-Photo by author
-Photo by author
His entry was smooth, almost unnoticed. Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui was the star of the morning, but his arrival didn’t change the order of the room. The conversation continued even as the gaze wandered to a man who is making his presence felt in a range of Hindi films.

Clad in charcoal grey trousers and a blue shirt, Nawazuddin (39) wore his hair long and wavy. He may be short, but as the conversation with him progressed at Open magazine’s breakfast meeting, the man’s stature was clear.

I went to listen to the conversation because of Nawazuddin the man, not Nawazuddin the actor. Having read about the many obstacles he’d overcome, curiosity got the better of me – I enjoy films but am no student of cinema.

So, when an invitation came recently from Open magazine, I accepted immediately.

Nawazuddin spoke candidly about the many, many years of struggle before making it as an actor in the Hindi film industry. Initial rejections caused frustration, depression.

But what happens when these come as a flood? “Phir kuchch nahin hota (then nothing happens),” Nawazuddin told the 40-odd people hanging on to his every word at a Hauz Khaus village cafe in South Delhi.

In the years of struggle, he didn’t have the luxury of saying no to a role. “I had to stand beyond some dakus (dacoits) in Bindiya Maange Bandook,” Nawazuddin said with a laugh.

He then did three or four films in which he was shown being tortured. “Teen-char filmon mein mujhe torture hote huye dikhaya gaya (I was shown being tortured in three or four films).”

So, how does he look back at the years where he had little or no money? “At the time, we used to have pagers. And, if there was a message, we would rush to a friend’s house to call back if there was a role going. Maybe enjoy a meal as well.”

I guess for every Nawazuddin who makes it, there must be tens of thousands who struggle every day to make ends meet. To feed, clothe themselves and their families – to just eke out an existence.

In hindsight, struggle can be romanticised. Not when you are in the middle of it.

In Nawazuddin’s case, his years of struggle lasted till 2009-10. Sometimes he felt like running away from Mumbai, but there was nowhere to run to. After dabbling as a chemist, he did theatre in Delhi and worked as watchman to support himself.

In 1996, he graduated from the National School of Drama and then moved on to the Mumbai film world and the years of struggle that lay ahead. In 2012 alone, four of his films – Kahaani, Gangs of Wassepur, Gangs of Wassepur (Part 2) and Talaash – put him on a new pedestal.

Nawazuddin is clear that he prefers film over theatre. “Theatre mein bataana parta hai (in theatre you have to speak),” he said, adding that the camera did the job in movies.

The questions came thick and fast.

Who is the Bollywood actress you are crazy about? “Boys are crazy about every woman,” he replied without getting into specifics.

Interestingly, the man from Budhana village in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh listens to the background scores of films and not “vocals”. It would appear that the vocals detract from the music itself.

In response to a question, Nawazuddin said people in Western Uttar Pradesh were very aggressive and, consequently, easy targets.

Given that the riots were close to his village home, he was hopeful that the displaced would be able to return home. “When the political temperature drops.”

It was evident to me that Nawazuddin has made his statement in life. He’s clawed himself to success, which others can only aspire to.

Actors or cricketers, writers or civil servants, entrepreneurs or engineers – there’s many an aspirational story out there in India (and the rest of South Asia).

We should celebrate our Nawazuddins more.

And, by celebrating them, talking about them, we extend the possibility that more Nawazuddins would arise from the villages and towns of India.

Opinion

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