From a small district between Allahabad-Varanasi called Bhadohi (known as Carpet City) to Drama School Mandi, film writer, actor Shahzad Ahmed shares a peek into his life and journey in the film industry. Writer, actor Shahzad Ahmed of movies like Manjhi-the mountain man, Kabaad the coin, Dussehra and Gulmohar, came to the city of dreams, Mumbai with only thirty-five hundred borrowed money, that too from a fellow villager.
Shahzad feels his career, where it is today, is because of three reasons – friends who always lent him money, passion and family who gave complete freedom to struggle.
A special conversation with film writer, actor Shahzad Ahmed.
Q: Shahzad, first of all, tell me where are you from?
Shahzad Ahmed (SA): Originally I am a resident of Uttar Pradesh. There is a small district between Allahabad and Varanasi called Bhadohi which is known as Carpet City. I am a resident of gyanpur block.
Q: Did your schooling happen there or somewhere else?
SA: Basically I did my schooling in Bhadohi. I have done high school, inter and graduation from government school there. Later, when I realized that I had to get into the field of art, I turned to Delhi and drama school Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.
Q: How did you feel you had to go into the field of art?
SA: My inclination towards art was from childhood. I always kept trying to do something so that people would praise me and applaud me. I got serious to go into the field of art when one of my seniors, Swatantra Maurya, advised me in 2001. “You are unnecessarily wasting your time here … Go to the movies … Join the drama … Do something, good man”. From that day on, a professional artist was born in me.
Q: Then how did you give direction to that artist? How did you know where to go? Or did someone guide you?
SA: This is a very important question. Two things have always been lacking in my life. First guidance and second money. No person around me could give me any guidance, whether on the block level or any other person. Now comes the matter of my home, it was very dark over there. Amma used to wash clothes and Abba used to iron the clothes. It was not appropriate to ask such a question to them. What happens is that when you do not have any sources, then your imagination power is at its peak. You try to understand it again and again and you get the path.
I used to read interviews of artists in newspapers, or career columns in the newspapers. There were references to BNA, NSD, Shri Ram Center and all the institutes which I used to keep in mind. That was one way from which I came to know that there are many such institutes, from which one can get artistic knowledge. Your artistic talent can be enhanced by these institutes.
Q: How did you reach from Bhadohi to Drama School Mandi? What was that journey, tell us something?
SA: First, I went to BNA because Lucknow was close to my home. At BNA, I came to know that I am not capable of the institution in which I want to take admission. I do not have that much merit. At BNA, I met a boy named Vinod, he advised me to go to Delhi, it will be a good place for me where I can learn a lot. I returned from Lucknow and became very restless to go to Delhi. I took fifteen hundred rupees from my father and I borrowed some money from a friend and moved to Delhi.
I did not know anyone in Delhi. But it is said who sets out to find, he gets something or the other. First of all, I took up a job in Delhi and arranged my stay so that I can balance my financial situation. Then I did theatre. I used to work all day and used to do rehearsals in the evening. For many years, I connected with different groups and did theatre. I did a lot of plays. I gained a lot of confidence.
In 2002, a friend Sajjad advised me to go to Drama School Mandi and introduced me to alumni who were doing a very good. I was very impressed. In 2002, I applied for Drama School Mandi and got selected. This was the happiest moment and the best decision of my life taken by me, which gave a new direction to my life.
Q: What did you learn at drama school that you could not learn earlier?
SA: I got a chance to learn a lot there. For me, it was the most beautiful place in the world, which I had not been able to learn in twenty-five years in my life. Drama School offers a diploma in Dramatic Form. Particularly, specialization in acting, but at the same time, as much as the techniques of theater, lighting, costume, makeup, writing, crafting studies all subjects.
Apart from this, I got an opportunity to learn the nuances of world literature, Indian literature and art. The biggest thing in all this was that Drama School made me a good person. The person who did not know about it earlier. Suresh Sharma, Harish Khanna, Ashwat Bhatt, Yash Raj Jadhav are all national-level teachers with whom I got the opportunity to work. After working with them, my perspective of the world changed and the attitude towards art had also changed.
Q: You used to do theatre with job, so, how could you do when there was a full-time course?
SA: Financially, the time of drama school was very difficult for us. I only had money for the first instalment, which I had deposited. Later, I could not, so much so that I got warning to be rusticate from the institute. I called my father and cried my heart out. He mortgaged his land and sent me the money and deposited the fees for the third instalment, but neither I nor my father could manage the fourth instalment fee. I was fired from the institute.
Being fired multiple times, I felt ashamed and started packing my bags. My classmate Manish Joshi, who is now an acknowledged artist said. “I will not let you go.” Manish somehow managed and I could complete the course at drama school. My friends have contributed a lot to my life. There are only three reasons for the level of my career today. One is my friends who are not tired of lending me money. Second my passion and third my family gave me complete freedom to struggle.
Q: You took training in drama/theater, how did you move towards films?
SA: I have friends who are doing a great in theatre. They have theatre groups, etc. but my focus was already set on cinema. I joined the theatre so that I could get a chance to get into the field of cinema. I can learn the nuances of art very well.
Exactly one month after passing out from the institute, without waiting for anything, I borrowed a little money from my friends and with thirty-five hundred rupees, I left for Mumbai.