Meena Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; February 10, 2017)

Naseeruddin Shah’s name still adds a certain gravitas and even excitement to a film; though his roster recently has more misses than hits. On the eve of the release of an upcoming social thriller, the veteran actor, known for his candour, admits to his follies, opens up about his late friend and reveals why he wants to give Shaad Ali a hug.

Irada releases a week from now, any thoughts on it?
I’m anxious because I will be held responsible for the quality of the film. It’s a grim thriller and hopefully will be accepted like A Wednesday. It has a couple of good twists and a socially relevant subject, talking about the poisoning of the soil and water by chemical industries and how it even affects the common man who drinks a glass of the contaminated water.

You once famously said that films are not arty or commercial but good or bad. Knowing this, how do you justify your mediocre choices?
Over the last few years, my output has not been outstanding, only Waiting turned out well. Some of the films I did for obvious reasons but it’s become embarrassing. Take Charlie Kay Chakkar Mein, which I did out of a sense of loyalty to a couple of my students who claimed they did not have any money. I agreed to a two-day appearance which stretched to five days and ultimately I ended up as the villain which I was not supposed to be in the first place. It was a dreadfully embarrassing movie which I couldn’t sit through myself. One review even said, ‘Naseeruddin Shah has now become the Messiah of mediocre cinema.’

It’s good that you can laugh about this?
Yes, of course. I did good films like Dedh Ishqiya which didn’t fare well and ghastly ones like Jackpot which deserved to flop. There were films like Dirty Politics, Bolo Raam and some whose titles I don’t remember which I did for various reasons. A couple were made by cash-strapped friends who needed a name to sell their projects. After 40 years of doing cinema, this is not a good enough reason for shoddy work.

So you agree you should be more discerning?
Yes, but there’s no way you can tell whether a movie will turn out to be good or bad. I had never heard of Neeraj Pandey before I did A Wednesday yet it’s one of my most memorable films. Ditto Shoaib Mansoor of Pakistan but again Khuda Kay Liye turned out good. Who was Shekhar Kapur before he made Masoom? It’s the roll of the dice. I am not embarrassed to admit that I’ve done a lot of movies for money. That is what we all work for. But there have also been cases where the money does not matter. Irada is one such film I’ve done because I believed in it.

But money is important to you?
I seriously suspect money can buy happiness but I’ve been a happier person since I started earning enough than when I was broke. I appreciate money and I work for it. I don’t expect something for nothing which is why I do not gamble. Money doesn’t solve every problem but it makes life easier and it’s better to have money than not have it.

Is there something like a typical day in your life?
No, there isn’t. Sometimes I wake at the crack of dawn, sometimes not until noon. It depends on bodily fluids and what I have lined up. I haven’t green-lit too many films and ideally I like to start my day with a game of tennis. Till a couple of years ago I was a cricket addict, now it’s tennis. I’ve been forbidden to play cricket and ride horses. I cannot even exercise because my back has given way.

Do you advice your children on the kind of work they should undertake?
You cannot influence or control your children’s lives. Parents overrate their influence. My parents had no control over me though they tried everything. I know better than to try to live my children’s lives for them. My only prayer for Imaad, Heeba and Vivaan is that they are happy and successful in whatever they do.

With Om Puri gone, you seem to be the only custodian of a certain kind of cinema…
Yes, I’m the sole survivor. Om is gone, Farooq (Shaikh) is gone, Amrish (Puri) is gone… It feels strange. I’m angry with Om, deeply grieved that he didn’t look after himself. He had no right to mistreat himself. But on second thoughts, who knows what he went through?

You couldn’t sit through OK! Jaanu because you were deeply disturbed by Om’s death, right?
Shaad Ali invited me to a preview a couple of days after Om passed away. I was deeply disturbed and left shortly after the film began. I’ve heard disappointing reports. I thought Mani Ratnam’s film was enjoyable and at a loss to explain what went wrong with the Hindi version. Shaad is sincere and worked hard, as did everyone else. I want to give him a hug because he must be feeling low. No one should feel like s**t after they’ve worked hard on something. He is a lovely chap! As that book on screenplay writing says at the end, no one knows a damn how things will work out as far as a film goes. After writing 400 pages on how to work on a winning screenplay, the last sentence is — no one knows a damn! That’s what filmmaking is all about.