Madhureeta Mukherjee (BOMBAY TIMES; July 4, 2017)

A man with stars in his eyes comes from a village to the big city of Mumbai - a hotbed for dazzling dreams. He struggles for fifteen long years while feeding off small roles, hungry for more and always hopeful.Then finally, he gets his golden turn. To show the world the talent that he has been honing for decades. Well, this is what human stories are made of - triumphant and inspiring. And even after all this, nothing has changed the man. He's simple, no frills, small on showbaazi, big on talent and truly grateful for it all. With his next, Mom, directed by Ravi Udyawar, ready to release this week, Nawazuddin Siddiqui talks about his struggles, stardom and stigmas.In his own style - simple and straight from the heart. Read on...

You have been an actor for decades, but you shot into limelight after films like Gangs Of Wasseypur and Kahaani. From then to now, we have seen a change in you. As a public figure, you seem to be more at ease and comfortable with yourself...
Yes, there has been a change, but I still don't feel too comfortable on public platforms. I go for very few events and even when I'm on an international platform, I'm slightly uncomfortable. When we are abroad at some film festival, we move around in a group that includes the director, producer and co-actors. So, even if I get a little conscious, I'm not alone and get a boost looking at my colleagues. But when I'm all by myself, I'm a little wary of being judged. You give me any character and I'll pull it off, but as a public figure, I tend to get conscious.

Do you feel that now, people are more accepting of you the way you are?
This is how I am. Kabhi kabhi dar lagta hai ki mein sab ke jaisa ho jaunga toh artificial lagunga. The typical star behaviour will never come to me naturally, so even if I struggle to behave that way, I will look fake. If people don't have a problem with me being the way I am, toh bahut achha hai.

Was the change in your lifestyle very drastic for you? How did people close to you in Mumbai and in your village react to your fame and success?
Sometimes, I still don't believe I am all that famous. When I go to smaller towns, the people there feel, 'Yeh to hamare jaisa hi hai.' They feel confident that if I can do this, so can they. Yes, the change was very drastic; it took some time to get comfortable with it. There was a time when I would head out on my own and no one would bother at all. Now, for my safety, I need some people around me. I don't get such treatment at home. Family mujhe iss tarah ka bhaav nahi deti. Meri beti bhi mujhe daant deti hai. Even when I go back to my village, for the first two days people are a little conscious. They don't easily come around and hang out with me right away .After a day, when they see that I am reaching out to them, they feel assured that I am still the same Nawaz. I have farmed in that village for 30 years. Wahan mere itne dost hain, sab ke saath kaam kiya hain, and nothing can change those bonds.

I'm sure that at some point, the same people must have reacted with shock to your decision to be a Bollywood actor. They probably dissuaded you, too?
Till about 20 years ago, a star was supposed to have some typical attributes, like they had to be tall, fair, well-built and handsome. Well, I obviously didn't meet any of those standards. So, people around me felt that I didn't fit the bill. They would tell me, 'Kyun koshish kar raha hai?' But when I became a successful actor, they were the ones who were the happiest. Aaj bhi mujhe leke bada achambha hota hai un logon ko ki ....yeh star bana kaise.

In an industry where physical attributes matter so much, how did you fight that stigma?
There's a reason I took 16 years to get to where I am today. Actor toh main pehle bhi tha, lekin yahan pahunchne ke liye bahut stig mas fight kiye hain. I was told in so many words that I don't look like an actor. When I went to production houses and said that I am an actor, they didn't believe it. I would then show them a live demo and that would leave them confused about what they can do with me. Today, things have changed; even stars want to play strong characters. There has been a huge shift in perception where mainstream heroes are experimenting with characters and character actors are playing lead roles in mainstream films.

Now, do you consciously work on your looks and styling?
I still don't focus on these aspects. I pay up a year's fee for my gym membership, but I end up using it for about only five or six times in a year. As for my clothes, I am not brand conscious. Main glamorous parties aur events mein nahi jaata, so I don't even need such clothes. Kaam kiya, uske baad seedha ghar jaata hoon. I'm one of those actors who give their shot and move out of the spotlight. People say that it is important to socialise and network. I don't think so, because there are so many people who do that, but they don't have work. Yahan aapke liye kaam hoga toh aapko qabr se nikaal laayenge, aur agar kaam nahi hoga toh aapko qabr mein pahuncha denge.

Your relationship with Mumbai is very special. Even during your struggling days, you had made up your mind that you wouldn't leave the city...
Have you seen the waves along Mumbai's shores? They throw you out but they also take you in. Mumbai is like that. I've lived in so many places around Andheri. When I didn't have money to travel, I would walk from Four Bungalows to Film City (Goregaon). It took me two hours, but I did it. I've practically seen this city on foot. I remember so many places where I would stop by for chai or sasta khana late into the night. Back then, I wasn't sure if I'd get a meal the next day in the afternoon, but I would ensure that I got some dinner before going to bed. Paise ka jugaad ho jaata tha, nahi toh jo dost TV serial mein kaam karte the, unko kisi tarah emotional blackmail karke khaana kha leta. Now when I see those spots, there is a sense of uneasiness. In my heart, I thank God that my life is not as tough anymore. I also pray that I don't have to face those struggles again. Yes, those experiences make you a better actor, but the fight for two square meals a day shouldn't happen to anyone. Main toh bach gaya lekin kuch log uss struggle ke baad pagal aur eccentric ho jaate hain. They leave everything behind and go back to where they came from. Such struggles can kill your talent.

I am sure that for years, you followed the work of so many actors from our industry, and today, you are working with some of the biggest names. Were you ever in awe of the superstars with whom you've worked?
Yeh itne bade superstars hain toh ek awe toh hota hai, but scene karte waqt nahi. They have an aura and you can't ignore their star power. As an actor, I don't get intimidated by anyone's stardom. When I am acting with them, I am not in awe of them. While performing a scene, if I keep thinking that the person standing in front of me is Shah Rukh Khan, then I'm insulting the character that he's playing. It also shows that I'm getting corrupt as an actor because I can't differentiate between an actor and character. I will quit acting the day I can't differentiate an actor from a character; or the day I get intimidated by a co-actor while doing a scene. I've worked with theatre stalwarts and done about 5,000 street plays. That's my foundation as an actor. Actors can never become bigger than a scene or the film. Not even a stalwart like Robert DeNiro.

There is a flip side to stardom, as actors who are put on that pedestal are expected to repeat the similar act every time. In a sense, they get typecast...
In my case, main typecast hua hi nahi. Jo typical hero hote hai, they get typecast. Unko darr hota hai uss cheez ka, as some of them have been heroes for 25 years now. The term 'hero' is what leads to actors getting typecast. Even if that hero has range, no one cares to tap it. So, he starts doing clich├ęd roles because that's what works for the filmmakers. Today, if I have the chance to offer variety in my performance, why would I let go of that? I have a special role in Mom and I enjoyed doing it. I don't want to slip into a comfort zone. For me, the most difficult part is dancing. My mind and body struggle to do it. I will be seen dancing in Munna Michael, let's see how it goes.

Very few get a chance to work with an actress like Sridevi. What was your reaction when you were offered a part with her?
I've seen a lot of world cinema and according to me, Srideviji is the most talented actress in Bollywood. I have watched all her films and I have observed how she plays it differently each time. I didn't even read the script of Mom and I gave a go ahead to Boney sir. My main reason for working in the film was that I was getting a chance to share screen space with Srideviji. For me, the size of the role does not matter but how strong it is and how it's making a difference to me as an actor and the movie.

According to you, which is your finest performances?
Well, whatever work you do only adds to your experience and helps you improvise. I have a lot of years ahead of me. I don't want to analyse which is my best work till now. Yes, Gangs Of Wasseypur was a turning point. After that film released, I received 175 scripts. Woh time pe mujhe galat choices se bachna tha. Logon ne blank cheques diye mujhe and they were willing to move their dates to fit me in. For someone who has struggled for 15 years to get two meals a day, it was very tempting. Mere aage bahut seniors hain joh stars bane aur gire kyunki unhone galat choices li. I don't run after money. It might sound like I am boasting... par mujhe itna kaabil banna hai ki paisa mere peeche aaye, main uske peeche nahi. If it is possible, then why not? Main aur bahut mehnat kar sakta hoon, aur koi mujhe rok nahin sakta.