‘I WAS DYING TO PLAY GANDHI’
Had he acted in a Western, Naseeruddin Shah would be the one to shoot from the hip. He gets candid on struggles, remakes, and fame
After four decades in cinema, one would expect Naseeruddin Shah to be a pro at diplomatically tackling all kinds of questions. But his answers are always earnest, and, by his own admission, they might sometimes “land him in trouble”. Yet, he’s one actor who still calls a spade a spade — what’s more, he still hasn’t forgotten his struggles.
“These were new people who were trying to make their first movie against great odds and that immediately affected me,” he says about the team behind his new film, The Hungry, based on William Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus. Film adaptations of the Bard’s work aren’t new, but what appealed to Naseer were two things — he’d be helping these new filmmakers and the play was new for him.
Recalling his experiences, he says, “Even when I was in the position that I was [in], when I was trying to make a movie, I had to face quite a lot of mortification when I went asking for money. The director [of The Hungry], Bornila Chatterjee, and the executive producer, Tanaji Dasgupta, came to meet me and I just liked them.” He was also intrigued by their choice — this is one of the lesser known Shakespearean plays. “I pulled it out and read it, because I hadn’t read it. I don’t think anyone has read it. It’s far from being his greatest play but it makes for great drama,” says the 68-year-old thespian.
But, in general, Naseer isn’t a believer in film adaptations of books. He mentions “truly great writers like Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Burgess”, whose books haven’t been adapted “because their exquisite quality of prose cannot be translated in cinema”. He has a similar opinion on remakes — he doesn’t like them. “Hindi movies are being remade by the score because they’re too lazy to think about fresh ideas,” says Naseer.
The conversation moves to Indian actors looking Westwards. Naseer, who had a starring role in the Hollywood blockbuster, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), understands the urge to attain global fame. “I dreamt of it,” he says, “which is why I was dying to play Gandhi. I wanted international stardom. I never got it. It’s fine. I got my due elsewhere. If I had got the role of Gandhi, what would have become of Ben Kingsley? (laughs) Everyone gets what’s in his share.”