My earnest attempt is to live another man’s life: Nawazuddin Siddiqui on his next crime drama ‘McMafia’

Nawazuddin Siddiqui talks about McMafia, one of seven British dramas that will soon air on Zee Café

A sprawling story that unspools across the world — from London to Mumbai, Cairo to Qatar, to name a few — the crime drama McMafia is centred on Alex Godman (played by James Norton) a well-educated hedge-fund manager unwillingly sucked into the lawless world of his Russian mafia family. Also featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui (as Dilly Mahmood, a Mumbai gangster), the show is inspired by the 2009 non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Misha Glenny and looks at the franchise-like world of organised crime.

With BBC First returning for a third season on Zee Café, the series will be one of seven British dramas that will air on the flagship programming block.

Siddiqui, whose show will be alongside this season’s offerings like the Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer Brexit: The Uncivil War and MotherFatherSon starring Richard Gere, chats with The Hindu over an e-mail interaction about what drew him to McMafia, his oeuvre of gangster roles, and how he slips into the skin of his characters. Edited excerpts:

What drew you to Dilly Mahmood and how does he stand out from your other gangster roles?

The role was offered to me since the director, James Watkins (Black Mirror’s ‘Shut Up and Dance’, The Woman in Black) had followed my work — Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), The Lunch Box (2013) and Miss Lovely (2012) — and was impressed by it.

Dilly was not only complex but also challenging. He is an ambitious and strong business partner who is willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top.

James was very clear on how he wanted the character — there is a rawness about Dilly he wanted to showcase. Many times actors put on an accent in English movies, but James wanted me to speak how Indians speak English. Om Puri has had the best performance so far with a natural and true accent.

The character’s journey to constantly scale newer heights is what sets him apart from the other roles I have played and it is the sheer zest of the character that has made me want to play the role.

An added bonus was the opportunity to work with talented artistes and a production house like BBC for my first international [project].

My earnest attempt is to live another man’s life: Nawazuddin Siddiqui on his next crime drama ‘McMafia’

What was your experience working on a British show?

Britain has been home to riveting dramas and is famous for its rich storytelling.

BBC First’s shows have a large fan following amongst the global audience as they are very well crafted. Each of the shows focus on detailed performances and narrate the simplest story in the most unique way. It gave me the opportunity to work with actors from around the world and see each of their different ways of approaching their characters. [It was] a cross-cultural experience.

The show has been compared to The Godfather (1972). Was there a risk of being considered too similar to a classic?

The show largely has been inspired by The Godfather and is based on a popular non-fiction book on the Russian mafia. We can’t compare the two as none of the actors have tried to mimic the characters from the iconic movie. The writers of McMafia have managed to dive deep into how nepotism flows thick even in the Russian mafia.

There’s a point when your character incisively reveals an uncomfortable truth about being a Muslim. He inevitably pits the identity against Shiv Sena in that line. You’ve played Bal Thackeray — a criticised choice, but your performance was lauded. How do you go about reconciling these aspects — between performer and character, and even the many identities you step into?

Whether it is playing the role of a gang lord in McMafia, or the role of the Shiv Sena leader, all of these are just characters I portray. In real life I don’t strictly hold onto a specific ideology or philosophy, because then it would be impossible for me to play the different characters I do. You can only do justice to a role when you truly believe in him, his philosophy, his ideology and his thought process.

I have played roles like Manto, Thackeray and even Faizal Khan — the only way I have been able to do justice to them is because I don’t hold a strict ideology or thought process in my personal life. A lot of people don’t understand this way of life I lead, but as an actor my thought process keeps changing [on the] basis [of] the roles I portray. In the long run it helps me get rid of baggage or taboos and [I] easily slip into the role I’m playing. In my search of playing different roles, my earnest attempt is to live another man’s life for a few months. I consciously keep my reality apart from the characters I play and it ends the minute the director calls it a day.

A role you enjoyed playing?

The character which is the closest to me is Manto, though it didn’t work very well from a box office point of view. It was not only a difficult one to play, but I also relate to the character.

Was there a specific segment in McMafia that stood out for you?

There is one scene which we shot in Croatia. It is set in a pub where I meet with David [Strathairn, playing Semiyon Kleiman]. During the meeting both the characters are saying something, meaning something completely different and the subtext is also something else altogether. The complexity of how all the minute details have been looked [at] is something I enjoyed.

The lines between mediums are blurring, but is there a sense in which your approach shifts for a television miniseries?

Films have a limited time for storytelling and establishing characters. For a television miniseries, the plot and character profiles unfold over a longer duration keeping the audiences hooked for more. In such a format you have the flexibility of making your plot as descriptive and enticing as you want. But for me it really doesn’t matter whether a certain series is shot as a mini television series or a web series, the content and context of the show holds more value.

What are some other projects that are on your plate?

As of now I am working on my brother’s [Shamas Nawab Siddiqui’s directorial feature debut] movie Bole Chudiyan with Tamannaah Bhatia. It’s a movie that can be enjoyed with your family.

BBC First starts on August 5 and airs every weeknight at 10 pm

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 8:00:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/my-earnest-attempt-is-to-live-another-mans-life-nawazuddin-siddiqui-on-his-next-crime-drama-mcmafia/article28822112.ece

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