Adil Hussain seeks answers: On ‘The Storyteller’ and ‘Max, Min and Meowzaki’

In his latest films, Adil Hussain questions the idea of identity and originality, and indulges in a mystical conversation in his upcoming play based on the ‘Bhagavad Gita’

September 29, 2022 06:10 pm | Updated October 01, 2022 05:05 pm IST

Adil Hussain

Adil Hussain | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A rare actor who dabbles in both mainstream and independent cinema with equal ease, Adil Hussain says the Hindi mainstream cinema needs to fix its process of content creation. “Films are not just about eventfulness, but also about the psychological study of characters.”

Characters with depth are something he enjoys portraying, and could go to any length in search of them. Recently, he played one such layered character in Wanphrang Diengdoh’s  Lorni -The Flaneur on SonyLIV; a private detective in search of a stolen culture. Adil is very much like a flaneur who loves to observe society and appreciates all its colours. “We have competent novel and short story writers, and they could be engaged in developing ideas and characters with screenwriters. It is something filmmakers from the south have been doing successfully. Perhaps that’s why more and more of their films are being remade in Hindi,” he observes.

Excited that two of his films have made it to the upcoming Busan International Film Festival, Adil was in Delhi recently to participate in the India Habitat Centre Theatre Festival, where the spotlight was on his contribution to theatre.

Excerpts from a conversation:

What made you do ‘Lorni-The Flaneur,’ an independent film in Khasi?

There is a particular scene in the film where a shaman says that the most valuable things which can be or will be stolen are our words and stories. When I read the script, I felt this is a very important question to address. Our subconscious conditioning, how we behave, and how we look at others, are mostly dependent on stories that we are brought up on.

It leads to another important question — as to who are the original inhabitants of a place — that the film raises in a non-political, anthropological way. I could identify with it. In Assam, where I come from, there is a debate whether the Ahoms — who are said to have come from Thailand — are the original inhabitants, or is it the Rabhas, the Miris, and the Karbis? The former has become royalty because they conquered the land; the others are called tribals. Over the years, some people have come in from West Bengal and East Bengal (Bangladesh), and now they are called outsiders. I don’t know who is right or wrong, but it is an interesting debate that I usually don’t find in Indian films.

Like the protagonist, I also have a mixed identity and could understand his concerns. My maternal grandfather was a Sufi from Iraq who came and settled in India in 1875, and my maternal grandmother was born to an Englishman — who ran steamers in the Brahmaputra — and an Assamese girl.

Adil Hussain

Adil Hussain | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Tell us about your two films that will be showcased at the upcoming Busan International Film Festival?

After 2019, it is the second time I have had two films at the prestigious festival.

There is Anant Mahadevan’s  The Storyteller which is in the competition section. Based on Satyajit Ray’s beautiful short story  Golpo Boliye Tarini Khuro, it is about an artist’s poetic revenge and questions the concepts of originality and plagiarism. It is said that Ray wrote the story after his painful experience with Hollywood studios who kept sitting on  The Alien, his story of an extra-terrestrial landing in Bengal and becoming friends with a boy. Years later, when  ET became a phenomenon, people found striking similarities between the Steven Spielberg film and Ray’s script! I play the Gujarati businessman who hires the storyteller, played by Paresh Rawal.

Then there is Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy’s  Max, Min and Meowzaki, which is the story of three generations of an affluent Tamil-Brahmin family and depicts a clash of sociopolitical ideologies and the world view. I play the middle-generation IIT guy who has led his life in Mumbai. While his father (played by Nasser) is a Carnatic singer, the son is a rapper.

Over the years, you have played different regional identities on screen. How tough was it playing a Tamil-Brahmin?

It was challenging. Paddy wanted a Tamil accent, but we didn’t want to make it feel caricaturish or put-on. He recorded all the lines, I heard them a few times and delivered them. I got the director’s nod as well as that of a Tamil writer friend who found it close to authentic. The fact that the character grew up in Mumbai allowed me some space.

When are you returning to the stage? Tell us about your ambitious project on Krishna...

I miss theatre and had started working on the piece during the pandemic. It is taking shape, and I would like to play Krishna. Written by my friend and guide Dilip Shankar, it is about the essential understanding of the Bhagavad Gita. Right from the Rig Veda, there have been different ideas of the paths to the divine. But in the Gita, all the paths are brought together by Krishna. We can call it the latest roadmap toward divinity.

What does the word intent mean? Is it ‘intention’ or is it deeper than that? It is about discovering our essential operating energy. It doesn’t matter what you say... what is important is what you are, essentially. How you are, and not what you think as a person, will affect your actions. You can say you are doing something for a greater cause, but if your intention is jealousy, how would it help? You are pulling a disguise over your operating energy.

It is very mystical and the idea is to denude people of all identities. All masks down!

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