Anything actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui is in is bound to generate a conversation. With a repertoire that spans films like ‘Talaash’, Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Manto’, ‘Haraamkhor’, and series like ‘Sacred Games’, Nawazuddin has firmly established himself as a heavyweight actor.
He is or appears to be, bemused by the stratospheric levels of stardom and fandom he's achieved. His intense desire to act kept him on course until he broke into Bollywood's hallowed portals, or breached the glass ceiling, whichever analogy works best! Talk to the actor, who reprises the role of Ayyan Mani in the recent Netflix release ‘Serious Men’, about fashion, couture, and the like, and he admits candidly that he knows little about it. He wears what the stylists want.
What makes this one an unusual story is that despite coming from a poor family, and with no Godfather in the industry, Nawaz has become the talking point from college campuses and theatre critics to followers of mainstream Bollywood fare. Today, he straddles the world of films from commercial Bollywood to the more serious or noir cinema. He took any role, big or small that came his way and played it so well that one forgot it was an actor enacting a role.
In an exclusive conversation with Outlook’s Eshita Bhargava, Nawaz talks about his latest movie ‘Serious Men’, his journey in the industry, being a learner, his favourite directors, and much more.
An adaptation of Manu Joseph’s book of the same name, ‘Serious Men’ revolves around the character of Ayyan Mani and his son Adi Mani. The character is determined to rise above the vagaries of non-privilege. That’s not all he uses his street-smart skills to not only get by in life but also in a moment of weakness, concoct a story that his son is a math prodigy.
Excerpts from the interview:
How was it working for it? Did you read the novel to prepare for your role?
I tried reading it, but could just finish two pages. Manu Joseph is a known writer and I had heard about his novel ‘Serious Men’ before. I went through the script and had to understand the writer’s thoughts. My director Sudhir Mishra helped me a lot. He conceptualized it in such a way that I was able to depict Ayyan Mani is a certain way.
Your character Ayyan Mani is a street-smart man who has his style. He knows how to convert the opportunities that life gives him into something worthy. Do you think this is the most fearless character you’ve played?
I never thought that the character will turn out to be so good. I was just doing my job. Sudhir Mishra’s direction made it so strong. Every character has its relevance and beauty. Sudhir and Bhavesh’s treatment made my character look bold and fearless.
What’s your creative process? How do you prepare for a role?
It’s never the same. Every movie has different requirements. Role tells me how to prepare – I understand that if it even requires preparation or I can innovate on the spot. It largely depends on the director I am working with – for instance, Anurag Kashyap expects me to go to him like a ‘blank slate’, without any preparations. Sudhir Mishra also follows the same process, he gave me the guidelines, information about the character and that helped me to depict it so beautifully on screen. His direction enhanced Ayyan Mani’s personality.
The film touches upon caste and privilege through various subtexts. Tell us something about that.
More than that, the movie is about a father and son relationship. A father wants his son to do better than him in life, so did Ayyan Mani. The character is beyond the caste. It is much more than that and you’ll find in every caste, religion.
You had written note when the trailer dropped and mentioned how you hung around the set of Sudhir Mishra’s Calcutta Mail for an entire day just to speak to him for a minute. That didn’t happen. Now you are the leading man in his film. How much do you think life has come full circle for you?
It was like ‘dreams come true’ for me. ‘Serious Men’ and the character of Ayyan Mani is the outcome of my 20 years of wait. People are enjoying and appreciating it. I believe that if someone has patience and passion for something, they end up achieving that. I did that.
How was it working with Sudhir Mishra?
Amazing. He has a different perception of seeing the world and that translates into his movies. He is both sensible and sensitive – he is neutral and not at all judgemental. This is one of the beauties he has and is reflected in his craft.
Tell us something about your journey – from theatres to doing the small role and now being a star?
It’s the audience who have made me what I am. I still want to be a student of cinema, like I was. I am no big star. I still see myself as the same boy who came to the industry with dreams of doing something big and unique.
It depends on what you call success – I aim to experiment and I don’t believe in being stars. I am against these tags – I am an actor and that’s what I have always wanted to be.
What will be that one dream role that you want to do?
I just want whatever character I play, I do it with conviction.
Tell us about some Behind The Scenes fun or something that we didn’t get to see.
‘Serious Men’ was not at all serious, but all fun. Sudhir Mishra brings out the best in the actors without stressing them. He is a fun person and the actual hero of the film. The entire shoot was fun.
A character you would want to play (experiment)
I want to play Dilip Kumar from Mughal-e-Azam. I know that I’ll do justice to it.
One Netflix show that you would want to be a part of and as what character?
There are so many… A character from ‘Roma’ directed by Alfonso Cuarón… Would want to play Pablo Escobar from ‘Narcos’.
Your favourite shot
When I am sitting in the theatre and there’s this realisation that I need to be soft on my son. I free my son from all the cruelty. That shot touched my heart.
How do you deal with criticism?
It depends on who is criticising me. If that person is educated and is best at his craft, I’ll take his feedback, otherwise, I won’t.
3 Words to describe you as a person off-screen?
I am confused, I love staying aloof, and I always want to be an artist.
Is a show/movie closest to your heart?
All the movies of Denzel Washington.
Someone you would want to work with next
I like working with new people. The vulnerability to give their best helps me. I would want that vulnerability to be there in me, no matter how many movies I do.
A role you identified yourself with
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