The irony is inescapable. The man waving out, pretty girlfriend in tow on the poster overhead, is the same man trying to hail a taxi without being identified.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in his own words and very appropriately, describes himself as a “kaala kaluta”, who cannot boast of a physique, looks or personality that fit the image of a quintessential Bollywood hero. He rather boasts of how easily he becomes one in a crowd. As posters of Gangs of Wasseypur II flood Mumbai’s skyline, the real Nawaz is unbelievably distinct from the reel gun-toting, pot-smoking, Faizal Khan; expletive-spewing, bad-tempered Inspector Khan (Kahaani) and even the gritty journalist from Peepli [Live].
After chasing Nawaz for almost a month, we nearly fixed a date for an interaction. I got a taste of his genuinely warm real persona after we couldn’t do an interview because of an unseen personal tragedy.“Its ok…just take care..hope everything vill b fine…(sic)” was a text message that confirmed this man had more humility than most of our stars known for ill tempers and tantrums that put unruly children to shame.
A week later, we finally settle for a chat in a running cab as the busy actor has other commitments.
Here is the full interview:
Posters of Gangs of Wasseypur II have flooded the city. Don’t people recognise you on the streets?
My personality is so ordinary that I become one in a crowd very easily. I don’t fit the conventional image of a Bollywood hero, no well-built physique or a pretty face. I’m a thin-framed, kaala kaluta. It’s an advantage as I can roam about freely. By the time people notice, I’m gone!
From a village in UP to Bollywood. What’s your story?
I belong to a family of farmers. We are based in this village called B-U-D-H-A-N-A, in district Muzaffarnagar of Uttar Pradesh. There wasn’t much scope for education there. But somehow my siblings (7 brothers and 2 sisters) and I managed to study. In my village only three things work: gehu (wheat), ganna (sugarcane) aur gun. The fear this gun culture instilled made us move out from our village.
It was much later that I started taking interest in theatre. After completing my studies, I took up jobs like that of a chief chemist in Baroda. Then I joined a theatre group in Delhi. Since there is no money in theatre I had to take up a job as a watchman. All these things happened simultaneously. Then I enrolled myself in the National School of Drama (NSD), passing out in 1996. I worked in Delhi for four years before finally moving to Mumbai in 2000.
How did Mumbai treat you?
Delhi had drained me financially. In the beginning I felt it would be easy to get work here. But that didn’t happen. For 4-5 years I did a lot of small roles, crowd scenes. Around this time cinema was taking a turn for the better. Directors like Anurag Kashyap were making films like Black Friday. Slowly I started getting work. In the past 3-4 years I’ve done some 9 films which have me in important, central characters.
Do your folks watch your films? Do they support your choice of profession?
My parents live in the village where there are no theatres. Films are screened in the district, Muzaffarnagar, which is 40km from the village. They have to travel the distance to watch me. There’s nobody to question who’s doing what. As long as I am doing some work and doing it well, they have no problem.