Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nawazuddin Siddiqui: No Longer an Outsider in Bollywood

I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with Nawazuddin Siddiqui at SAIFF 2013. Admittedly this interview was unscheduled and took place at a cocktail party where I had nothing with me to take notes other than a day planner and a green pen. Some translation assistance was very thoughtfully provided by Prashant Bhargava, who directed Nawazuddin in the excellent Patang. Quotes are as accurate as circumstances allow.

(Nawazuddin loose in New York City. Photo credit to Mo Pitz. Please contact her for use.)

Anybody who reads my blog knows that I have a weakness for supporting characters, actors with a handful of scenes. Whether they’re villains, comedians, best friends, rowdies, sisters, mothers, or even just a scene-stealing glare from a guy running a fruit cart or a particularly fierce backing dancer, I am a firm believer of the maxim that there are no small roles, just small actors. And for good reason. Mainstream studios tend to cast small actors with big connections in large roles and many, many of those films only succeed thanks to the supporting cast. Where would Munna Bhai be without Circuit? How many heroes are helped by facing off against charismatic and generous actors like Sonu Sood?

Nawazuddin Siddiqui first came to my attention in just one of those supporting roles in Kabir Khan’s New York (2009), playing a man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who was going to Katrina Kaif’s character Maya for therapy. His pain and confusion came through strongly but rather than upstaging Katrina, he worked with her, making his scenes in the film some of the most touching and most memorable.

Not every talented actor rises to the top but through a combination of luck, good timing, hard work, and a certain (very) handsome charm, Nawazuddin managed to crack through to mainstream attention. A role in the Aamir Khan produced Peepli Live got him noticed by the right people and led to films like Kahaani, Gangs of Wasseypur, Talaash, Bombay Talkies, and The Lunchbox, as well as a handful of highly anticipated films currently waiting for distribution, including Dekh Indian Circus and Miss Lovely.

Being the focus of Nawazuddin’s attention is just as intense as his performances would suggest and it unnerved me as I tried to formulate my questions that wouldn’t disappoint him. For a man who has spent the better part of the last two years under hot and heavy media scrutiny--has an actor arrived when media outlets start making up feuds with Irrfan Khan?--what is left to be said? So I asked what he thought of the press attention and if he found it tiresome.

“No, it allows me to speak my mind directly to the people”, says Nawazuddin. “And to have an impact beyond film.” To be expected from a man who got his big break with Aamir Khan. For a man from a small town in Uttar Pradesh having the voice of the media, in multiple languages, at his command is surely an intoxicating power. Everybody can have a blog (I’m exhibit A) or speak in a comments section but to be able to broadcast your ideas to a mass audience is something else entirely.

“What has changed in the past few years is the expectation to perform,” he continues. “Before, I could lose myself in the moment to acting but now there is that pressure to deliver. I want to return to place where I can focus on the process of the art and not the result. Working naturally in this environment is difficult. It’s hard to maintain concentration. There is more pressure.”

Being part of a film that will be seen by global audiences, like The Lunchbox, must certainly amp up the pressure. How does he chose which films to do? Only art films or would he consider doing masala?

“Actually, I’m doing a role in Sajid Nadiawala’s Kick, so, no, I don’t mind those films.” I try to restrain my glee at hearing this. “For me, the character is what’s important.”

Nawazuddin is no snob about films. In fact, when I ask him what films he loved watching and what inspired him to act he explains that he grew up watching C-grade cinema in his small town in UP but what led him to become an actor was the theater. And his discovery of the stage.

Film requires a different kind of acting from theater and Nawazuddin is happy to talk about it. “In theater, if you are bad guy, you have to say you’re a bad guy so the audience can understand. Cinema is different. Cinema explores actions but the stage demands actions.”

And what about the future? “I want to work with young directors. They aren’t following the train. They have their own ideas and want to do something different.”

Well, I hope he gets to do something different!

Thank you, Mr. Siddiqui for your time and for your work!

1 comment:

Mette said...

I also had the chance to meet Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Stuttgart this year and he's such a great guy - he even bought us (my editors and me) beers! I could listen to him talking all day really, he has such a nice way of speaking and articulating.

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