Chatting with Nawaz bhai is always a lively experience. He has sharp, intelligent eyes that hold your attention when he is talking to you. They are unwavering, and command respect. While many might choose to ignore his slight frame or average appearance, it is his eyes that are proof of his powerhouse acting talent. He always speaks from the heart, with complete honesty, like an older brother would, discussing films and sharing insights about the industry. He welcomes me to his home this time round, and greets me like a teacher would an old student. Over the several occasions I’ve interviewed him, I’ve seen him find his bearings, become confident, sink his teeth into an unwelcoming movie industry and carve out a niche and fandom many would be jealous of. He is the thinking man’s bhai – one that, as a country, we should be proud of.  

How did you come up with the idea of writing a book?

See, I wasn’t planning on a book, but the Penguin guys forced me a little into doing this. And I told them that I don’t have the time to write a book. So, they decided to send Ritu [Rituparna Chatterjee] over to be with me for 24 hours, every day, for a whole year. Wherever I would go to shoot, whatever I would be doing, she would be there with me. And the best bit is that, according to my mood, I would start narrating anecdotes, stories and ramblings. She would work according to my mood too. And that led to an involvement from her end too.

Wasn’t it irritating to have someone tail you constantly for this long?

She had to do the writing. My job was to only narrate, after all. And as you start telling stories and start feeling nostalgic, you feel good. It is a good feeling, you know? You revisit your sweet old memories. Even while you are acting, that is what you do, right? You go into your experiences and memories to derive something that will work for the character or situation at hand. So, it isn’t that difficult for actors to go back into the past, relive it and draw it out. It is quite easy, actually. Also, there are a lot of things that you don’t want to talk about, but it’s a memoir, so you have to.

That’s what I was getting to. You have always had fantastic equations with everyone in the industry. Will this book piss anybody off? How honest have you been?

My worst experiences have been during my struggling days, and I have put them down in the book in all honesty. And my basic problem with the industry has always been the constant underestimation of somebody’s personality and talent, and how less talented individuals always get better opportunities because they are connected to somebody. I have always been underestimated by everyone around me, from the very beginning, actually. Even in my village, when I started off, no one believed in me.

The last time we chatted, you made an observation about the Hindi movie industry. You said “we are suffering from a slave mentality and still accept the western stereotype of what a hero should look like, because of which, these days, “log acting gym
mein seekhte hain”. Are you seeing that mentality change?

On a very small level, maybe. It won’t change either, because the people our films are made for are not that educated. And the film industry is not responsible for their education, right? So, until they get educated, the same kind of films will be made, and they will be hits. We see one or two “content-oriented” films in between, which people appreciate, but they don’t do business. And that is a fact. So, everything depends on the audience, because for the industry, this is a business. If the audience likes something, they will keep making it. 

Maanjhi
Mom

You don’t think you are a part of the industry too?

I am, yes, of course. See, we tried to make a change. We have been trying for the last 10-12 years. Some worked, some didn’t. But these days, people have been jumping up and down saying that the time has come for “content-oriented films”. That’s crap. 1-2 films work because of better publicity maybe, and that’s it. Maybe it will change, in 50-60 years.

Is there a film in your filmography that you wish you hadn’t done?

I shouldn’t have done Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, although, fortunately, it became quite a hit. When I saw the final cut, there were a few things I didn’t agree with, but it was too late to change anything. There are a few more films that I shouldn’t have done, but I was compelled to for whatever reason.

How involved are you in the film-making process? Do you share your views and inputs often with the director?

Whichever film it is, be it Babumoshai or even Kick, I am 100 per cent involved. You will never be able to say that I was more involved in a, say, Manto, than in these films. My involvement is the same. If a director asks me for my feedback on the scripting level, I will share it, but otherwise, I don’t interfere. It is the director’s vision after all, and she/he has spent more time with the film than I have.

Tell us something about the Netflix experience. You are starring in Anurag Kashyap’s Sacred Games, along with Radhika Apte and Saif Ali Khan.

I can’t say much about it, but the experience has been an extreme one, all thanks to Anurag and Vikramaditya Motwane. The best thing is that there is no censorship involved. This is the first time I saw Anurag spread his wings and do things the way he wants to. And he has. Anurag is the kind of film-maker that, if there is no censorship, he can make the world’s best film. He has the guts to do that.

Gangs Of Wasseypur 2
Raman Raghav 2.0

What is the last film you saw and wished you had been in?

There are quite a few, like Wolf Of Wall Street and Birdman. Also, the lead character in Narcos.

Do you follow TV shows?

I watch all the time. Even if I am shooting for 18 hours, I try to take at least 2 hours out to watch shows and documentaries. I watch documentaries a lot.

Of the younger generation of actors, who do you think has the ability to become a Nawazuddin Siddiqui?

I don’t have the ability myself.

Now you are just being unnecessarily humble.

See, I can’t say that right now. You need to watch a body of work to make that comment. You need at least 10-12 years of work, to say that the person has to have a variety of films in their repertoire… you can’t just call someone the next Nawazuddin Siddiqui because they have had 1-2 hits.

An Ordinary Life: A Memoir, By Nawazuddin Siddiqui with Rituparna Chatterjee, Penguin Random House India, releases today.