He recently won the Best Actor award for Dekh Indian Circus at the New York Indian Film Festival, and two of his films, Miss Lovely and Gangs Of Wasseypur, went to Cannes. Talented actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui looks back at an eventful journey in conversation with Soumita Sengupta
Kahaani changed your career, didn’t it?
This is a sheer coincidence! I have so many movies releasing one after the other and awards and recognition are coming at the same time, I didn’t shoot all these films after Kahaani released. I shot for them four to five years ago. But, yes, it was Kahaani that brought me recognition.
Aren’t you happy being in the limelight?
I am definitely happy people are recognising my work. But I will never forget how I struggled for 10 to 12 years to get here. So I am happy but not over-confident about my success.
Tell us about Gangs Of Wasseypur (GoW)
It’s a wonderful film. I had never heard of the place before but while reading the script I was shocked that there was actually such a place in our country. GoW is about love, relationships and revenge. Everyone at Cannes loved the film even though they didn’t understand the language. Everyone praised the rawness of the film and the way Anurag directed it. You will see more of me in the second part, where I take the story forward.
What about your other films?
Dekh Indian Circus, for which I won the Best Actor award, was one of my best films. I play a character called Jethu, who is mute. It was interesting because I had never done a character like this before. This film will touch every Indian’s heart. Haven’t we all been to the circus when we were kids? The film is about the journey of a family who goes to watch the circus.
Another interesting film is Chittagong, I have once again shared the screen with Manoj Bajpayee. The film is now at film festivals and will soon be released here. I also feature in Talaash, which stars Aamir Khan.
I was raised in Lohana in Delhi, where everyone is a farmer as were my parents. After I graduated, I started working with ONGC. But it was a very risky job and I quit. Then I came to Delhi in search of work. I met a guy who introduced me to theatre and I realised there was a lot of honesty to this profession. I watched 50-60 plays and I started acting. I have also done street plays to earn a little. Then I took a course at the National School of Drama and I came to Mumbai in 2000.
Was it easy in Mumbai?
It was difficult in Mumbai and four to five of us had to share a room. I had to look for a job, so I was open to all kinds of work. From plays to small roles, I did it all. I even auditioned for TV serials but, at the time, Ekta Kapoor’s shows were creating waves and I wasn’t cut out for those kinds of roles.
Did you ever lose hope and consider returning home?
Yes, many times but I couldn’t go back. After all, what would people say? I felt like rejection was my girlfriend because I was rejected wherever I went. It took me three years to even make a passport. I also had to leave my accommodation as I couldn’t contribute my share of the rent. So I spent the morning at one friend’s house, ate lunch at someone else’s house and spent the night at someone else’s house.
I have done some roles where you wouldn’t even recognise me. When someone tipped us off that there was a shoot in progress, my friends and I would stand in the crowd to earn some money. There were times when I was penniless so I used to walk from Four Bungalows to Filmcity for a shoot.
Yes, because I didn’t have money for a bus ticket and food. There were times when I was reduced to tears but I didn’t lose hope and just kept working… going for shoots.
Which of your films was a turning point in your career?
Black Friday. I used to think that after doing a scene in a film, I would be offered two in the next film but that didn’t happen. I did three scenes in Black Friday and the industry recognised my talent. That’s when offers started coming my way. In between, I have also done some short films like Mehfuz and Bypass. Both films were too good and I bet no one can beat me in that. Working with short films was very different. First-time directors are always great as they are never satisfied and that’s what I like. I will keep doing short films.
Now that you are getting recognised, do you have any preferences while choosing a script?
For a long time, I took what came my way as I was subsisting. But today I am offered experimental roles and I am happy to accept them. I don’t want to do mainstream cinema because it typecasts you. Like after Kahaani released, I was offered the same type of role by around ten people!
But you are the lead actor in all the films you have lined up for this year.
Yes, because I stopped working for three to four years and I said ‘yes’ only to those who offered me a strong character. I was fed up of being beaten up in every film.
Would you agree that the industry has opened up to talented actors?
Yes, and that’s why actors like me have finally made it. Take Irrfan, for instance. It took him so long to become what he is. But today directors are open to all kinds of actors and they mainly look for character actors. And these are the directors who are breaking boundaries. The audience has also grown up and they prefer realistic films. Cinema is about entertaining people but, sadly, most industry people look at it as a business… first the grandfather, then the father and then the son gets an easy break.