‘I learnt a long time ago to not let how I look affect me’ — Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Two decades ago, Nawazuddin Siddiqui had a blink-and-you-miss role in the Aamir Khan cop drama Sarfarosh. It took the actor another decade to get the audience and the industry to notice him, but he hasn’t looked back since Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli [Live]. Regarded as one of the finest actors in the industry today, there has been, however, a certain kind of films that have eluded the 45-year-old’s filmography. Last weekend, the audience got to see Nawaz in a rare avatar as romantic hero Pushpinder Tyagi in Debamitra Biswal’s rom com Motichoor Chaknachoor. The Telegraph sat down with Nawaz, just days before the film’s release, to chat about romantic films, his struggles as an actor and why he thinks the second season of Sacred Games didn’t work as well as the first.
You have often talked about how the industry doesn’t see you in some roles because of your looks. Has it been a struggle to have filmmakers see you as a romantic actor?
At the risk of bragging, I am the only actor today who can finish shooting Manto and start Thackeray. Our mainstream actors suffer from stereotyping, not me. In 2007, I made a film called Patang, thanks to which I got an opportunity to travel abroad and meet international critics like the late Roger Ebert. When they talked about our films, they said that the typical Bollywood hero looks a certain way. When you think about it, they aren’t wrong. I learnt a long time ago to not let how I look affect me. Just this year, I have played Ganesh Gaitonde (in the Netflix series Sacred Games) and made a film like Photograph. These gave me a chance to show different facets of my personality.
But you don’t get offered romances or even comedies very often, do you?
Yeah, I guess people have decided that I look intense, so most of the work that comes my way is of a certain kind. When I moved to Mumbai from Delhi after finishing my course at National School of Drama, Rajpal Yadav and Vijay Raaz were two classmates who moved here with me. Rajpal immediately started getting comedy roles because he was told he had a face for it. I’ve seen people play only cops through their career.
Apart from Motichoor Chaknachoor, you are making a few other rom coms. As an actor, are these easier to make?
Absolutely. You don’t have to work too much in preparing the character. The characters are regular enough that you can base them on people you would have seen in life. What I enjoy about comedies is that you get to improvise a lot. Also, making people laugh is a lot easier than making people think.
Really? Most actors insist that comedy is the toughest!
I don’t know. I feel if you’ve been given the proper lines, you can get the audience to laugh. Most people walk into a film theatre to have a good time, so they are already mentally prepared to laugh. What they don’t want to do is think and feel intense emotions. For an actor, to take them with you on that journey is much harder.
You’ve just finished shooting for Bole Chudiyan, which your brother Shamas Siddiqui is directing. What was it like being directed by him?
It was really good. He has a very commercial bent of mind. Though he is my younger brother, I didn’t take advantage of our relationship to influence the kind of film he wanted to make. He has written and directed the film he wanted to make. I was just the professional actor on his set who did what he was supposed to. I didn’t want to interfere because that would have affected the story he wanted to tell. It was important to give him that respect as a director.
The second season of Sacred Games wasn’t as loved as the first one. What do you think went wrong?
I am told that lots of people watched Season 2 as well because they had been fans of the previous one. I think people didn’t like it as much because maybe this one had too many philosophies stuffed in and the newer characters didn’t work. I don’t think the audience loved these new characters as much as they loved the ones from Season 1. And, the makers thought that they had to make the new season bigger and better than the first one. Personally, the second season was a lot harder for me. In this season, the character (Ganesh Gaitonde) is fighting with his inner world and complexities.
Years ago, in an interview you had said ‘I am not tall enough, not fair enough, I don’t look good enough, I don’t speak in English at all… my fight is much bigger than everyone else’s’. Is this still a struggle?
The industry is ready to change but the audience isn’t, which means that the industry has to make the film that they want to watch. We had a brilliant movie like Court a few years ago but 10 of us must have watched it. So, then a film like that is not considered a success or mainstream. My struggle is with the fact that I think it would take another century for the audience to start appreciating good cinema. If I am hopeful, then maybe it’ll take another 20 years, but I am not hopeful. What’s the point of the change if it happens after I am gone?
You made your debut 20 years ago with a small role in Sarfarosh. What has been your biggest learning about the movie business?
You have to make films according to what the audience wants to see. That’s why films like Photograph, Raman Raghav (2.0), Manto don’t work and that leaves me wondering if we made a mistake. The kind of films that work should have comedy, love story, five songs and one ‘issue’. I keep telling myself that I should make more commercial films but my nature is such that I am drawn to characters and films that have something to say. So, every year I try to do some films for myself and others that the market would like to see.
Are there any drawbacks of becoming a known face?
People ask for selfies even in the bathroom! (Laughs) But I don’t have a problem when fans come up for selfies. Very often, they seem like people who probably don’t watch my films but if taking one photo with someone gives them a few moments of happiness, it’s worth it. Yes, it requires some amount of patience and it takes away from your precious time but those two minutes of happiness are worth it. What I don’t like are the rumours and fake stories. Very often you see these stories take on a life of their own and it’s sad when fans start believing that you are that kind of person.
What’s next year looking like for you?
I have finished Sudhir Mishra’s A Serious Man, which is based on Manu Joseph’s book. I am going to New York for the next two months to shoot for No Man’s Land. It’s directed by (Bangladeshi director) Mostofa Farooki who made Doob. It’s a film about identities and a man who feels different in every city and country he lives in.