Nawazuddin Siddiqui is having a hectic day when I arrive at the hotel where the press is crowding to meet the star. The Sacred Games’ actor is in Dubai for his promotions for his upcoming film, Genius, a star-vehicle film where he plays the antagonist. The film is essentially the launch pad for Anil Sharma’s son, Uktarsh Sharma and Nawazuddin, even in what seems like an unintentionally hilarious action flick, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as always, stands out with his excellence.
Nawazuddin exudes natural intensity and charm. Onscreen it makes him a beloved star, a critically acclaimed marvel and a tool for instant success for masala/massy films such as Kick or Genius or even Freaky Ali. Offscreen, it allows for a fascinating conversation that he stays in absolute control of.
“You must be tired by now,” I say. “Aah, you know how these things are,” he replies and glances around. He doesn’t seem to mind the attention. “It’s all good,” he says softly.
An empty espresso cup sits before him that he absentmindedly uses as an ashtray. But nothing else about him is inattentive. He focuses completely on who he’s speaking to. In between breaks, he looks around, grins, stretches and goes back to speaking to the reporter/anchor. There is a characteristic half smile on his face with which he announces the names of the television channel people can watch him on. There is a sincere likeability to his persona.
We have a few minutes to speak to him before another daily, reporter, radio jockey is allowed time with him. Dressed in a dark coat and pants, Nawazuddin sits alert. I was told that he was tired and swamped with press. But neither his tone nor his posture suggest that he’s having an understandably mad day.
I take my place next to him when it’s my turn and shake his hands. He stands up in courtesy, smiles broadly, nods and we sit and start talking about the film he is now promoting. “You must be tired by now,” I say. “Aah, you know how these things are,” he replies and glances around. He doesn’t seem to mind the attention. “It’s all good,” he says softly.
Nawazuddin returns as a gangster in the Netflix original, Sacred Games. As Ganesh Gaitonde, Nawazuddin creates much of the magic in the webseries. Is there any specific formula he follows as a method actor when he is doing a villainous/negative role?
“Method acting isn’t a single process, it’s various processes suited for various roles,” Nawaz answers. “Method acting is like an exercise, you know? It’s not necessary that the same exercise can be applied for the same character every time. Each character requires a different method." He leans into the conversation without missing a beat anywhere. "There are many characters I’ve done in which I’ve used zero methods. I’ve done them spontaneously, I’ve done them organically.”
Which character have you done this way? I ask.
“The character I did in Gangs of Wasseypur – I did it completely spontaneously. Anurag used to write the scenes then and there.” He speaks fondly and is oblivious to the slight but ongoing distractions in the background. “On the set Anurag would be scribbling away. We didn’t know what we were going to do the next day. When I would see the scenes, I would read them, understand them and whatever the environment around me suggested to me, whatever I could make of it, I did accordingly. There was nothing specific [method-wise]. There was nothing that I had created via method-acting for this character.”
But Nawazuddin was simply starting out in Gangs of Wasseypur as a lead protagonist. The pressure is more now with two very important biopics in the offing: Manto and Thackery. Nawazuddin plays Saadat Hasan Manto in Manto, the famed South Asian writer who reneged against the set norms of literature at the time by writing morally thought-provoking stories.
"I wanted to approach Manto in my own way. I had my own perception and my own perspective on how I see the world, as all actors do. I wanted that to be central to how I played and approached Manto.”
In Thackeray, Nawaz plays Bal Thackeray, the leader of Shiv Sena, a right-wing organization, in India. While a character like Manto has a significant social standing in literary circles and a personality like Thackery has a significant political connotation, does the pressure somewhat permeate into his performance?
“See, whenever I do a role or whenever I choose to do a role, I try to see it on a human level. What they do in their professions – if they are a writer or a politician or a gangster – I just don’t go there. I work on the thought process of what these individuals do. I think and I wonder – how do these people think? How do these people function? When I look at a character – whether they’re a doctor or a lawyer or a politician or a cop – I look at the person. When you see a cop, you see a cop’s uniform. But behind that uniform, there’s a human being and that’s who I see. I don’t see a uniformed cop, I see a human being.”
Time is running short and other reporters are being ushered in. I ask him if he has seen Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto, the Pakistani film.
“No, I haven’t seen it until now,” he says, staring into a distance. “And I didn’t want to see it while I was shooting Manto because I didn’t want it to influence me. I wanted to approach Manto in my own way. I had my own perception and my own perspective on how I see the world, as all actors do.” There is no arrogance in his voice or tone. “I wanted that to be central to how I played and approached Manto.”
A flurry of reporters, radio show hosts and anchors continue to make their way in an out of this suite where he is speaking to members of the press. His entourage is simple, the people who surround him are as no-nonsense as him, and his milieu seems as straightforward as his persona.
Some radio presenters are next, and they ask him to repeat some of the dialogs from his upcoming film, Genius. Nawaz obliges, laughs softly and soon he’s ready for another cycle of interviews. There is an unforced celebrité to Nawaz that makes him the star that he is. And I wonder if the celluloid is capable enough to truly celebrate his genius in this lifetime.