[A]fter a stellar performance as the haughty Intelligence Bureau officer Khan in Kahaani, a record six films of actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui were screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles 2012 including the opening film (Chittagong) and closing film (Patang). Think of any anticipated film of 2012, and he is there. He is being proclaimed as the actor of the year. Is the growth of this actor all too sudden? Or did we not notice him before? Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in an interview with Nandita Dutta speaks his mind:
Six of your films screened at IFFLA, you have so many lined up for release in 2012. You are already being touted as the actor of the year.
This is a sheer coincidence! These are the films that I have done over the last 3-4 years. But you can’t overlook my struggle for 10-12 years before reaching this position.
What are your criteria for choosing a script?
For a long time, I didn’t have a choice. I took up whatever used to come my way. But of late, I’m being offered mostly experimental kind of films with challenging roles. This is also what I had in mind. I wanted to avoid mainstream Bollywood. This ‘different’ cinema got me recognition and more work. So now I have deliberately decided to stick to this kind of cinema. What happens with formulaic cinema is that it typecasts you. If you are a doctor once, you will play a doctor forever. Like they think I look like a poor man—5’6” and dark complexioned and so they give me those kinds of roles. For my first four years in the industry, I was either locked up and beaten by the police or beaten by the hero. Then I said to myself—what am I doing? Will I keep doing these kinds of roles because of the way I look? Then I sat idle for 3-4 years. I decided not to take up a film until I was offered a decent role.
What was the breakthrough at that point?
Black Friday. Until Black Friday, I was doing films in which I had a single scene. I used to think if I do that one scene well, I will be offered 2 scenes in the next one. But it never happened that way. I kept doing 1 scene film after film. Then I stopped working. I made a comeback with Black Friday where I had 3 scenes.
And you got noticed in those 3 scenes!
Yes, I did. And then I got Patang because of Black Friday. I also worked in a short film Bypass which won the BAFTA award.
What is your character in Patang?
In Patang, I play a hot tempered wedding singer, infuriated at the surprise visit of his Uncle during Uttarayan who otherwise doesn’t care about him or his mother. In effort to avoid the inevitable conflict, he makes friends with a Hamid, a twelve year old kite delivery boy.
Patang director Prashant Bhargava has a unique way of working. He had called me to Ahmedabad 15 days before the shooting. He just asked me to roam the streets and lose myself in the crowd. No one should be able to make out that I was an outsider. When I had roamed the streets enough and started feeling like I had always lived in Ahmedabad, we began to shoot. Besides, Prashant had told me about the character, his state of mind and body language.
On one occasion, I actually attended a wedding and sang for the guests while it was being shot. But I had prepared only one song. When people began to request for other songs, I didn’t know what to do! I couldn’t sing to save my life. I had trained myself in singing for this role.
You have collaborated with Prashant Bhargava once again?
That is an experimental film. It was shot this March during Holi celebrations in Mathura.
How did you prepare for the role of IB officer Khan in Kahaani?
When Sujoy Ghosh told me on phone that he wanted me to play an IB officer, I thought there was some misunderstanding. Why would anyone want a man of my physique to play the role! I was sure he would reject me once we met. Then we met and Sujoy explained the character to me. He wanted it to be a realistic character with lot of arrogance. I understood what he meant when we rehearsed our first scene: I had to walk through a corridor and people would wish me good morning. I wished them back. Then he told me that I wasn’t even supposed to look at them.
Ashim Ahluwalia’s Ms. Lovely is one of the highly anticipated films of the year. What role do you play in the film?
I play the lead role of Sonu who is a B-grade filmmaker.
What is your most exciting work till date?
I have enjoyed all the films I have done. I enjoy them because of the wide range of characters that I get to play. But I wonder if it is the same with stars. Like Shahrukh Khan has had the same kind of attitude and dialogue delivery for the last 15 years. I don’t know how he enjoys his work. For actors like us, it’s different. The fun part is that after I have played one character, I have to completely come out of it and get into the skin of the new character from scratch. That is how the difference gets noticed. Stars don’t care; they look and act the same in all their films. It must be boring!
Do you think trained actors have an edge in the industry?
The thing with untrained actors is that if they are talented, they will act well in one film. In the next film, they will end up looking the same. But actors who have been trained know what they have done in their previous film and how can they execute their new role differently. There are several exercises through which you can do that. So there is a transition from one role to the other.
But does the industry treat trained actors any differently?
Not at all. They don’t care about acting in the first place. Filmmaking is a business for them. First grandfather, then father and now son. They have created dynasties.
Actors have been getting recognition of late.
That’s true. It is because of this new bunch of filmmakers. They don’t enter the industry hung over the stars. They have independent thought. They choose actors depending on the character.
What is your advice for aspiring actors?
It is important to undergo formal training. Because no one is going to launch you in a 25 crore film. Your ability will get you work.
How did you happen to go to the National School of Drama (NSD)?
I had completed graduation and was looking for a job. But I wasn’t successful. I didn’t have a passion for anything. Then I was introduced to theatre and started watching plays. That is when I realized that I wanted to do something like that. Before applying to NSD, I watched some 200-250 plays. After passing out, I stayed in Delhi for a few years. I was doing street plays and theatre workshops. Then I came to Mumbai in 2000.
Who is your favourite actor?
They keep changing. Until last year, Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, The Sea Inside) was my favourite actor. After I saw The King’s Speech, my favourite is Colin Firth.
Among Indian actors?
Irrfan Khan and Manoj Bajpai. I am very clear on that. These are the only two notable actors in India. You watch their films and you know they have put in hard work.
These are the two actors you get compared to…
I don’t like comparisons. I have a mind of my own. When someone makes a comparison, I feel bad. I have worked hard for so many years and spent time trying to discover who I am and what kind of roles I want to do.
You have also done short films in between, like Mehfuz.
No one can beat me in that. I have done around 100 short films till date. I don’t refuse short films. I like the passion and energy that first time filmmakers come with. For me, it’s a good medium to explore myself, to see how they would direct me. They have a strong vision.
Will you still continue doing short films?
Of course. I will keep doing short films, especially with new filmmakers.
Any dream role?
Everyone at some point has a complex about his/her personality. I too felt that I looked very ordinary. In all the roles that I got, I was getting beaten up. So I felt I would be really happy the day I get a role where I have to beat someone. That is the kind of role I have in Gangs of Wasseypur. Now I will show the world.