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‘My family thought I was being un-Islamic for wanting to be an actor’: Naseeruddin Shah

Naseeruddin Shah in ‘Mee Raqsam’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Naseeruddin Shah finds being sidelined at home, even as a pandemic rages on, a manageable situation. Such is an actor’s life that he admits spending months together away from work and at home.

“I have never lived the kind of life as some people who are used to leaving home early morning and returning late at night. So being at home is fine,” he says. He has also made a lockdown self discovery: that he is quite fond of house work.

Says ‘Naseer saab’, as he connects over phone from Mumbai, “I quite enjoy pottering around the kitchen. It is something I had never done before.”

Common thread

Naseeruddin Shah will be seen in a Zee5 film, Mee Raqsam, directed by Baba Azmi; the latter has previously stated that the film is a tribute to his father, the acclaimed Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi. Baba is actor Shabana Azmi’s brother.

Naseeruddin plays “the antagonist”, in his words, except instead of brute strength what his character seeks to impose upon the protagonist — a young Muslim girl (Aditi Subedi) who wants to learn Bharatanatyam — is his will.

“I could empathise with the dilemma of the protagonist. She is a child from an orthodox lower middle class Muslim family who wants to learn Bharatanatyam. I think even a child from an affluent Muslim family will have a problem [with such a choice] because of our prejudices and deep seated resentment of the other,” he says.

Naseeruddin Shah in ‘Mee Raqsam’

Naseeruddin Shah in ‘Mee Raqsam’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The actor rolls back the years to draw a parallel. “People in my family thought I was crazy when I told them I wanted to be an actor. They thought I was doing un-Islamic stuff,” he says, before bringing up the Pakistani film Khuda Kay Liye (2007) in which he had played a cameo.

“It is a very important film in my life because it talks about this belief, about music being haram and compelling all Muslims to have beards, wear pyjamas etc. I was told this as a child and I always rebelled against it. Khuda Kay Liye spoke for me without me knowing it. Mee Raqsam is similar. The kind of objections this child in the film faces are far more rabid and venomous than what I faced,” he adds.

Naseeruddin is the aggressor in Mee Raqsam, a powerful representative of a small town community the young girl (Aditi Subedi) hails from, and where he commands unparalleled respect and obedience.

“The child’s father is a tailor and supports her against the ‘establishment’ of which I’m a representative. I say things I do not believe in, but as an actor, I had to make it my business to put in as much conviction as I could into what I was saying. I don’t think one should pass judgement on a character one is playing with sincerity and conviction,” he says.

Solitary journey

The veteran actor is all praise for Aditi, calling her “a real find”.

Naseeruddin Shah in ‘Mee Raqsam’

Naseeruddin Shah in ‘Mee Raqsam’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I don’t think she has ever acted in her life. You know dance takes a lifetime to master. But she practised and got it as much as was possible to learn in the few months before shooting. There is also a quality of stillness to her performance which is very rare,” he says.

Mee Raqsam was shot in Kaifi Azmi’s hometown, Mijwan, in Uttar Pradesh. Aditi also hails from the same town. Does it make sense for filmmakers to take their craft to little pockets of the country in a bid to discover such talent?

“Who is going to make that effort? I don’t think it is a practical idea. And in any case, an actor’s journey is a solitary one. He’s got to learn all his lessons on his own and depend on no one but himself. This is true regardless of the family you are born in,” he says, and pauses to add: “It is, however, imperative for a filmmaker to recognise the talents that lie all over the country.”

The actor has made his presence felt in the OTT space as well. His latest web series, Bandish Bandits, on Amazon Prime has been received well; it is a subject that Naseeruddin remarks he would have taken up regardless of the medium it was being shot for. “I don’t think [the medium] affects my attitude to work. Whether it is on stage, TV or movie, my attitude is the same and my attempt to get across is as intense. I work as hard in anything I do,” he says.

Finding middle ground

With the pandemic forcing audiences away from theatres, Naseeruddin says he is anxious to know how potboiler films will be received by viewers when watching at home.

“The hysteria these films generate, it infects everybody in the audience whether they like the film or not. I’m interested in knowing how the audience would react now,” he says.

The actor also makes a bold prediction. “I foresee a dim future for the multi hundred crore blockbusters. I hope this is an opportunity the film industry grabs and starts to value content based drama over sensationalism though there is probably a slim chance of that happening. We have not changed too much for several decades so it is too much to expect for a change now,” he says, adding, “They will just come back with a vengeance and make the kind of films that Hollywood is making... all the superhero nonsense, but I think the smaller filmmakers will also have found a space by then. Will there be a middle ground or not... I don’t know.”

‘Mee Raqsam’ streams on Zee5 from August 21

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 11:38:01 AM |

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