Father’s Day Special: Imaad Shah on Naseerudin Shah
In the run up to Father’s Day on June 19, we mined our archives for the best Fathers & Sons stories.
As a child, I had unconditional love for my father’s work. It stems from watching this man, who we saw every day on screen, even though some of them might not have been great films. I have a very clear memory of watching this film called Lakshmanrekha in 1991. I have very little memory of what the film was about, but I do remember a scene of him being beaten up and thrown into a river. It was a very violent scene. I must have been about six years old, and I was so brutalised by it that I went and hid underneath a chair. He was doing a lot of commercial potboilers at the time, which usually ended with him either beating up people or being beaten up by others. Jalwa was a major film for Vivaan and me. I was watching it again the other day and kept thinking how it was relevant to its era. It was a well-constructed thriller, with really interesting characters, and still has elements that are timeless. I remember my father worked very hard to build his body for that role. We were totally in awe of that.
As I grew into college, we began to realise there was this whole other side to him as an actor, which we didn’t see as kids. This was actually his real side. We realised he’d won a best actor’s trophy at the Venice Film Festival for Paar. This was in the late 1990s and it was a dark period for Indian films. At that time, there was no way Indian films were going to foreign festivals. Then, I started getting into Mandi, Nishant and Paar — all the early 1980s stuff he had done. That was an eyeopener for me, because we had grown up on a diet of Tridev and Jalwa.
While growing up, my father was shooting a lot, but he was extremely active and curious about us. My brother and I played a fair bit of tennis with him. We also watched countless movies together. The two that I’ll never forget, because we saw them the most, were Jaws and The Godfather. When he did shoot outdoors, we were lucky enough to go along with him. I remember going to Kenya, Tashkent and Nepal. He was in Paris for a long period of time, because he was working with a theatre company. At the age of 12, I got to stay with him there for a month. He had his own apartment in this very artsy sort of neighbourhood in Paris.
I was always very closely involved in Motley, our theatre company. It was like this small family-run enterprise, almost like a cottage industry. My first production was Julius Caesar. I was four years old and was playing the son of a revolutionary — I probably had some lines as well. While working with him on plays, we did see a bit of his temper. As a theatre director, there is an organisational aspect to the job as well, and he used to lose his cool once in a while. When I started acting, I didn’t ask him for much
advice on my performances. I knew I had this legend sitting next to me, but I thought I would rather tackle this on my own and see what I can do. It was a combination of that and the feeling that maybe it wouldn’t be worth his while; his mind was on a higher plane.
Today, though, I make him listen to the music I make. He’s a very honest critic. For better or worse, he is unable to cloak his genuine emotions in small talk or politeness. In the early days, when I was beginning to learn the guitar or piano, I might have been pretty mediocre, but he’s been kind to me with his feedback. I’ve been making electronic music now, with elements of jazz and swing, which is not exactly his comfort zone. But, he genuinely makes an effort to try and understand it. I think as he’s grown older, he’s become a lot calmer, and his mind has opened up even more. He’s become more receptive to things outside his comfort zone. Today, I feel more comfortable about showing him my work than, say, seven years ago.
Interviewed by Mohini Chaudhuri
This story originally appeared as part of a special issue in June 2015, where Man’s World Magazine got popular people from different walks of life to talk about their equally popular fathers.