Indian National Award-winning actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who was last seen in a biopic about Balasaheb Thackeray, the polarising political leader and founder of right-wing party Shiv Sena, has an axe to grind with all those who believe he participated in an agenda-driven film.
“I consider Thackeray’s role as the best one in my career. And, for those who think it was a propaganda, what do you think Bollywood films have been doing in the last 40 years?” asked Siddiqui in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! in Hindi.
“The biggest propaganda they have pulled off in Hindi films is the existence of a non-existent larger-than-life Bollywood hero. Such a guy doesn’t exist in this world. Tell me, in real life does it ever happen that a guy who is bashing up baddies walks away with a very beautiful girl?” he asked.
The ‘Gangs of Wassepur’ talent isn’t far from the truth and has just described the perfect prototype of a typical Bollywood hero.
“And your Bollywood hero is always dressed in designer best. Firstly, how can he afford that because you rarely see a Bollywood hero working for a living? But have you ever questioned about what kind of a job he has to afford all that luxury? And your hero is always supremely super heroic, although he has no extraordinary qualities per se. Beating up 10 people isn’t a great quality in my opinion,” Siddiqui said.
The film ‘Thackeray’, which opened to mixed reviews, triggered the debate whether politically-charged films are orchestrated to sway public opinion during the election year in India. Suspending belief and buying into the lie around a “Bollywood hero” for decades could also count as propaganda.
“If you see a guy in Dubai, singing on the streets or beating up people at the slightest provocation — won’t you think he has become mad?” the actor said.
In his belief, his two biopics ‘Manto’, on the legendary Urdu poet, and ‘Thackeray’ were the best works of his career. Siddiqui, on his part, is also doing his bit to de-construct the narrative around a Bollywood hero figure.
On March 14, Siddiqui will roll out Ritesh Batra’s bittersweet relationship drama ‘Photograph’, where he plays an unassuming lensman who ekes a living out of taking pictures of tourists in Mumbai’s Gateway of India. He meets a young woman who’s relatively better off economically, played by Sanya Malhtora, and they strike an unlikely friendship. Whether their tenuous friendship develops into something more is also explored.
“I play myself and that isn’t always easy… I spoke to several photographers outside the Gateway of India to learn about the technicalities of handling the camera apparatus… I observed their body language where by noon they look haggard standing all day outside waiting for tourists. Check the ‘Photograph’ trailer and you will notice me looking so tired, with no energy,” said Siddiqui.
It’s a film that also explores the notion that not all relationships in life need to be defined or labelled.
“Why is it that every relationship between a man and a woman should end up in love in a film? There could be instances in your own life where you meet a man under an unusual circumstance and have five or six meetings with him … you all part ways but you all still leave an impression on each other. Such chance encounters could happen which doesn’t always develop into love.”
By Siddiqui’s own admission, he isn’t bashing up villains or walking around in swanky designer clothes despite scraping around for a living in ‘Photograph’. But his character isn’t poor.
This is a debate that he constantly had with his ‘The Lunchbox’ director Batra, an Indian expatriate who lives in the United States.
“Ritesh used to call him poor, but I used to point out that Rafi isn’t poor. If he’s earning and managing to have food on his table, how is he a poor man? A poor man is someone who has no money to eat. Rafi’s grandmother is from a good clan and his father was a compounder. They are not poor per se,” Siddiqui said.
Meanwhile, the film is rich in nuances and his character in ‘Photograph’ is a character that resembles him greatly.
“But playing yourself isn’t easy. The trick is to look effortlessly real and organic without making it look boring. Ritesh always instructed me not to act. So all I did was imagine the circumstances and situations in Rafi’s life and then take it forward,” he said.
Siddiqui also has another request.
“Please don’t label films as festival-friendly or musicals. There are just good films and bad films.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Photograph’ releases in the UAE on March 14.