“Sometimes when the universe conspires for you, you have to accept it with grace,” says Indian actor Adil Hussain, who stars in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, which recently opened the Dubai International Film Festival.
Hussain, who plays the lead character’s wisened father in the film, is one of the few actors who’ve consistently delivered memorable performances in India’s small but defiant crop of indie films, often unfairly overshadowed by Bollywood.
But it’s important to remain grateful, says Hussain, whose selection of films include a two-minute role in Mira Nair’s upcoming The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the recent Bollywood hit English Vinglish and the crtically-acclaimed Ishqiya.
“Maybe my inner wish to be selective gets manifested somehow without my strategic decisions,” he says. “It just happens. Lots of scripts come and sometimes I don’t feel like doing it and sometimes, without reading it I say yes and they turn out to be disastrous. But I don’t complain, because I think through these mistakes one makes, one grows. And painful mistakes are important.”
Already winning all-round praise, Hussain is not going to regret having been cast in Life of Pi, and not least the memorable scene he shares in the film with legendary French actor Gerard Depardieu, who plays a cook in a Japanese cargo ship.
“Funnily, I was not intimidated although the entire scene was in French,” says Hussain who plays a zookeeper from Pondicherry, a former French colony in south India. “Gerard took the initiative and he came into my room to introduce himself and told me how much he loved Indian films, especially those by Satyajit Ray.”
Ray, who died in 1992, is considered one of the few great masters of world cinema.
“But I did warn Gerard not to improvise too much,” Hussain continues. “And he still did. So when we were filming, he’d go off and I’d lose my cue because I only had the lines I learned.
“Ang would then ask me what was wrong and I couldn’t even say it was because of Gerard,” he laughs. “It was funny. He’s a great guy.”
Originally from the north east Indian state of Assam, Hussain, who is based in Delhi, is currently filming his first Assamese film in 20 years.
He says he was inspired by his father for his role as Pi’s dad.
“My father was like my character. He was strict, a typical traditional middle class father who believed in a patriarchal society.
“But I’m glad he taught me those lessons because I am sitting here because of him,” he says.
Hussain will next be seen in two indie films, Lessons in Forgetting based on a book by popular Indian writer Anita Nair, and Blemished Light, a political drama set in New York and Delhi.
“I have no complaints whatsoever,” he says of the ay his career has shaped up. “I’m getting such great roles. Whether they’re small or big is not that important to me.”