This is the year of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Kahaani, Gangs of Wasseypur, Miss Lovely have already made him a name to reckon with
For an actor who is fast becoming the face of confidence and intensity on screen, Nawazuddin Siddiqui comes across as rather self-effacing, somebody who is eager to merge with the background. “Kya boloon kya nahin iska dar laga rehta hai. (I am afraid about what to say and what not),” says Nawaz as one tries to penetrate his wall of reticence. Fast becoming the darling of the media, which often follows the stars, he doesn’t feel the need to change. “Jaise hain waise hain. Whatever I have, I will show it in my work and I don’t have much to say about life beyond my work.”
He says the aggression that he had to show as the IB officer Khan in Kahaani, the film that placed him in national conscience, before Gangs Of Wasseypur cemented it, was a big jump from his real life.
“I have practised acting so much that it was not too difficult for me to internalise and feel like IB officer and execute him through body language,” says the NSD graduate.
“Training helps. I believe talent is for one film. If you are very talented you can do your best in one film but to do well subsequently you need to have training in acting and awareness of the world around you. Else you keep doing the same thing for the rest of your life. Like many of our stars do. It enhances your career but inhibits your growth as an actor. I like to see stars but if he will experiment I won’t go to watch him as an audience.”
For him the road map is different though. “If I have done a character I will like to bury it for life. I have refused many roles of police officers after Kahaani.” Does he see an irony in it? “Of course. When I entered the industry the usual offers were like isko garib banado. (Make him play a poor man). I started doing it and the comments were bhai! tu rota bahut achha hai (you cry so well). Somehow, I steered clear of that image. Black Friday helped me break the image. Then Peepli Live.” In fact, for all the talk of changing ways of film industry, Nawaz says there is not much of a difference between his reel life and real life. “I started from lower middle class and have risen up the social ladder through my characters. I was myself shocked when IB officer’s character was offered to me. I asked Sujoy (Ghosh) if he has seen me in real life. I am 5 feet 6 inches tall. He said he knows me but still I felt he is going by my photographs.”
Doesn’t camera hide your physical attributes? “This is very important but over the years our filmmakers haven’t understood it. They love stock characters and our film education is such that we don’t mind it. We know actors as hero’s brother, hero’s sister, doctor…Jagdish Raj and Iftekhar spent their lifetime in police uniform and Kanhaiyya Lal was repeatedly cast as a cunning fellow in a dhoti.
Theatre and cinema
Nawaz says our formula films are not much different from ‘Ram Leela’. “In theatre you need to establish the villain through dialogues. In cinema an expression is enough to delineate but we have taken a long time to understand the visual language of cinema. We are too verbose. I had done a BAFTA winning short film The Bypass with Irrfan where there were no dialogues and we didn’t even mime to express ourselves. Everything depended on the look. That’s cinema. Unlike theatre, it is supposed to enter the private space of the actor. Things are changing though. In the first part of Gangs of Wasseypur, I had 10-12 dialogues and in the second part too Faizal is a man of few words.”
Describing his character as an emotional person, Nawaz says Faizal is not a loose character like his father Sardar. “He is a focused man. He trusts but if somebody breaks his trust, he doesn’t give him a second chance. Initially, he is not into carrying his father’s revenge for he wants to see the bigger picture but then revenge is in his blood and it once again comes out.”
Unlike Kahaani, here Nawaz doesn’t get support from camera to hide his diminutive physique. In fact, Anurag plays with the odds as he has paired him with the tall Huma Qureshi. “We always have romance between two good looking people. It looks beautiful, I also like it but there is no drama in it. There is no reality to it. I used to tell Huma, heels bhi pehan le (put on the heels as well). When we will walk alongside I will look smaller but there will be that ‘thing’ in my walk that will make a girl swoon over me. It might be rare on screen but we often find such pairs in the neighbourhood market where we see a beautiful girl with a not-so-handsome man and we wonder what she saw in him.”
Nawaz is no longer the guy, who seemed hard to break into, a few minutes back. It seems like formula films where he sees no logic and asks the makers to show him the science in it; he is averse to the media, which is more interested in his hobbies than his vocation.
Rewinding to his theatre days, Nawaz, who hails from Burhana near Meerut, came to Delhi in 1991. After two years with Sakshi group, he joined Nation School of Drama. “In NSD I mostly did comedy roles. I was typecast so much that the moment I stepped on stage people used to start laughing.” To break this mould he didn’t join Repertory after completing his course.
It was then that he shifted to Mumbai thinking his talent will get noticed in a month or two. It was not to be. “Nothing happened in my life all of a sudden. I landed without any recommendation and the people I knew were themselves struggling. I never thought big as my only aim was survival.”
“Initially, I tried my luck on TV but in 2002-2003 serials were turning glossy. Everything was supposed to be beautiful. I discovered that actors like me could not play even a beggar there because even for that they needed a six feet tall guy.”
Trauma of film auditions
His experience at film auditions forms interesting material for a satire. “A common scene was like this. Do you want to be an actor? I would say yes and the next comment would be but you don’t look like one. I used to request them to give me a chance to show them something and like a courtesan, I was asked to perform at their drinking binges in the evening and was given a peg at the end. No food. Drunk, I would come back and hide my face in the pillow. Slowly, I started getting one scene roles in film. In Sarfarosh I did a 30-second scene. In Munnabhai MBBS I played the guy who picks the pocket of Sunil Dutt. Soon I got typecast as one scene actor.”
It was at this time that he met Anurag Kashyap who promised him a big role if he survived in the industry. “He gave me three scenes in Black Friday and they were noticed.”
Amidst all the din of success, Nawaz points out that what we are seeing is an end product. We don’t realise what an actor goes through at a personal level to retain his enthusiasm for the art. “My family had almost given up on me. My home was in a bad shape. Every time I would go home I would find one more crack in the roof. So the first thing that I did after achieving some standing in the industry was to get my home renovated. This is the biggest satisfaction of my life.”
One struggle has ended but another has begun. “Now I require the talent of choice. In the last few months I have rejected 35 films. If I had agreed I would have been finished in two years. Many have in the past and it is their experience that is helping me.” Huma is here and Nawaz once again gets busy with the higher things in life!