The New Nawaz

He stars in ` 200-crore movies, beats up the big Khans on screen, en­ters events with his en­tourage, and pays at­ten­tion to his style. But don’t worry, through it all, he’s still pick­ing movies that mat­ter. Meet...

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - NEWS - text by Ni­hit Bhave; pho­tos by Natasha Hem­ra­jani

“Yeh white shirt aur blue jeans theek hai na?” asks Nawazud­din Sid­diqui ad­dress­ing a room­ful of peo­ple about his at­tire. His manager, his PR rep, and (I as­sume) per­sonal as­sis­tant all nod in af­fir­ma­tion, and rightly so. The pho­tog­ra­pher sets up the lights.

There were a thou­sand ques­tions to ask Sid­diqui – the tremen­dous re­ac­tion for Bad­la­pur; his next indie, Haraamkhor; his next big film,

Raees with SRK; the fact that he’s ce­mented his place in Bol­ly­wood over the last two years; and about mov­ing up in life. Styling and look­ing “theek”– that’s the last thing I would have thought of ask­ing.

Of course, even good ac­tors want to look great!

Turns out, it’s only his “sec­ond or third” photo shoot in a ca­reer span­ning 16 years, and the 40-year-old star is all geared up. He men­tions that he plays the flute (who would have thought, right?), and con­fi­dently starts pos­ing (play­ing) un­der the poster of The God­fa­ther. He’s a nat­u­ral – both at pos­ing and play­ing.

He had to go some­where for a meet­ing, but that can wait, it seems. He’s clearly hav­ing a lot of fun!

This man, newly styled, learn­ing to be com­fort­able with the cam­era, is a trans­formed Nawazud­din Sid­diqui. If there’s one thing he doesn’t mind, it’s putting in ef­fort, whether it’s for ac­ces­soris­ing or for act­ing. Be­cause he’s chas­ing a sin­gle goal: ex­cel­lence.

A Changed Man

When it’s ex­cel­lence one is seek­ing, keep­ing a cer­tain kind of com­pany is a must. No won­der then, that you are greeted by Guru Dutt, Mar­lon Brando, Peter O’Toole and Daniel DayLewis – all paused in in­tense scenes from their re­spec­tive cult movies – framed and hung from white­washed walls, at Sid­diqui’s tiny And­heri of­fice. “Th­ese are the peo­ple to feel jeal­ous of. They are ones who did real work, good cinema,” he says. “Great things are hap­pen­ing in the West even to­day. Look at some of last year’s films: Whiplash, where the ac­tor put in months and months of prep work to con­vinc­ingly play a drum­mer. Or The The­ory Of Ev­ery­thing, where ev­ery mus­cu­lar move­ment in Ed­die Red­mayne’s body was a mas­ter­class in act­ing.”

It’s sur­pris­ing to see an In­dian ac­tor name O’Toole and Day-Lewis as role mod­els. Most Bol­ly­wood he­roes look up to Amitabh Bachchan or Dilip Ku­mar. Th­ese icons were never on Sid­diqui’s radar. “I was in­tro­duced to cinema by Cgrade films that played in my vil­lage, Bud­hana, in UP,” he re­calls. “Only films by Dada Kondke, Ma­hen­dra Sandhu and Kanti Shah were avail­able. The next round of films I watched was in the Na­tional School of Drama. I was sud­denly in­tro­duced to Or­son Welles, Clint East­wood and Robert De Niro. I missed all the Bol­ly­wood films and leg­endary ac­tors in be­tween.”

But there is no re­gret. Watch­ing those films and learn­ing those lessons at the NSD have made him the ac­tor, and the man he is to­day.

“His process is al­ways on,” says Huma Qureshi, his co-star from two of his big­gest hits, Bad­la­pur and Gangs Of Wassey­pur. “And he im­me­di­ately stops you if you disturb that process. Like on the sets of Gangs…, ev­ery­one called him Nawaz bhai, so I did too. But he would scold me for call­ing him bhai. ‘How will I look into your eyes ro­man­ti­cally now?’ he’d ask. He says funny things like that all the time!”

His tal­ent for drawing a laugh de­vel­oped early at NSD, with roles in Shake­speare’s A

Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream and The Com­edy Of Er­rors. “I used to be the best comic ac­tor in my batch,” Sid­diqui says. “Ev­ery­one knew that my comic tim­ing was im­pec­ca­ble. But I was type­cast as a co­me­dian af­ter 50 or 60 roles and there was al­ways an in­tense de­sire to do more – to branch out into [more se­ri­ous] drama.”

As luck would have it, he would achieve the sta­tus of an all-around ac­tor with his last NSD play be­fore he grad­u­ated in 1996, a retelling of An­ton Chekov’s clas­sic, Ivanov. The direc­tor wanted some­one with dra­matic eyes, so he placed all the head­shots of the stu­dent-ac­tors in a row. “He cov­ered the tops and bot­toms of the shots, just leav­ing the eyes ex­posed,” Sid­diqui says. “That’s how I was se­lected – just based on the in­ten­sity of my eyes in my head­shot.”

Ivanov bumped him up to the league of ‘se­ri­ous ac­tors’, ef­fec­tively end­ing his stint in com­edy. Even in Bol­ly­wood, Sid­diqui has largely stuck to dra­matic char­ac­ters. “I’ve been of­fered come­dies, but noth­ing seemed to match my taste,” he says. “There are thou­sands of ways to make peo­ple laugh – satire, black com­edy, slap­stick. But it’s all about cheap laughs in Bol­ly­wood – we stick to mak­ing fun of a per­son’s flaws: Koi kaala hai, toh uska mazaak udao, koi naata [short] hai toh us­par hasso.”

Turn­ing The Tide

Sid­diqui has been at the re­ceiv­ing end of such jibes about his own ap­pear­ance. His looks proved to be the big­gest bar­rier be­tween him and his dreams. “Ev­ery­one wanted to see a good-look­ing hero ro­manc­ing a good-look­ing hero­ine,” says film critic and trade an­a­lyst Ko­mal Nahta.

Sid­diqui ad­mits: “Meri toh na height thi, na looks aur per­son­al­ity.” He laughs as he re­calls in­stances where he wasn’t even al­lowed to en­ter au­di­tion venues be­cause of his looks. “They’d stop me at the gate and ques­tion the fact that I was an ac­tor. I had to do a lit­tle au­di­tion for the gate­keep­ers to make them be­lieve that I was there for a role. That’s when they’d let me in.” It did not af­fect his de­ter­mi­na­tion. Sid­diqui went for “three to four open au­di­tions ev­ery day” and

took up ev­ery two-bit part that came his way.

Turn­ing his back on an au­di­tion was not an op­tion. “The vil­lage I come from is the most ruth­less, law­less land one can en­counter. And it’s still that way – I heard of five or six mur­ders in Bud­hana just a cou­ple of weeks ago,” he says. “I moved [to Delhi and then Mumbai] for a bet­ter life.”

Sid­diqui re­vealed his am­bi­tions to his par­ents only af­ter get­ting into the NSD. “I told them the course would land me a job,” he re­calls. “And that was good enough bait for them. Ed­u­cated par­ents can give ca­reer ad­vice to their chil­dren, but my par­ents were farm­ers. They didn’t have a big re­ac­tion.”

The re­ac­tions came later. When all they saw was their son get­ting beaten up by goons in movies like Munnab­hai MBBS and Sar­farosh. Where Sid­diqui comes from, it’s shame­ful, laugh­able even, for a man to be de­feated in a fight. “My fa­ther said, ‘Hame­sha kyun pitkar aa jaate ho, kabhi maarte kyun nahi?’”

So when Sid­diqui moved up in life, his fa­ther was the first per­son to wit­ness it. “I took him to watch Gangs Of Wassey­pur,” Sid­diqui says with a hint of vin­di­ca­tion in his tone. “And showed him just how many peo­ple I could beat up at once. I was the hero there, the one who was beat­ing, and not get­ting beaten!”

Sid­diqui’s stag­ger­ing suc­cess has not swayed his hum­ble fam­ily much. “They come to Mumbai for a cou­ple of months, get bored of this fast life, and leave,” Sid­diqui says. Other peo­ple from his vil­lage are more im­pressed.

“I landed my first ever dra­matic role based only on the in­ten­sity of my eyes”

They now flock to the near­est cinema hall in Muzaf­far­na­gar to see their “very own star”.

The The­ory Of Suc­cess

Sid­diqui’s star sta­tus has come af­ter 16 years of strug­gle. “I used to be an ex­tra, and even in

Gangs Of Wassey­pur, there were 50-60 ac­tors on the sets, so vans were shared,” he says. “But with Ka­haani, I got a sep­a­rate van­ity van and felt like I was the star of the film.”

When Su­joy Ghosh wanted to cast him in the role of an In­tel­li­gence Bureau of­fi­cer in this 2012 sus­pense-thriller, Sid­diqui was per­plexed be­cause he al­ways imag­ined IB of­fi­cers to be suave men. “I asked Su­joy re­peat­edly whether I was the one he wanted,” he says. “I even asked him to come and see me in per­son once.”

But Ghosh was look­ing be­neath the sur­face. “Phys­i­cally, Nawaz might not have been the right fit,” he ad­mits. “But he was so strong men­tally; I could see the strug­gle he had been through on his face. I wanted him to chan­nel that rage, that raw­ness into my char­ac­ter.” As the film turned into a hit, Sid­diqui’s nag­ging in­se­cu­ri­ties about his looks started melt­ing away.

His un­con­ven­tion­al­ity seemed a per­fect foil for the films he was cast in, Nahta be­lieves. “Dar­ing sub­jects started see­ing the light of the day. If it hadn’t been for sto­ries like Ka­haani,

Gangs… Bad­la­pur or The Lunch­box, ac­tors like Nawazud­din would have never made it.”

What­ever the rea­son, Sid­diqui is a star to­day. The vil­lage boy – one of nine sib­lings – has taken Bol­ly­wood by storm. The man who “ef­fort­lessly merged into a crowd” be­fore, stands tall now. The only crit­i­cism he has at­tracted has been for now ac­cept­ing pot­boil­ers like Kick, Ba

jrangi Bhai­jaan, and Bad­la­pur. Has he be­come a sell­out?

“At NSD, they taught us that there are over a thou­sand per­son­al­ity traits within a per­son, and as an ac­tor, you must try to tap into each of them with your choice of roles,” he says sim­ply. “So I’ll take up char­ac­ters that ap­peal to me. A lot of peo­ple have been telling me that I can’t dance. You never know, I may choose to dance around the trees next!”

Huma Qureshi backs this the­ory. “Look at how times have changed,” she ar­gues. “Peo­ple once said a light-eyed, fair hero and a volup­tuous hero­ine wouldn’t work. But ‘unique’ is the flavour of the sea­son. And as ac­tors, our only job is to em­brace the chal­lenges that are thrown our way, ir­re­spec­tive of bud­get and box-of­fice.”

Then there’s the fact that his big-bud­get movies ben­e­fit his indie films im­mensely. “If 100 peo­ple watch those big films, and five of them fol­low me to a theatre for an ex­per­i­men­tal film, that’s a risk worth tak­ing.” Nahta says this is the same strat­egy that Naseerud­din Shah and Sha­bana Azmi fol­lowed in the ’80s.

To­wards the end of the in­ter­view, two as­sis­tants tell him about a new project, a cop­drama co-star­ring Ran­deep Hooda, and dis­miss it as a “two hero film”. Sid­diqui smirks, prov­ing the the­ory that has helped him reach this far: “That’s not the rea­son to re­ject it,” he tells them. “It’s the fact that I’ve played a cop in two suc­cess­ful films and it’ll be repet­i­tive.”

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