Nawazuddin: I am a student of cinema

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He glazes the screen with his fierce performances and throbbing intensity, and yes, he can hold a conversation with his philosophy on cinema, acting, et al, but that’s not all there is to Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He is a man with a superb sense of humour, straight-faced and self-deprecating, too. Even while recounting his struggles from the past — he adds a tinge of humour to real situations. And you might think he is pulling off yet another brilliant performance, but nah, it’s all real, no ‘games’ here. He reveals that he wants to see a Bollywood hero on screen with more shades of grey, while the audience across platforms wants to see more of Nawaz — any shade, shape or suit. Bring it on! Excerpts from a chat with the actor on the thing that matters most — movies. Read on…

Nawaz, interestingly in your case, irrespective of whether your films work at the BO or don’t, the audience can’t ignore your performance. It stands out in most cases, even when you are seen on OTT platforms.
There are a lot of reasons why a film works or does not work. There are several factors like the number of screenings, shows and all of that which is not in my control. All I know that is with whatever experience I have, I need to put out an honest performance. After the shot, I don’t know what happens. I think the audience can see the honesty and effort that I put in front of the camera. I try really hard to capture every beautiful moment during a shot. As an actor, I feel no sense of supremacy. I am a student of cinema, and I always want to stay that way.

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Talking about playing new characters, for the longest time, you had been slotted as a serious, intense actor. Yes, it is a perception and comes from the fact that you have pulled off such roles brilliantly, but did you ever find it limiting you as an actor?
I have done about 100 comedy roles during my theatre days. When I was in Delhi, mera yeh haal ho gaya tha ki jab main stage pe aata tha, log hasna shuru kar dete thay. It would happen to Rajpal Yadav and me. Ajeeb image ban gayi thi, so even my teacher told me, ‘
Jab tum Mumbai jaaoge, tab comedy roles mat karna, thoda serious role karna. Mera intense face hai, so I started getting such roles. I have done a comedy role in ‘Freaky Ali‘ (2016); in fact, ‘Gangs of Wasseypurmein bhi bahut kamaal ka humour hai. I don’t believe that slapstick comedy is the only kind of comedy. There is something like subtle comedy. The kind of roles we get is also a matter of perception. Like the perception of the hero in Bollywood. Jo Bollywood
ka hero hota hai, woh sabse zyada clichéd
hota hai. For years, I have been seeing only one kind of Bollywood hero — who is full of goodness, saves people, respects everyone and is the perfect man. Arre, kam se kam hero m
ein thodi si buraai bhi dikhao, usko insaan banao. Add some grey shades and flaws. We need to shake him up a bit. I want to see a hero with flaws, and someone who is more real.

However, there has been a shift in our stories, and now, we are seeing more leading characters (not necessarily with bulging biceps and fab torsos), who are simple people doing little heroic things that matter, and such stories are finding a connect with the audience. So, it might not be a shake-up yet, but there is a subtle movement there.
While that may be true, we are still not delving into the complexities of the human psyche. People say, ‘I want to tell a different story’, and I ask them…tell me more about the layers in the character. Even our content-driven stories are very simple, it does not give us a chance to go deep into a character’s mind. The human mind is so layered and fascinating, and peeling off each of those layers is so exciting. I want to explore the human mind, and not just tell a story. I like playing characters that are layered and flawed, but strangely, in our industry, we call such parts ‘negative roles’. Even when I take up the role of a gangster, like Faizal Khan (‘Gangs of Wasseypur’), I don’t view him as just a gangster. To me, he is a person with flaws and complexities. He lives between right and wrong.

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When you first came to Mumbai, did you ever consider doing television? A lot of actors have taken that route before turning to Bollywood.

I didn’t come to Mumbai to act in films, I knew that I didn’t have the personality for that. In fact, I tried television, but didn’t get any roles. While auditioning, the cameraman would say, ‘
Tere ko shoot karne mein time lagta hai. Extra light lagaani padti hai face pe’. I would say, ‘
Kya kare yaar, yehi face
leke aaya hoon (laughs!)’. Hum toh majboori mein films
mein aaye. Jab TV ke darwaze bandh ho gaye, cinema
ke taraf bhaage, kahin na kahin toh bhaagna tha, na? When the doors would open even slightly for movies, I would grab whatever I could get, even
ek-do minutes ke roles; I was happy with that. Hamein problem
hoti thi jab bhook lagti thi. I would think bhook lagti hai toh khana milna chahiye, that was the only thing that I was worried about.
How hard did you have to try to fit into the industry? Or, did you ever try at all?

I never had this dream of fitting into the industry… I was confident about my skill, but I never thought that one day I want to be a star. The only thing I knew was acting, so I had to keep working at it. Pehle se logon ne kaha tha ki kuch nahin hoga mere yeh shakal ke saath. I was so used to hearing this that it had no effect on me. In fact, I took advantage of it, and told myself that I have to focus on nothing other than my craft, and I did that.

Finding a support system within the industry can help a great deal during the struggling days, and even afterwards. Did you find a support system among your colleagues?

Hum yahan pe kisi ke bharose nahin aaye the. I was determined to make it work, so, I decided that whatever I do, it will be here — in Mumbai. I had decided that I would keep trying, even if it took me 10, 20 or 50 years. I came here as a trained actor, and I wanted to get work on merit. I believed that anyone who trusted that I was a good actor would give me work. If they didn’t,
humko koi fikr nahi thi. I wouldn’t take it badly; I would just move on and approach the next person for work. Every morning, I would visit several offices with my biodata and pictures, and by night, I would be so tired that I would go to sleep peacefully. I had told myself ki struggle karna hamara dharam hai, woh karte rahenge, chahe pachhas saal karna pade.

Would you say that extreme confidence in your own talent gave you the courage to battle all odds?

Well, talent is a different thing, what I was confident about was my craft and hard work. I believe that talent is a vague word. Aaj kal har actor bolta hai ki main talented hoon. You might be talented, par ek picture mein khapat ho jayegi talent. Aage kya? For that, you need training, education, skill and experience. Talent ke basis pe ek picture
kar sakte ho, but to consistently do good work, you have to work on your craft. Talent mein bhi badlaav aata hai, but if you keep working hard on your craft, you can polish your skill and talent. There is no such theory that an actor is talented for life, it is an ongoing process.

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