Naseeruddin Shah started his journey with Shyam Benegal’s “Nishant” in 1975. Since then the 61-year-old Bollywood actor has delivered acclaimed roles in several movies.
In 2003, the Government of India honored him with Padma Bhushan for his contributions to Indian cinema. Mostly recognized as an “art actor,” Shah forayed into mainstream Bollywood movies with “Hum Paanch” in 1980.
Shah has also starred in international projects like “Monsoon Wedding” in 2001 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), a Hollywood comic book adaptation, in which he co-starred with Sean Connery.
The actor was in town to coach Nepali actors. Before he left the country on Tuesday, Girish Giri sat with him for a tête-à-tête.
Can you shed some light on the mission behind this trip?
I was asked by Mita Hosali to share my experiences with some youths here in Kathmandu. It was a proposition close to my heart as I enjoy working with new generation.
I have been a student of art myself and have been training students in Mumbai, Delhi and Puna. I was absolutely unfamiliar with Nepali youth and that mystery made the proposition even more attractive. It has been an eye opening experience of sort. There’s no dearth of talent.
All the youth here needs is opportunity and right platform. They need right exposure.
What did you teach?
It’s all about working hard. Like in any form of art, acting requires your 100%, and more. In our part of the world I’ve noticed actors aren’t serious regarding their work. Although 10 days is too small a window to teach everything, I gave them the basics on how to prepare oneself before any performance. It is important to know the feeling of the script and how to emote it in the best possible way.
Your kids are more in the limelight these days, are you enjoying the obscurity of the recent times?
(Laughs) I’ve been busy with theater and movies have definitely taken a back seat. I’ve become rather picky when it comes to roles, one of the side effects of getting old, I guess. My three kids have followed in my footsteps and are involved in the media.
They are busy singing, acting and personally I’m really proud of their individual achievements. Trust me no compliment is more satisfying for parents than being recognized by the accomplishment of their children.
The parallel movie scene in India was at its peak once. Many cinemas and directors were felicitated at Oscars and Cannes. The 80’s also saw some of your best works, Mirch Masala, Paar, Akroosh and Ardha Satya. The trend of such movies have almost dwindled in recent times. Will such projects ever see a come back?
Sometimes a question strikes a chord, but the answer is hard to come about. Will there be cinemas of such caliber?
Honestly I can’t predict the future or the answer. It might come as a shock, but 25 of my films didn’t see the daylight, they were never released. In those days, one was not sure whether their movies would be released, so everyone was compelled to work hard - deliver their best, however, the scenario has changed now.
The culture of multiplexes, DVD and cable television has created an audience for every type of film. But, I’m not totally hopeless. There are movie makers who take their craft seriously and do their best. However, they need to totally banish rubbish that tends to creep into their professionalism due to commercialism.
But then you have starred in many commercial films, yourself.
Yes, but my inclination has always been towards movies with strong message. Larger than life characters challenge and give me utmost satisfaction. I’m not too keen on commercial movies anymore.
So, no Oye Oye anytime soon?
(Laughs) Exactly. The chances are very slim. But since you mentioned Oye Oye, let me tell you in the sequel of Ishkiya, we are incorporating that very song. Arshaad Warsi and Vidya Balan will feature in that song.
Your career started with Shyam Benegal’s movies, four to be precise. However, that alliance has disappeared in recent times. Why?
That’s a fine question there. I feel the same way, actually. Why is Mr. Benegal ignoring me? I regard him with utmost respect. Whenever he asks me for a project, I never ask a single question. My answer to him is always ‘Yes’. Then why… hmmm!
I grew up watching your movies and Masoom is one of my all time favorites. As your fan, can you tell me anything interesting about this very film?
It’s been three decades since this film was released and I still get praises for this one. I’m not surprised though. Shekhar Kapoor has done amazing work and I salute him for it.
He was going through a very lean phase at that time, poor fellow was identified as ‘flop hero’, or ‘Shabana Azmi’s boyfriend’, or maybe ‘Dev Ananad’s nephew’, but he never gave up. One day Shekhar came up to me with the proposal of Masoom.
At first I was very skeptical. However he coerced me to do the film and I gave into his insistence. He was my friend after all.
I hadn’t even read the script. I thought, come on its Shekhar’s film and that too a low budget one. Everyday of the shoot brought a new twist and the movie started to unfold its magic. I thought, this guy is onto something.
By the end of the shoot, I was a fan. It won’t be an exaggeration when I say one of the fondest memories I have of doing a film has to be Masoom. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Shekhar Kapoor is one of the best directors in the world.
He and his movies have brought me a lot of accolades from the viewers of different generations.
Rumors has it that you are about to sing Rabindranath Tagore’s songs with Usha Utthap. Is that true?
I can’t sing to save my life. I’m not crooning but yes, you can hear me in couple of her recordings. Actually, Usha asked me to recite couple of Tagore’s poetry.
I agreed and recited eight of his pieces in English. I believe she’s recording them in Bengali, so I’ll be a part of it. My friends mean a lot to me and I’m ready to help them in anyway possible. Usha is one of those who are dear to me.
One question, every journalist asks you…
(Interjecting) Are you about to ask, “How did you find Nepal?” (Laughs)
No, if you get an offer to star in a Nepali movie, what will you do?
First thing first, I can’t speak Nepali.
Is language still a barrier in movie, doesn’t it have a universal appeal?
Sure. If you phrase it that way, my answer will be, “Sure, why not!” If the subject is good, and deals with Nepal and its context, my answer will be positive!
Deals with Nepal?
I haven’t had the chance to watch a Nepali cinema but while commuting I glanced at couple of posters. And it sure gives you an inkling of what the movie has to offer. I want to request Nepali filmmakers to prioritize their own stories, culture, and their own style in the movies.
Don’t lose your identity in the name of influence. Adapting from Bollywood is a dangerous thing. Bollywood is a bad example to follow: it’s poisonous and will ultimately be the fall of you. I take this opportunity to request concerned parties to stop aping the aging Bollywood flicks. It can only lead to your downfall.
How did you find Nepal?
Work has always accompanied me, every time I’ve come to Nepal. And every time I return, I promise myself, I’m going to come back here as a bon-fide tourist, But that is yet to be fulfilled. All I have been able to manage so far is fleeting glances at Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, that too during my work. I know, all that I’ve seen so far is nothing compared to what awaits me, if I ever get a chance to explore this beautiful country.
Will you be coming back, any plans?
I want to give as much time as possible to the group I’m tutoring. The nurturing process is not over yet, so I’ll be back in November to impart some more tricks of the trade.