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Why Nawazuddin is the new face of Indie cinema

By Nandita Dutta • Published on April 23, 2013

Three Indian films that premiere at Cannes 2013 have Nawazuddin Siddiqui in prominent roles. Nandita Dutta speaks to the actor and his directors to find out what’s special about the man and his craft

Nawazuddin plays the role of a failed actor in Dibakar Banerjee directed section of Bombay Talkies

Nawazuddin plays an actor in Dibakar Banerjee directed segment of Bombay Talkies. The film will have a gala screening at 66th Cannes Film Festival

[S]ix films in two years at the crème de la crème of film festivals is no mean feat to pull for any actor anywhere in the world. As Indian cinema gains more visibility at the Cannes film festival by the year, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has become a face which is easy to spot and hard to ignore when one talks about the films that have made it to the coveted film festival. After Miss Lovely and Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2 in 2012, the actor will walk the red carpet this year for Bombay Talkies, Dabba and Monsoon Shootout.

Here, the young directors take you seriously but the formula-film directors don’t care about it. Whichever festival your films travel to, they want to keep making the kind of films they make

However, Nawazuddin doesn’t make much of it and is busy shooting for Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa in Kolkata. “Thank God! I am being offered good films and working with the right people. The Cannes selections give me the confidence that I am on the right track,” he says.

Prod him more on his unprecedented success at Cannes and he is quick to tell you that though it feels good, it hardly makes any difference in the Hindi film industry back home. “Of course it’s a big thing for your film to be selected at Cannes as they handpick just a few films from all over the world. Here, the young directors take you seriously but the formula-film directors don’t care about it. Whichever festival your films travel to, they want to keep making the kind of films they make,” he laments.

Recently he was seen as a limping small-time pimp Tehmur in Talaash and a maniac-husband-turned- ghost in Suparn Verma’s Aatma, both of which were mainstream films.

In Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, he plays the titular role of a small-time detective Anwar in Kolkata who gets so obsessed with his profession that he begins to play detective with his own life.

When I am labelled as the next Irrfan, it feels like I am being underestimated.  I have worked really hard and when it’s time for me to reap the rewards, if people start comparing with me any other actor then it feels strange.

Nawazuddin reveals about his character in Bombay Talkies which will have a gala screening at Cannes, “I play this guy who hasn’t been successful in life and has been surviving by doing odd jobs. He is a failure as an actor. He gets a small opportunity in a film where he is not very successful but he starts living in an illusion.”

The segment in Bombay Talkies where he plays the protagonist has been directed by Dibakar Banerjee (Shanghai, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!) and is based on a short story by Satyajit Ray. But his character was modeled on a real person and Nawazuddin stayed with him in his chawl for a week to prepare for the role.

With Amit Kumar, Nawazuddin Siddiqui had worked before in his short film The Bypass which won a BAFTA in 2003 much before he became a sought after face for independent filmmakers in India. Evidently, he became a natural choice for Amit Kumar for his debut feature Monsoon Shootout and he even wrote the script with Nawazuddin in mind.

So did Ritesh Batra whose film Dabba has been selected for Cannes Critics Week. “Generally it’s not a good idea to think of actors while writing, but I had Nawaz in my mind early on. He approached the role with clarity and honesty and he found his way into it. I rewrote a lot of his character to bring him closer to Nawaz after each discussion we had, because Nawaz is very interesting not just as an actor but as a person,” says Batra.

In Dabba, Nawazuddin worked with Irrfan Khan, an actor who he is frequently compared to in terms of calibre and international acclaim. On his experience of working with Irrfan, he says, “It was like working with any other actor. There was nothing special about it.”

Scratch the surface and the real cause of disappointment comes to the fore. Though he dismisses the rumours of any rivalry between them, he reveals that he is upset by the frequent comparison between the two actors. “I respect him as an actor. But when I am labelled as the next Irrfan, it feels like I am being underestimated. I have worked really hard and when it’s time for me to reap the rewards, if people start comparing with me any other actor then it feels strange.”

Notably, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has carved a name for himself through relentless hard work and conviction after a decade of struggle and blink-and-miss roles. What might seem like a sudden bonanza for the actor is the result of carefully chosen roles and the efforts put into them in the past few years.

“I am not taking about Irrfan in particular, but when you compare an actor with any other actor, then you are saying that he can’t go beyond him; he will always be inferior to him. Acting is something very personal. It depends on your sensibility, your personal experiences and the kind of roles you choose,” he adds.

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