesh, he says, is arguably the most popular Indian director in the West. “He has got maximum exposure to world cinema, and changes his approach with every film. He has grown so much since our first film only because of such exposure.” But the common man alone is not a single entity and can be of countless
kinds, we say. Nodding his head, the actor replies that it can be very difficult to enact each kind. The film is a love story with an open end. Nawazuddin loves open ends, for that leaves so much scope for the viewer for introspection and imagination, he notes. The film is about just one leg of their journey.

“Did the lovers meet finally? If so, how and when? What must have happened later after the film ended?” he ticks off his fingers. “There is an entire world out there and anything can happen.” Raving about his co-star Sanya Malhotra, he says, “She is not only cool but has a lot of maturity for someone her age, and is a very gifted actress.”

The actor’s last release was the Marathi-Hindi bilingual Thackeray, in which he played the title role of Bal Thackeray. “I wanted to make him real as well, and not bring in his larger-than-life aura,” he says. “The film was originally made in Marathi and I lip-synched in that language. It was difficult and I had actor Ashok
Patole who guided me — he is the guy who played Javed Miandad in the movie and was my junior at NSD.”
We compliment him on his portrayal and he says, “I saw so many videos of Balasaheb, met his son Uddhav, and Aditya, and the family. And the greatest compliment came when someone who was very close to Balasaheb told me that I had reproduced things that I had never even been told!”

For him, the actor explains, it was more important to know how the politician did simple things like how he drank his beer, how he ate, and how he talked to his family. “Any actor in this world would love to do such a role, and once in a lifetime you can explore so much of what you have learnt in acting for five years, plus my years of theatre experience, so I consider myself lucky.” How about Thackeray’s political views? “As an actor, I must have full faith in his beliefs. Only then can I do justice to the role,” he says cryptically.
The actor also lauds the experiment going on in Marathi films and theatre. “That’s a sign of a healthy thought,” he feels. “And that’s why while Marathi and even Gujarati theatre have an audience, Hindi theatre is as good as not there!”

Realistic portrayal

One conundrum strikes us, we tell him. Theatre actors have to do larger-than-life acting, often going over-the-top, but plays are more realistic than cinema, which, however, has more realistic acting. Nawazuddin does not get our question the first time, but later compliments us on this layered query. “I agree that stage actors have to be loud to connect with the last row, but as someone said, ‘The stage demands acting, but the camera explores activities!’ With elaborate word or gesture, you have to communicate that
you are a thief in a play, but in a film, a simple action establishes that instantly!”

And then he declares, “But if you see the history of cinema, you will find that it is we stage actors who, after being loud on stage due to this necessity, brought in realistic acting in cinema, like Balraj Sahni, Om Puri, Irrfan Khan, Manoj Bajpayee and others. All other non-theatrical actors have been loud, except
for one or two of them.”

Nawazuddin never bothers about the box-office prospects of the films he chooses. “If I do that, I will corrupt myself as an actor,” is his opinion. “So many things decide a film’s success. I only think about how I feel about my role, its complexities and whether it touches me.” Having enjoyed another commercial film down South — Petta — he raves about Rajinikanth and South actors Vijay Setupati and Sasikumar and says that the
South is miles ahead in professionalism, and it is a place where even technicians
are given great respect.

His current assignments include Motichoor Chaknachoor, Rome Rome Mein and his brother Shamas Nawab Siddiqui’s directorial Bole Chudiyaan, which are all love stories. “I will never become a director,” he says when asked about his future goals and any dreams of direction. “I just want to keep working. I have only
one life to experiment with, and I will follow my own trail, whatever the outcome.”



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