Remember the chain-smoking, abusive and conniving cop Khan from Kahaani, the local journalist Rakesh in Peepli Live or Rangila from Dev D who formed Patna Ke Presley with his partner Rasila and danced to “Emosanal attyachar”? It’s taken Nawazuddin Siddiqui almost 12 years to be recognised by an industry where he has worked on the fringes. But along with the recognition comes the responsibility and distraction of being a Bollywood name. “Until now I have just done the kind of work I thought was interesting. But I am scared that I might start working as per what people expect of me,” says the actor who has just made his lead role debut with Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur II.
GoW II is your first lead role. Does that make you nervous?
I am very nervous. I feel like all the responsibility for the film is on me. I have never had to worry about how a film is going to do at the box office. Not that I am worried about GoW II but it is there at the back of my mind. I don’t know if the audience will accept me as a ‘hero’. After films like Paan Singh Tomar and Kahaani people have started expecting things from me and that scares me. By nature I am very shy. In school, I used to sit on the last bench and when I started doing theatre I would leave immediately after my performance ended. So, it feels strange to be doing interviews and talking to so many people. It is making me more anxious (laughs) but it feels good that people have started noticing me.
Faizal goes through quite a transformation in GoW II...
In GoW I, Faizal is very shy. He starts crying when a girl scolds him. In Part II, he comes into his own. He becomes more mature. Faizal is inherently very trusting but when his trust is broken he doesn’t think twice about punishing people.
Was the transformation easy for you to translate on to the screen?
Not really. It took me about two days to understand who he becomes. I remember Anurag telling me that it was obvious that I was trying to ‘act’ powerful. He explained that those who are powerful don’t need to show it. I thought of how I would react if I became the most powerful man in the industry and that’s how I discovered Faizal.
Not many know that your debut film was Sarfarosh in 1999. It’s been quite a struggle for you...
It’s a miracle that I didn’t go mad in all these years. There were dark days when I questioned what I was doing and why. But there were also days of hope when I felt like I would be able to make a mark. I used to be depressed and frustrated because it was taking so long and I think it started showing on my face. Every time my friends noticed that I was depressed, they’d make sure that they would stay close to me. The problem was that I couldn’t even go back to my village (in UP) or do anything else. What else could I do? I have spent all my life acting and that’s all that I know. People would have said “Dekho hero banne gaya tha, wapas aaya (He had gone to become a hero but has come back).”
A few years ago I thought of migrating to Russia. There was a Russian director who was helping me move. But I couldn’t get my passport made in time. At that time, it felt like I was jinxed. I haven’t got anything easily in life. There have been months without any work and, hence, no money. All my friends were struggling just like me so I couldn’t expect them to help me out. I would live at one friend’s place, have lunch with someone else and dinner with a third person a nd borrow cigarettes from somebody else. After some time I got used to the struggles and compromises. I decided to just keep working without thinking about success.
|Nawazuddin with Huma Qureshi in Gangs of Wasseypur II
At what point did you think the tide has turned in your favour?
After Black Friday released, I did a short film called Bypass. People had started appreciating my work. I thought that maybe things will change now. But people would only call me for small roles. The plus point was that I was getting work. I was surviving. Things started changing about four-five years ago when the length of roles started increasing. And now, thanks to Anurag, I am the lead in a film.
Many noticed you in Kahaani earlier this year. Has life changed since then?
I don’t know. I have just been working. I haven’t had the time to go out so I have no idea what the audience is saying about me. I have noticed that the industry has finally realised that I exist. (Laughs) I am getting more offers. Big directors want me to be a part of their films. I hope to continue getting films like Kahaani or GoW. If people suddenly expect me to start dancing around trees, I’ll have a problem.
How does your family look at this success?
My parents and my brothers live in the village. They travelled about 40km to Muzaffarnagar to watch GoW. My parents have no clue what Bollywood or acting is all about. They are just happy that I am going to work and that I am not depressed like I used to be. They are just happy to see me laugh and smile.
You’ve done quite a few odd-jobs before finding your passion for acting...
I come from a family of farmers from a village called Budhana, in district Muzaffarnagar in UP. The three most important things in my village are gehun (wheat), ganna (sugarcane) aur gun. So, that’s the kind of place I grew up in. After my education, I moved to Baroda to become a chemist. It was just too boring. Then I moved to Delhi and that’s where I discovered theatre. But there was no money in theatre and someone suggested that I work as a watchman. I didn’t last very long because I didn’t look strong and kept sleeping on the job. (Laughs) I enrolled in National School of Drama after which I moved to Mumbai in 2000.
In a recent interview, you’ve said: “Main aisi koi film nahin karunga jiski ijaazat mera zameer nahin deta” (I will never do a film that my conscience doesn’t allow). Are you sure you would be able to stick to this?
Of course! I will never do a meaningless film. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t do a commercial film. I can’t see myself doing a formula film that is being made just for the heck of it. There has to be a valid reason for making a film. If someone offers me the part of a dancer, I will train and do that film but I will not do a film where I am expected to dance every 15 minutes just for the heck of it.