Nawazuddin Siddiqui tells Rana Siddiqui Zaman about his days of struggle and his recently released short, Mehfuz.

No one noticed him till his multidimensional roles in Gangs of Wasseypur, Kahani and Talaash. Now 38-year-old Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a name to reckon with, his most recent effort being the recently released award-winning short film Mehfuz (meaning safe). Excerpts from a chat.

What is Mehfuz about?

The film is set against a city in the wake of riots. I play a shy man who cannot open out to anyone, though he wants to. But he does his work well, pulls dead bodies in his rickshaw to the border of the town. One night, he notices a strange woman wandering on empty streets. He connects to her, speaks…

After having slogged in Bollywood, why did you do a short film? You are reported to have said that you wouldn’t play second fiddle anymore…

Actually, Mehfuz may be a short film but the role is a lead one. I couldn’t say no to Rohit Pandey because I had agreed to do this film when we were working together for Gangs of Wasseypur. These are the kinds of films and directors that will direct the course of filmmaking and viewing in future. Such films will set a trend indicating one doesn’t require three hours to tell a story. Just half an hour may be enough.

You have been in the film industry for a long time and your struggle phase has been pretty long too…

(Sighs) I thought after doing a course in the National School of Drama, the doors of the film world would open to me. I was mistaken. The industry has thousands of strugglers vying for a small role in any film. Producers/directors also took good advantage of my situation. What they paid was good enough for few days’ meals. I lived in a rented accommodation on shared basis with four people in several suburbs. Our rents would be hiked at the drop of a hat, we had to shift houses frequently, or some friend would let me stay in his room for a few days. I had to ask for credit from friends. I always lived on the edge…

Has the success of your films changed things?

(Laughs) When it comes to films and roles, yes. My financial situation is a little better. I live in rented accommodation close to Andheri West now. The day I was doing the last scene for Gangs of Wasseypur, I felt my life would take a new turn. And it happened. Soon after the film’s release, I got over 200 scripts. Every day people would gather at my place with, say, 10 stories and roles to pick from. It was like a dream situation.

Did the offers make you feel insecure; that you would lose if you didn’t pick all?

My interest was always in the length of the role. I had done too many small ones. So, I gambled and refused all smaller roles.

What about people’s attitude towards a new successful Nawazuddin?

Success shows you your true friends. Those who ignored me during my struggling days now talk to me. It includes so-called friends, producers, directors, actors. This is the truth of the film world. But I don’t think it is an achievement. That will be if this gesture turns into a film.

What about the response in your home town (Budhana in Muzaffarnagar,U.P.)?

People don’t watch films in Budhana. Those who do have to go to the city. Actually, my friends in the village knew that I had gone to Mumbai to try my luck in films. Whenever I went back home and told them about my films, they would go to the city and watch but would say they saw me just for a few seconds. Sometimes the films I boasted of having worked in wouldn’t see the light of the day. They would make fun of me, and say I lied to them. I was very hurt and felt ashamed. After watching GOW and Talaash, they believed I was actually doing ‘something’ in films! Now, when I go home, I don’t make it a big affair. I go and come back silently. I am not a hero-shero there, you know.

How did you parents react?

Budhana is a criminal belt, so all they wanted was for me to get out of there, “become padha likha” and earn something. What I earn and how much I earn doesn’t bother them. When I made them see some of my films, the only thing they noticed was that I wore ‘good clothes’ and that ‘I looked good in them’. They didn’t have any extraordinary expectations, so it doesn’t matter to them that I do big films (laughs). What matters more to them is that I have brought one brother to Mumbai to live with me!