It Takes A Village To Raise An Actor

From struggling to land one-scene roles to being known as the actor behind some of Hindi cinema’s most iconic characters such as Faizal Khan and Ganesh Gaitonde, his is a story of patience and resilience. This year, with Afwaah, Jogira Sara Ra Ra and now Tiku Weds Sheru, he already has three releases and is gearing up for a few more. But for him success means better work opportunities; the celebrity tag or the star status does not impress Nawazuddin Siddiqui at all

By Ananya Ghosh

The more I see that [glamorous] life from close proximity, the more convinced I am that I don’t want that for myself,” Nawazuddin Siddiqui had said when we had previously met for an interview. It was for a cover of a magazine and we were doing a high-fashion shoot. He rocked the suits and looked every bit dapper. But it was when he had slipped out of the carefully curated sleek garbs and slipped back into his rather ordinary regular clothes, that I encountered the man behind the character. “Stardom doesn’t suit me. I can play the character of a star very well, though, and you would be convinced that I live that life. I am good with characters,” he had then said while affectionately rolling his cigarette.

And this should give some context to his Instagram post where he can be seen carrying a shovel in a field wearing a soiled white shirt, or his decision to spend the entire lockdown in his hometown working on his farm, which according to the actor who hails from a family of farmers, comes naturally to him. When not busy being characters, Siddiqui prefers to be his own unadulterated self.

But in the last five years, has his relationship with fame changed? Is he today a bit more comfortable with the ‘celebrity’ tag? “Neither have I got used to fame nor am I comfortable with the celebrity tag,” he says when we meet amid of a busy day of back-to-back promotional events of Prime Video’s quirky romantic comedy, Tiku Weds Sheru, his third film of 2023 after Jogira Sara Ra Ra and Afwaah.

“My job is to do my work and I want to continue doing that. Tags are something people put on you. I have an artistic temperament and I feel blessed to be an artiste. Acting is the biggest joy of my life. It transports me to a different world—a world of characters and not tags– and that’s the world I like to stay in. I am happy being just an artiste,” he says.

“Of course, success has changed a few things here and there, but those are the outer things. Success has not changed me as a person though. But yes, as you live life, you learn from your experiences and you grow as a person. Your thought process also evolves. I don’t live in my own nostalgia of being an actor, I want to move to the next step, I want to keep evolving as an actor. Instead of thinking if I am a star or a celebrity or about that lifestyle, my focus usually remains on fixing my weaknesses as an artiste and improving my craft, in determining which direction I want to explore next as an actor and in finding ways to incorporate my recent experiences and thoughts into my art. I don’t have the mind space to even think about the celebrity tag or if I am a star, let alone getting comfortable with those,” the actor elaborates.

“I don’t want to cage myself in the artifice of a posh existence. My artiste gets nourishment from real experiences. I don’t want to cut my roots from reality. I make it a point to meet regular people and listen to their experiences and thoughts. I often go to remote hamlets where people don’t know me at all and spend time there. This is because I myself have grown up in a similar small village. I am still that same person. I have not replaced my village with highrises inside my heart,” adds Siddiqui.

Maybe that’s why he is often seen getting away from city life and spending time with his family back home in Budhana, a small town in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district. “It will be incorrect to say that I get tired of living in the city. But yes, I do get bored of the film industry environment, where the conversations are usually always confined to movies and box office collections. I start feeling suffocated after a point and I head towards some mountain or I go back to my village and to my people. I am a very normal regular person and I don’t intend to change. When I am back in my village with my people, they treat me the same way. It doesn’t really matter to them if I am an actor. To them, I am no celebrity. They would hurl abuses at me back then and they do the same even now [laughs]. And those keep me rooted to my reality,” explains the 49-year-old.

In Tiku Weds Sheru, the film is set in the underbelly of Bollywood. Siddiqui is Sheru, an aspiring actor with multiple murky side hustles who has sold a fake narrative about his Mumbai life to his people back home in Bhopal. Although the actor is nothing like the flamboyant, filmy dialogue spouting, junior artiste dressed in flashy clothes, it is not difficult to discern an accidental autobiographical reference to his own humble beginning as a junior artiste. In fact, it is not the first time he is playing an aspiring actor. Earlier, he had played Purandar, a failed stage actor trying to get an acting job as an extra, in Dibakar Banerjee’s segment, Star, in the 2013 anthology movie, Bombay Talkies

Reminiscing his early years, the NSD alumnus says, “Those days, there were fixed junior artistes for fixed type of characters—you would have one actor playing doctor in every movie, someone would have even gotten an officer’s outfit made because he would always get calls to play a police inspector. I had a friend who was known for his curly hair and that got him roles. Most people banked on some physical aspect to get those bit roles. I didn’t want to go that route. My education and training saved me. I had that confidence that my craft will get me work and I won’t need to carry a costume with me to readily bag a character.”

Before his breakthrough act as Faizal Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s filmography has him playing minor characters. His first few screen outings were mentioned as ‘Terrorist / Informer’, ‘Waiter’, ‘Khabri’, ‘Leader’, ‘First bandit’, ‘Pickpocketer’, ‘Ponnappa’s brother’, ‘Local goon’ etc. And when his character Sheru claims in the movie, ‘Main jo bhi karta hoon shiddat ke sath karta hoon and it’s a fact’, it holds true for the actor. Even in bit roles, he ensured that he makes an impact. In fact, during the earlier interview, he had admitted that he used to call himself ‘the onescene master’ but he would always approach every scene he got with similar zeal and sincerity. If success has changed something, it has given him the power to choose better films.

“I was doing one-scene roles. I kept doing that for five years. Then I started demanding, not from anyone else, but from myself, that from now on I will not take up those one-scene roles but would only agree to working if I get two scenes. Then I started getting twoscene roles. I did that for about three years and then went on to three-scene roles. It was a gradual, stepby-step process. It took me years to graduate to a lead part,” he points out.

Siddiqui is quick to add that while he was becoming hungrier for better and more substantial roles, being the Bollywood hero was never the dream. “To be honest, I was not looking to be a leading man in the movies. That was not the dream. Acting for me was a mode of survival. I knew only this work and was looking to make ends meet. That was the dream, to survive well,” he affirms.

The actor, who was awarded the Special Jury Award in 2012 for his work in films Kahaani, Gangs of Wasseypur, Dekh Indian Circus and Talaash, and has proved his range further with movies as diverse as The Lunchbox, Badlapur, Manjhi – The Mountain Man, Manto, Raman Raghav 2.0, Raat Akeli Hai, and more recently Afwaah, is now looking forward to his next release, Haddi. The noir-revenge drama will see him play a transgender character. “I don’t want a comfort zone. I want to play characters that make me uncomfortable and throw a challenge,” the actor signs off.

Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com

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