I met Nawazuddin Siddiqui but once. He was promoting a forthcoming release. He sat across me, talking and rolling a cigarette. I watched him quietly. He did it with the ease and familiarity of a druggie rolling out a joint. Yawning all the while. "I'm feeling sleepy," he said, shaking his head, and then lit up. A minute earlier he had downed a cup of strong coffee. It didn't help. He had been on the run. Tirelessly promoting his film across cities and small towns.
I stay honest to my craft. And I act for myself. Not to impress people. I follow my originality. Everybody has that... it's better than following anything else. Nawazuddin Siddiqui
In my book, Nawazuddin is Bollywood's young Al Pacino. I see a resemblance between them. They're both reticent, physically diminutive actors standing head and shoulders over the popular good-looking hunks, Greek gods, and handsome dudes of their industries. Both are powerhouse actors with theatre backgrounds who began their careers by learning to live with anonymity. Acting, for them, has been hard work and it's never about the money. They reach their stride when they persist. And they bring the kind of mesmerising performance to their roles that leave you with a hangover. It lasts until they return with a new release, a totally different character and another showstopper act.
I didn't mention to Nawazuddin that what's been said about Pacino applies for him too. I didn't tell him this because I am not his fan. I admire his acting. But I have seen just eight of the many films he has worked in since he clawed an entry into Bollywood in 1999. He didn't hesitate to tell me, however, that he has huge respect for journalists who still do interviews the old-fashioned way like I was doing—using a pen and paper. "As long as you have passion for your art, keep working," he advised me. I was humbled by his simplicity.
Nawazuddin expressing delight at my doing the interview "unplugged"... with pen and paper!
He grew up among seven brothers and two sisters in Budhana, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, where carnivals with folk performers fascinated him to the extent that he wanted to be like them. "Someone who can hold everyone's attention, who can make people laugh, cry, dance, someone who can simply entertain," he said. "I wanted to perform, I found my destiny, I shifted to Mumbai and experienced the longest and toughest struggles of my life. Like my character in Manjhi: The Mountain Man I took these struggles in my stride and made them stepping stones to my success."
Somebody once rather uncharitably described Nawazuddin as "5-feet 6-inches of ordinariness" in whose life and career "fortune" and "luck" played a big role to catapult him today to the enviable status he enjoys in Bollywood. He shrugged when I reminded him of this. He gave me no talk of his determination, his willingness to accept any work, his desire to make it on his own in Bollywood, the boundaries he had pushed, the comfort zones he had left to constantly evolve as an actor. "I try to figure out how 'luck' has favoured me all these years, but I am not able to," he said instead, "and if 'fortune' had favoured me I would have been where I am long ago. So I don't want to share my success with 'luck' and I won't give the credit to 'fortune'."
When I read the script of 'Babumoshai Bandookbaaz'—Bond came to mind. In terms of clothes and styling, Babu has nothing in common with Bond. Yet I wanted to make him cool. Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Then what made him successful, I asked, because I was certain he had a message to give people still struggling out there. "I have no message but an experience to share," Nawazuddin revealed. "I stay honest to my craft. And I act for myself. Not to impress people. I am trying to discover myself through different characters. I follow my originality. Everybody has that. There has to be something unique in every person. And no matter how strange it may seem, or how shocking, follow that originality—it's better than following anything else."
He walks the talk. After Gangs of Wasseypur in 2012, Nawazuddin was flooded with offers by the industry that had earlier slammed the door in his face. "I got around 200 scripts," he recalled. "If I had signed them then, I wouldn't have been here this long. There comes a time when you have to think and act." Meaning, he had seen the downfall of others in Bollywood who became greedy in signing films and learned from their mistakes. All he did was look for good scripts in which his next character did not resemble his last one.
['Babumoshai' contains] the actor's first kissing scene. Candidly, he admitted that he was rather nervous at the start... And then unblushingly added that he enjoyed the kissing scene very much!
Nawazuddin has had three major films already this year in Raees,Mom and Munna Michael. And he's got a big ticket release coming up in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz this week in which he plays the title role. I know he has not repeated himself in any of these films. But what has staggered me is that Nawazuddin has done some intimate scenes in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz that I would not have thought he was capable of earlier. It's not that he has come of age as an actor and wants to be hot on screen. Or that Nawazuddin is keeping up with the Joneses in Bollywood. He's shown as a shambling figure in a dirty singlet and clingy lungi, transistor slung on his shoulders playing Vividh Bharti, pistol tucked into his waist, carrying a Dalda tin and heading into the fields to perform his morning ablutions in this film. But the script demanded that he get dirty with his leading lady.
It was the actor's first kissing scene. Candidly, he admitted that he was rather nervous at the start because he had not lip-locked on screen before. And then unblushingly added that he enjoyed the kissing scene very much! Inspiration to accept this role came from James Bond. I can't see how. But Nawazuddin Siddiqui said, "When I read the script of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz—Bond came to mind. In terms of clothes and styling, Babu has nothing in common with Bond. Yet I wanted to make him cool!"