Nawazddin Siddiqui has come a long way from his ‘blink and you miss’ role in Sarfarosh to being the toast of tinsel town. He has managed to dazzle viewers everywhere with powerful performances in films like Peepli Live, Gangs of Wasseypur, Kahani and more recently the critically acclaimed Lunchbox.
When I met Nawazuddin at his Andheri residence he seemed relaxed and ready for the acclaim that’s pouring in. But not too long ago, he had almost resigned to playing two minutes roles, until Black Friday came along. Excerpts from an interview…
From being an extra in films to being the lead actor to travelling to Cannes… you have spent nearly two decades trying to get to where you are today.
The struggle was huge. There was a lot of rejection. Initially I used to get frustrated and depressed after being rejected. But as time went by, I started getting used to the rejection. It didn’t affect me so much.
I started with 40 second roles and gradually moved to one minute and then two minute roles in movies. But I was stuck with one minute roles for almost 4-5 years hoping for bigger roles. Since I was a trained actor from National School of Drama I never anticipated the struggle to be so long and so hard.
What was the turning point?
It was when Anurag Kashyap offered me Black Friday. I was overjoyed that I had three scenes in the film. What else did I need in life?
Did you ever think of giving up?
How could I? I don’t know anything else. I had almost resigned to the fact that I may never make it big. I had learnt to compromise with life. I knew I had to keep acting – whether in film, street plays, theatre or TV serials.
But you don’t come from a film family and have no acting background. Where did you get this nasha for acting?
I am a farmer’s son. I never thought I would be an actor. After graduating in chemistry I worked as a chemist in Baroda for a year and a half. But my heart was not in the job. I wanted to do something else, but didn’t know what it was. So I quit my job and came to Delhi where a friend took me to watch a play. That play changed my life. It was Manoj Bajpayee’s Uljhan. He was the star of theatre at that time. I realised I wanted to act. I then watched around 50-60 plays. When I ran out of money I joined a theatre group. After doing theatre for a year I joined NSD.
What was your family’s reaction?
I am only one who’s educated in my family. The rest are all farmers. So for them being a graduate is the highest qualification you can ever get. All they cared for is for me to keep working. On stage or as a chemist – it didn’t matter much to them.
They must be really proud now
Yes they feel good. My mother likes it when I am dressed well in a film. She doesn’t care too much about the film or my role in it – ‘bas kapde acche pehne ho! Aur koi mujhe maare nahin.’
You started off as a comic actor in theatre but got slotted as an intense actor in films.
Yes all the plays I did in theatre and NSD were comedies. But now I am doing Dhoomketu, produced by Anurag Kashyap which is an out and out comedy. Lunchbox was also a light hearted role. GOW was a dark role but it had some light moments in the first half. When I first landed in Mumbai no one believed I could pull off comedy because of my looks. So I was offered more serious roles.
What’s was the biggest challenge in getting to where you are today?
It was fighting against people’s mindsets. People have a mental picture of how an actor should look. That was the biggest roadblock for me. I wasted a lot of time fighting with people who said ‘you don’t look like an actor.’ When you are young you can go without food for a few days. But constant rejection kills you.
What kind of movies do you feed on personally?
I am more inclined towards world cinema. It’s my passion. I don’t watch so much of Bollywood or Hollywood. I also like regional cinema – Marathi, Bengali, etc. It’s pure if it’s uninfluenced by Bollywood. Clichéd run of the mills films doesn’t excite me at all. People watch it, but it’s not my style.
But isn’t it a confusing time for Hindi cinema where you have audiences approving a Rowdy Rathore along with Gangs Of Wasseypur and Lunchbox?
It’s not. People have been fed formula films for ages. You can’t get rid of it so easily. But at the same time there is a small audience for Lunchbox – young and the educated. So in spite of just 400 screenings in multiplexes the film was a hit. It’s good that people today have a choice. Films like Lunchbox, Kahani, Gangs of Wasseypur and Paan Singh Tomar have been successful in creating an audience. Ten years ago everyone saw only formula films. But these new age films have been able to pull at least 20 per cent of people who watched only formula films and refine their tastes. It’s a good sign for Hindi film industry.
What was the most challenging role for you so far?
Every role I get is the most challenging. I am always nervous about each and every role. Even the tiny role I did in Sarfarosh made me very nervous. You may not have even noticed me in the film. But every role scares me. Actors who innovate are always nervous. But actors who only repeat what they have done in their previous films will never be nervous about their roles.
My role of a Marathi actor in Bombay Talkies looked very simple but was the most difficult to play.
What are your passions apart from acting?
I love listening to background scores of films and instrumental music. There should be no words. Words limit you. I don’t like to be restricted to anything when I am listening to music. Instrumental music allows me to travel to any place while listening to the music. I also like travelling. Whenever I have any free time I leave my phone behind and set off to explore new places. I recently went into the interiors of Karnataka. I like going alone. One of my most memorable trips was when I took off to Paris and Germany for a month. I was alone without my phone. I like being alone for a while after I complete a film.
Very confused. I can’t handle too many things at a time.
My first film
Bindiya Maange Bandook
Not at all important. I want enough money for my daily meals and a few cigarettes. I need food to be able to think and act. That’s it. If money was important I wouldn’t be an actor. I would be happy with a shop in Muzzafarpur. As a struggling actor I have stayed without money for almost six months. I used to travel without a ticket, eat at a friend’s house and borrow cigarettes from another friend. But at the end of the sixth month I was left with no friends!
Most memorable trips
It was to Stuttgart, Germany. The museums, opera and culture of Stuttgart bowled me over. In India I love returning to Jaisalmer.
Advise to new comers
Don’t try to be someone else. Everyone wants to be a Shahrukh Khan. Be true to who you are. People want to see your uniqueness. Be smart even with your struggle.
There is Dhoomketu, Babumoshai Bandukbaj as well as director Sriram Raghavan’s next untitled project. I am also looking forward to working with Salman Khan in Kick.
By Nivedita Jayaram Pawar