Beginning with his role in Miss Lovely, actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui goes on to chat about his experience in theatre, his next flick with Salman and more

I have a flight to catch that morning.

So I show up with luggage at ten minutes past ten. His assistant comes to help with my suitcase.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui seems to be in the middle of a meeting as I walk in. I look around the office space. It’s an informal minimalist lounge, with just one photo frame – of Charlie Chaplin – watching over us.

Nawaz is in a white T-shirt and has smoked half his cigarette. And, Devashish Makhija, a former associate of Anurag Kashyap, seems to be in the middle of telling the actor what his new film is about.

The publicist gently reminds him that I have a flight to catch. And Nawaz asks Dev if it’s okay if he finishes with me first. The filmmaker obliges.

The reason I’m here is because the DVD of Miss Lovely is out.

It’s a film close to his heart. “It’s was my first film as a solo lead, when we started shooting back in 2009,” he tells me. “Maine bahut C-grade filmen dekhi hai, do-chaar main kaam bhi kiya hai,” he recalls his experience of working in a few of these films. “They used to have funny beliefs. That they needed bade-bade moochen (big moustaches) or lambe-lambe baal for certain roles they always did. I knew a guy who was losing hair and would worry about not getting roles because of this.”

Nawaz had led such a colourful, eventful life that had given him an insight not just into struggle but also people. He had been a chemist, a watchman, a cook, an extra… in the course of his journey trying to be an actor.

And Miss Lovely was one of his most realistic performances, he says. “Ashim pehle documentary banana chahta tha. So he didn’t want it to seem like acting. Whatever role I’ve done, I’ve wanted people to think it’s authentic. Jaise aas paas ka hi aadmi hai… someone they may have met,” he explains.

“Even when the situation is larger than life, aur woh 700 bullets fire kar raha ho… You want the audience to think Wasseypur main koi aisa bandha hoga.”

Is it because of the range of jobs he has had, that he is able to lend this streak of realism and makes us relate to the characters he inhabits?

He has been doing people-watching since his early days in theatre, he admits. “It was an exercise for us at National School of Drama and even before that when I used to do theatre, I used to observe people.”

“Actor ki duty hoti hai duniya main jaake, Bombay se baahar jaake, dekhe ki kis tarah ke log rehtey hai. Aap actor ho, toh aapko jaana padega,” he adds, urging city-based stars to step outside their air-conditioned comfort zones and explore the world outside cities.

How does he differentiate between star and actor? “A star looks good. Dekhne main achcha lagta hai. Star paida hotey hai, actor bante hai (Stars are born, actors become). An actor prepares, starts from zero, creates a character that’s different from who he is and that comes with a lot of study, practice and experience.”

Today, Nawaz is on the way to becoming a star himself – he has been the toast of Indian cinema at Cannes over the last few years, I point out. He barely gets time to take calls.

Accha lagta hai. Aur busy bhi ho jaatey hai,” he says as a matter of fact.

How is he dealing with women crushing on him? “Accha toh lagta hai,” he smiles. Would have been nice if it all happened years ago, he adds. “Theek hai yaar, sab ke saath hota hai. Har popular aadmi ke saath hota hai.”

The first time he realised he was getting female attention was after Kahaani, he says. He had such a dominating, menacing presence in the film despite his diminutive frame.

“When Sujoy told me he wanted me to play an IB officer, I said: Mujhe dekh lo aake. I was doubtful if I would suit the role physically but he was confident. Theatre ki acchi baat yeh hai ki usme har tarah ka role karte hai… I’ve even done Shakespeare. Hamlet, Romeo bhi kiya hai maine,” he says.

A lot of our most seasoned actors – including Naseeruddin Shah or Irrfan Khan – have a certain style of delivery and behaviour you associate with them. “James Dean, Steve McQueen or Robert De Niro also deliver dialogues the same way in many films but they make you believe the character they play. De Niro hai, lekin woh boxer hai. Main try toh karta hoon ki repeat na ho.”

He next has a role opposite Salman Khan in Kick.

“As an actor, I want my films to be seen by a mass. But Kick main apne tareeke se kar raha hoon. Formula film or art film, kaam toh wohi honesty se karta hoon. Tag toh log banate hai.”

He’s in the middle of a schedule for Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur currently and is set to leave for Nashik today.

As I take a sip of chai, I ask him if he’s had breakfast. He has. His day begins at six. “Gaon ki aadat hai,” he says. He tries to squeeze in family time between schedules and his meetings, living with his wife, mother and his daughter. “Saade teen saal ki bachchi hai. Toh jitna bhi time milta hai, uske saath rehta hoon. Paanch saal ke baad bachche chalaak ban jaate hai,” (I want to spend time with my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter when she’s still a baby and hasn’t lost her innocence. Kids become smart by the time they are five these days).

Where does he go from here – having got everything almost?

“I want to choose the right kind of films. Some of my seniors failed because unki choice galat thi.”

I would have liked to fish for names. But at the risk of missing my flight.