"I did whatever the hell I could... that's my reward"- Naseeruddin Shah

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When you actually manage to pin down a legend, who makes no bones about enjoying being a media recluse, you ensure you pick his brains about all and sundry. That’s precisely what Shubarna Mukerji Shu did with Naseeruddin Shah.

With DEDH ISHQIYA, he is back to playing the good ol’ romantic with his heart on his sleeve. Obviously we are looking forward to it. The whole experience of the first film leaving such a delectable taste in our mouth, we are all patiently waiting for that love to sweep us off again, ‘Aisi uljhi nazar unse hatati nahi…’ Sipping our tea and discussing the sequel, movies and inspiration seemed too tempting… and inadvertently, also unraveled the person behind the legend and the legend behind the actor.

Being Iftikhar…

He is not me, far removed. To begin with, he is a thief. I had to find it in me to be able to play such a person. With every character we play - be it a thief, a priest or a saint, a slum-dweller or a murderer - I have to find the potential in myself to be such a person. He here deems himself to be in love, to be a poet. All of us have every kind of potential in us, everyone falls in love, the emotion is right there in us. As for pretending to be a poet, I have pretended to be Mirza Ghalib quite successfully, so pretending to be a modern day poet was not so difficult. I would say pretending to be in love with someone like Madhuri Dixit, is not difficult at all!

On Co-stars, Cohorts and The Company…

All four of us, Arshad (Warsi), Madhuri, Huma (Qureshi) and myself – and let’s not forget Vijay Raaz, he is another very confident actor – we brought our own meat to the table. So no one really borrowed from another. Arshad was asked a similar question about imbibing from your co-actors and he very rightly said, immediate observation can only result in imitation. It doesn’t result in anything deep. I, for one, find it very amusing when actors say, ‘Oh, I am playing a taxi driver so I watched a taxi driver for half an hour…’ If you haven’t already watched, observed, imbibed and empathised with him, you won’t be able to replicate it onscreen. One imbibes, and it flowers after a long time.

When I act, I believe in giving more importance to that other actor. If you concentrate more on the other actor, then your own acting will be right. And I think somewhere unconsciously all the actors in this film do that, though they may not be able to define it in this way. I am certain because quite simply they are all fine actors, and you cannot be a good actor unless you are paying attention to your co-actors.

When you watch Madhuri, you will see she has the ability to carry herself onscreen beautifully, I think she has worked very hard on it and she has got it down to a tee. She is perfect. She is not like me who struggles to find an emotion, she has it all worked out. That is not my way of working but we never had a problem because she is as open to me as I was to her.

Acting And Its Charm…

Film acting has, to a certain extent, lost its charm. In some of the films I did in the mid-phase of my career, I really wondered why I did them. I did them in the hope of making a mark in the commercial movies and I also accepted anything that came my way which was of a different nature but then I was hounded by these chaps. I was cast in every damn film that the NFDC made. Any film made with a budget of R 3.5-7 lakh, I was cast in and those guys won’t take no for an answer! There were so many other young actors around at that time, none of them got leading parts. They deserved to have got the leading parts and all of those parts came to me. I don’t deny I felt flattered and great, but I did wonder – there are a lot of actors who could have played that part… why have I been chosen? Is it only because I am available and I don’t charge these guys money? The thought did start to bother me, I put off a lot of those new wave filmmakers because of that…

However, if you have already signed up for a bad film, you are kind of stuck. All you can hope for is that the school master has fallen off his bicycle and broken his neck. But then if it’s a movie you enjoy, like DEDH ISHQIYA or a film I recently did with Homi (Adajania), FINDING FANNY FERNANDES, absolutely glorious fun, you just can’t wait to get onto the sets.

It’s the work itself that makes it fun, nothing to do with the company. Though the company, in both these films, was also fun, it is the output…The chance of playing a part which people of my age don’t normally get. So everything pointed to the positive for these films. But that doesn’t mean the others are out of my life. Some things don’t necessarily change with time. My last release was CRACKPOT (that’s the name he chooses to give JACKPOT!). I have not seen the film. I know you are itching to ask me about Sunny Leone, she is a very sweet girl and very hardworking. Please don’t ask me about Sachiin Joshi. As for my wig, it was a pain in the neck but I thought it looked kind of cool. So what I am trying to say is, you take the rough with the smooth, I guess. You cannot expect everything to go your way. So I go by instinct. And my instinct is often wrong. But that’s alright. I don’t regret a single film I have done.

Anger Bouts On Sets

I lose it only when I feel that I have been guided wrongly or I haven’t been guided at all. If people are intimidated, I don’t know what I can do about that because I don’t make it a habit to throw my weight around. I just try to do what the director asks of me. In most cases where I have enjoyed my work, in films like MASOOM, MIRZA GHALIB, MONSOON WEDDING, Shyam Benegal’s films or Kundan (Shah)’s and so on, there has never been any problem. I don’t think any one of them will call me a difficult actor. Abhishek (Chaubey) doesn’t find me intimidating either because he knows his job.

When I confront a director and say, ‘Hey I don’t think this is right, and perhaps we should try it this way,’ normally I find that the directors like Abhishek would try it. If what I am saying is right he will incorporate it but I have met others who would say, ‘This is the way I want it’. So if they say it with certainty that this is the way they want it, then I do it like that… like in many commercial films with Subhash Ghai and all, people like that who would demonstrate to me how they wanted the acting. So I did that kind of shit and it looked like shit but I did it. I don’t think I gave Subhash Ghai, Rajeev Rai or Umesh Mehra a hard time either.

Where I did turn difficult was when I felt that a director was vacillating and didn’t really know what he wanted. I don’t have any problem with a director who knows what he wants – even if he tells you, ‘Show me anger’, you show him anger. What gets my goat is when he goes into complex psychological states, saying the character is confused, he is also betrayed, he is also hurt and he is completely shattered – all these things mean nothing. Then I lose it. And that’s the kind of director I have also often encountered and those are the incidents that people have heard about, that I kicked the director’s ass and so on… So yeah, I did on occasion, but they thoroughly deserved it.

Favourite Films

I like all kinds of films, there is no one genre that is my favourite. I loved Shammi Kapoor’s movies. MUGHAL-E-AZAM is the greatest film made in India, and GUIDE, a close second. I love Vijay Anand’s films, Bimal Roy’s, Raju Hirani’s films, Kishore Kumar’s films. Mehmood, I think was the greatest comedian we ever had. So my taste is varied…Just because I have been more recognised in a certain kind of cinema doesn’t mean I like only those films. My favourite film of all time is perhaps THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, which was a masterpiece as a film and a great story, superbly told. Which is what a film should be. I have been very lucky that in the past 40 years I have been able to work in at least four to five movies which, I think, will be remembered…

The Man Behind The Inspiration

The actor who has inspired me is not one your readers would have heard of – he is Geoffrey Kendal, known - if known at all - as Jennifer Kapoor’s father, Shashi Sa’ab’s father-in-law. I have watched him since I was five years old. He used to come and perform in our school. He had a troupe called Shakespearana which performed plays by Shakespeare, Sir George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde etc. Spencer Tracy, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn – these are my favourite actors but only Geoffery Kendal has inspired me. His whole attitude towards his work was one-off. He was English, but he decided to spend his life performing Shakespeare for people who needed it.

When I met him, I told him I thought he was greater than Laurence Olivier or Gielgud, why didn’t he stay there and become a knight or a lord?! Imagine, he chose this life, to be without a home, travelling around the world teaching Shakespeare to schools not even doing commercial performances, and getting nothing for it. They had one little trunk which had props and costumes and used to travel by jeep and train to whoever wanted to see them. I have never heard Shakespeare spoken better than he did. He is the man because of whom I became an actor.

The Reward

A happy life, to die without regrets. I did whatever the hell I could. For me, that’s my reward.

This article first appeared in February 2014 issue of Cine Blitz magazine

"I did whatever the hell I could... that's my reward"- Naseeruddin Shah

Liveinstyle

When you actually manage to pin down a legend, who makes no bones about enjoying being a media recluse, you ensure you pick his brains about all and sundry. That’s precisely what Shubarna Mukerji Shu did with Naseeruddin Shah.

With DEDH ISHQIYA, he is back to playing the good ol’ romantic with his heart on his sleeve. Obviously we are looking forward to it. The whole experience of the first film leaving such a delectable taste in our mouth, we are all patiently waiting for that love to sweep us off again, ‘Aisi uljhi nazar unse hatati nahi…’ Sipping our tea and discussing the sequel, movies and inspiration seemed too tempting… and inadvertently, also unraveled the person behind the legend and the legend behind the actor.

Being Iftikhar…

He is not me, far removed. To begin with, he is a thief. I had to find it in me to be able to play such a person. With every character we play - be it a thief, a priest or a saint, a slum-dweller or a murderer - I have to find the potential in myself to be such a person. He here deems himself to be in love, to be a poet. All of us have every kind of potential in us, everyone falls in love, the emotion is right there in us. As for pretending to be a poet, I have pretended to be Mirza Ghalib quite successfully, so pretending to be a modern day poet was not so difficult. I would say pretending to be in love with someone like Madhuri Dixit, is not difficult at all!

On Co-stars, Cohorts and The Company…

All four of us, Arshad (Warsi), Madhuri, Huma (Qureshi) and myself – and let’s not forget Vijay Raaz, he is another very confident actor – we brought our own meat to the table. So no one really borrowed from another. Arshad was asked a similar question about imbibing from your co-actors and he very rightly said, immediate observation can only result in imitation. It doesn’t result in anything deep. I, for one, find it very amusing when actors say, ‘Oh, I am playing a taxi driver so I watched a taxi driver for half an hour…’ If you haven’t already watched, observed, imbibed and empathised with him, you won’t be able to replicate it onscreen. One imbibes, and it flowers after a long time.

When I act, I believe in giving more importance to that other actor. If you concentrate more on the other actor, then your own acting will be right. And I think somewhere unconsciously all the actors in this film do that, though they may not be able to define it in this way. I am certain because quite simply they are all fine actors, and you cannot be a good actor unless you are paying attention to your co-actors.

When you watch Madhuri, you will see she has the ability to carry herself onscreen beautifully, I think she has worked very hard on it and she has got it down to a tee. She is perfect. She is not like me who struggles to find an emotion, she has it all worked out. That is not my way of working but we never had a problem because she is as open to me as I was to her.

Acting And Its Charm…

Film acting has, to a certain extent, lost its charm. In some of the films I did in the mid-phase of my career, I really wondered why I did them. I did them in the hope of making a mark in the commercial movies and I also accepted anything that came my way which was of a different nature but then I was hounded by these chaps. I was cast in every damn film that the NFDC made. Any film made with a budget of R 3.5-7 lakh, I was cast in and those guys won’t take no for an answer! There were so many other young actors around at that time, none of them got leading parts. They deserved to have got the leading parts and all of those parts came to me. I don’t deny I felt flattered and great, but I did wonder – there are a lot of actors who could have played that part… why have I been chosen? Is it only because I am available and I don’t charge these guys money? The thought did start to bother me, I put off a lot of those new wave filmmakers because of that…

However, if you have already signed up for a bad film, you are kind of stuck. All you can hope for is that the school master has fallen off his bicycle and broken his neck. But then if it’s a movie you enjoy, like DEDH ISHQIYA or a film I recently did with Homi (Adajania), FINDING FANNY FERNANDES, absolutely glorious fun, you just can’t wait to get onto the sets.

It’s the work itself that makes it fun, nothing to do with the company. Though the company, in both these films, was also fun, it is the output…The chance of playing a part which people of my age don’t normally get. So everything pointed to the positive for these films. But that doesn’t mean the others are out of my life. Some things don’t necessarily change with time. My last release was CRACKPOT (that’s the name he chooses to give JACKPOT!). I have not seen the film. I know you are itching to ask me about Sunny Leone, she is a very sweet girl and very hardworking. Please don’t ask me about Sachiin Joshi. As for my wig, it was a pain in the neck but I thought it looked kind of cool. So what I am trying to say is, you take the rough with the smooth, I guess. You cannot expect everything to go your way. So I go by instinct. And my instinct is often wrong. But that’s alright. I don’t regret a single film I have done.

Anger Bouts On Sets

I lose it only when I feel that I have been guided wrongly or I haven’t been guided at all. If people are intimidated, I don’t know what I can do about that because I don’t make it a habit to throw my weight around. I just try to do what the director asks of me. In most cases where I have enjoyed my work, in films like MASOOM, MIRZA GHALIB, MONSOON WEDDING, Shyam Benegal’s films or Kundan (Shah)’s and so on, there has never been any problem. I don’t think any one of them will call me a difficult actor. Abhishek (Chaubey) doesn’t find me intimidating either because he knows his job.

When I confront a director and say, ‘Hey I don’t think this is right, and perhaps we should try it this way,’ normally I find that the directors like Abhishek would try it. If what I am saying is right he will incorporate it but I have met others who would say, ‘This is the way I want it’. So if they say it with certainty that this is the way they want it, then I do it like that… like in many commercial films with Subhash Ghai and all, people like that who would demonstrate to me how they wanted the acting. So I did that kind of shit and it looked like shit but I did it. I don’t think I gave Subhash Ghai, Rajeev Rai or Umesh Mehra a hard time either.

Where I did turn difficult was when I felt that a director was vacillating and didn’t really know what he wanted. I don’t have any problem with a director who knows what he wants – even if he tells you, ‘Show me anger’, you show him anger. What gets my goat is when he goes into complex psychological states, saying the character is confused, he is also betrayed, he is also hurt and he is completely shattered – all these things mean nothing. Then I lose it. And that’s the kind of director I have also often encountered and those are the incidents that people have heard about, that I kicked the director’s ass and so on… So yeah, I did on occasion, but they thoroughly deserved it.

Favourite Films

I like all kinds of films, there is no one genre that is my favourite. I loved Shammi Kapoor’s movies. MUGHAL-E-AZAM is the greatest film made in India, and GUIDE, a close second. I love Vijay Anand’s films, Bimal Roy’s, Raju Hirani’s films, Kishore Kumar’s films. Mehmood, I think was the greatest comedian we ever had. So my taste is varied…Just because I have been more recognised in a certain kind of cinema doesn’t mean I like only those films. My favourite film of all time is perhaps THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, which was a masterpiece as a film and a great story, superbly told. Which is what a film should be. I have been very lucky that in the past 40 years I have been able to work in at least four to five movies which, I think, will be remembered…

The Man Behind The Inspiration

The actor who has inspired me is not one your readers would have heard of – he is Geoffrey Kendal, known - if known at all - as Jennifer Kapoor’s father, Shashi Sa’ab’s father-in-law. I have watched him since I was five years old. He used to come and perform in our school. He had a troupe called Shakespearana which performed plays by Shakespeare, Sir George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde etc. Spencer Tracy, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn – these are my favourite actors but only Geoffery Kendal has inspired me. His whole attitude towards his work was one-off. He was English, but he decided to spend his life performing Shakespeare for people who needed it.

When I met him, I told him I thought he was greater than Laurence Olivier or Gielgud, why didn’t he stay there and become a knight or a lord?! Imagine, he chose this life, to be without a home, travelling around the world teaching Shakespeare to schools not even doing commercial performances, and getting nothing for it. They had one little trunk which had props and costumes and used to travel by jeep and train to whoever wanted to see them. I have never heard Shakespeare spoken better than he did. He is the man because of whom I became an actor.

The Reward

A happy life, to die without regrets. I did whatever the hell I could. For me, that’s my reward.

This article first appeared in February 2014 issue of Cine Blitz magazine

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