Can you forget the no-nonsense, arrogant, IB officer Khan in KAHAANI who cuts the sentiment out of his approach to the overly pregnant Vidya Bagchi? Or, the eager-to-please junior accountant in LUNCHBOX? The man who kept breaking stones to cut through a mountain for 22 years in MANJHI – THE MOUNTAIN MAN and the small time television journalist trying to get a ‘biraking' story in BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN? Nawazuddin Siddiqui fits in the characters quite effortlessly. Absolutely not! From an aspiring actor who arrived ‘broke' in Bollywood to today's one of most respected performers, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has indeed travelled a long way. Shoma A. Chatterji probes what makes him tick.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
All movie buffs who are in love with Bollywood films want to know the back story of any actor who drops in from the much-talked about “Jhumri Talaiya”. What's yours?
I belong to Burhani, a little village near a small town called Budhana in Muzaffarnagar district in western Uttar Pradesh. I didn't have a clue about what to do till my friends advised me to do theatre and go to Delhi. I saw a performance by Manoj Bajpayee in the play ‘Uljhan'. The chemistry that the actor and the audience shared was sheer magic. If the actor cried, so did the audience. If he was bad, the audience booed him. For an actor doing theatre, a performance is like going for a body scan - the audience can see and feel everything.
Then what happened?
I joined a theatre group called Sakshi because I had watched a play after reaching Delhi that got me hooked. I watched around 250 plays after which I joined the National School of Drama and graduated in 1996. Meeting one of the NSD directors Valentin Teplyakov was a turning point in my life. He directed me in an Anton Chekov play called ‘Ivanov'. I also got the opportunity to work with stalwarts like Manoj Bajpayee and Saurabh Shukla and this gave me the confidence to try my luck in Bollywood.
You did theatre for seven years. Why then did you decide to shift to Bollywood which was a gamble?
But that did not happen, did it?
The answer is simple. Theatre doesn't pay you enough to fulfill your needs, much less your aspirations. I was broke. At the same time, I was so passionately in love with acting that it didn't once occur to me to give it up and do something else. So, it had to be Mumbai whether I could get work or not because it was the only city in India where I could at least look for acting commissions.
Looking back, I can't say that it didn't happen because it has. But the struggle was too hard and too desperate for me. I tried television but the glossy demands couldn't fit me in. I did walk-in parts in some big films where you will hardly remember me because you would blink and you'd miss me. In any case, no one knew me from Adam so no one would know who I was. I was there for exactly 40 seconds in a scene in SARFAROSH and a fraction of a minute or a little more in SHOOL and in MUNNABHAI MBBS. I did a few commercials where I would be placed in a crowd but I was afraid to be recognised by my NSD friends so I would turn my face away from the camera when the shot was taken. It was a 12-year-long struggle for KAHAANI to happen because few took notice of me in PAAN SINGH TOMAR though it was an important role. But then the miracle called Anurag Kashyap came in my life and changed everything. BLACK FRIDAY (2008) filled me with the hope that things would change for the better.
'Nawazuddin Siddiqui's journey to becoming a known actor unveiled'
Was BLACK FRIDAY a turning point?
Yes, most certainly. Had he not noticed me and took me in BLACK FRIDAY, I wouldn't have reached where I have today. He gave me the significant role of Asgar Mukadam that fetched me a lot of appreciation. I consider him my mentor and working with him is great fun because he gives me complete freedom to portray a given character. I didn't think twice to do a tiny role in DEV D. He chose me to portray the protagonist in GANGS OF WASSEYPUR II though WASSEYPUR I also got me a lot of good reviews.
Did you expect the tremendous response to KAHAANI?
Seriously, none of us did. I didn't expect this all-round praise across the country for my portrayal though PAAN SINGH TOMAR came and went and few noticed me. You will be surprised that I was also in Kabir Khan's NEW YORK. But things are turning around and I have now decided to take on lead roles in my forthcoming projects. I have done the second lead in Aamir Khan's TALAASH and a very important role in PATANG, an NRI production. Aamir had seen my work in PEEPLI LIVE and recommended me. Then I did a chain of films such as CHITTAGONG, MONSOON SHOOTOUT, Mangesh Hadawale's DEKH INDIAN CIRCUS, and Ketan Mehta's MOUNTAIN MAN based on the life of Dashrath Manjhi. But that again, is another story.
Let us hear about your work for MANJHI – THE MOUNTAIN MAN.
I have been deeply influenced in this great man's philosophy – never lose hope. I began to identify with his dedication and his determination to finish what he had set out to do. I had to play this man who kept hammering away at a mountain as his way of expressing his undying love for his departed wife. I had to get inside the mind of this man who became extraordinary in the process of his work. How can someone love a person so deeply? I began to identify with his struggle because I too had struggled for 15 long years to get somewhere in the film industry here. It was a motivating character for any actor looking to push the borders of his work. This film has been the biggest learning curve for me. Today, as an actor, I am prepared to get into any character I am given to portray. I think an actor needs to understand what the character is telling him and once he gets the hang of it, the rest falls in place. [TWF]
Stay updated with Bollywood on GLAMSHAM.COM's android app.
Click here to INSTALL on your device.