Ahead of his next film’s screen­ing at a film fes­ti­val, Naseerud­din Shah talks about life and his ca­reer

HT Cafe - - FRONT PAGE - Sneha Ma­hade­van sneha.ma­hade­van@hin­dus­tan­times.com

Af­ter four decades in the in­dus­try, one would ex­pect Naseerud­din Shah to be a pro­fes­sional at tack­ling all kinds of ques­tions thrown at him. But he man­ages to sur­prise you each time with his earnest an­swers, which he ad­mits might some­times ‘land him in trou­ble’. Yet, he has al­ways called a spade a spade and con­tin­ues to do so. In an in­ter­view with HT Café, the ac­tor talks about his long ca­reer, his next project Hun­gry (an adap­ta­tion of Wil­liam Shake­speare’s Ti­tus An­dron­i­cus), the trend of re­makes, and why In­dian ac­tors go­ing to Hollywood makes sense. Ex­cerpts:

An adap­ta­tion of a play by Shake­speare isn’t a new con­cept for Bol­ly­wood. What was it about this play that ap­pealed to you?

These were new peo­ple who were try­ing to make their first movie against great odds, and that af­fected me. I know what it is like to strug­gle and the hu­mil­i­a­tion you have to go through to raise money. Even when I was in the po­si­tion that I was, 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 Hun­gry) Bornila Chat­ter­jee and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Tanaji Das­gupta came to meet me and I just liked them. It was an adap­ta­tion of the Bard’s first play, so I im­me­di­ately pulled the play 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’s very shock­ing and makes for great drama. What do you think about books be­ing made into films? They just never work. They don’t work for the peo­ple who’ve read the book, be­cause they ex­pect the same ex­pe­ri­ence. That is why the works of truly great writ­ers like Evelyn Waugh and An­thony Burgess have never been filmed, be­cause the ex­quis­ite qual­ity of their prose can­not be trans­lated to cinema.

Is that your opin­ion of re­makes as well? You re­cently said that Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) should not be touched.

Why would any­body in his right mind want to re­make some­thing that has al­ready been done? For ex­am­ple, take Mughal-E-Azam (1960). For God’s sake! You think you can bet­ter that ef­fort? I don’t think so. Some id­iot wants to re­make Ma­soom (1983). Why? In this day and age, a child with Face­book, email and What­sApp still can’t find his fa­ther? Hindi movies are be­ing re­made by the score, be­cause they’re too lazy to think about fresh ideas. What was Dee­war (1975)? The re­make of Ganga Jumna (1961), set in the city. What was Shaan (1980)? A re­make of Sholay (1975), set in the city. They had the same premise, the same story and the same char­ac­ter scheme. They just didn’t call it a re­make then. Now they’re call­ing it re­makes.

A lot of Bol­ly­wood ac­tors are ac­tively pur­su­ing a ca­reer in the West...

I don’t blame them. It’s in­ter­na­tional star­dom. Like Pak­istani ac­tors are dy­ing to come here, In­dian ac­tors are dy­ing to go there; it’s the ul­ti­mate dream des­ti­na­tion. I dreamt of it, which is why I was dy­ing to play Gandhi. It was be­cause 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 their share.

Why would any­body in his right mind want to re­make some­thing that has al­ready been done? Hindi movies are be­ing re­made, as they’re too lazy to think about fresh ideas. NASEERUD­DIN SHAH, AC­TOR >> I DON’T CON­SIDER ACT­ING AS A CON­TEST: NASEERUD­DIN SHAH>

Af­ter so many years of work­ing in the in­dus­try, is money an in­cen­tive to take up a project?

It’s in­stinct that some­times leads you to good choices and some­times to re­ally ghastly choices. Money is def­i­nitely an in­cen­tive. Es­pe­cially when I know that the guy who is mak­ing it has lots of it (laughs). But I am yet to meet a film-maker who has money. It is only broke peo­ple who make films.

Do you think film­mak­ers may some­times be afraid to ap­proach you con­sid­er­ing the kind of weight your name car­ries?

I haven’t re­ally sensed that from film-mak­ers, but I do feel it from other ac­tors. This is such a stupid thing, to be hon­est, be­cause, I don’t con­sider act­ing to be a con­test. Un­for­tu­nately, that at­ti­tude is prop­a­gated by our in­dus­try and by too many of our directors. “These two ac­tors are pit­ted against each other” or “this ac­tor dom­i­nated over the other” — all such non­sen­si­cal ways to de­scribe a role. It is harm­ful, in my opin­ion. But that isn’t the case with film-mak­ers, be­cause, by now, the only ones who come to me are those who feel that I would be right for their movies. They know my track record and rep­u­ta­tion and what they’re in for. I am kind of a schiz­o­phrenic in the sense that there are some film­mak­ers who would de­scribe me as the most dif­fi­cult ac­tor they’ve worked with and there are oth­ers who would say the absolute op­po­site. It was my mis­take to choose the kind of movies in which I was un­happy and where I made a nui­sance of my­self.

Is it dif­fi­cult to turn down a project?

Not at all. If I don’t feel like do­ing a role, I have no com­pul­sion what­so­ever. I de­test nar­ra­tions and I never lis­ten to them. I can’t bear that sh**. I al­ways insist on a script, and within 10 pages, I can tell if I want to read fur­ther or not.

Are you happy with the fi­nal out­come of your films?

As an ac­tor, one has to be if you want to keep grow­ing. Oth­ers’ opin­ions are all good and it’s very easy to praise, so I don’t lis­ten very care­fully to it. My own opin­ion mat­ters the most.



Naseerud­din Shah

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