‘I Have Never Been Called Handsome in My Own Country’: Nawazuddin Siddiqui
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‘I Have Never Been Called Handsome in My Own Country’: Nawazuddin Siddiqui

The Manto actor’s response about the high praise he received in the prestigious Hollywood Reporter…

No Indian actor has received  higher  praise  from hard-to-please foreign critics than Nawazuddin  Siddiqui for Nandita Das’s Manto. Writing about his performance as the  rebellious writer-thinker the  prestigious Hollywood Reporter writes, “Here, the versatile Nawazuddin Siddiqui… is transformed into an astounding resemblance of the writer, in what may well be Manto's definitive screen persona. Siddiqui hurls Manto's talent, wit, self-destructiveness and tragic gravity at the world like a punch in the stomach — in fact, very much like the stories he was writing after 1946, when the film takes place…. The handsome Siddiqui, flashing the cleft chin and defiant gaze of an Indian Marcello Mastroianni, is riveting even when Manto enters a downward spiral of alcoholism in the final scenes.” Subhash K Jha  captures Nawaz’s delight at being  thus anointed.

Hollywood Reporter  has called  you handsome and compared you with Marcello Mastroianni?

(laughs in delight) To be called handsome  by  one of  the  most authoritative publications on American cinema, is  something I  value. I have never  been called handsome in my own country, not by the  people  I know,  not  by critics who  love my  work. So it’s a great  kick. As  for being compared with  Marcello Mastroianni…oh, my God! He is  such a brilliant actor, so skilled and with such a riveting screen  presence. When I’d see him perform in  the films of  Vittorio de Sica I’d  wonder how that level of naturalism can be achieved  in a  performance.

You are getting there. Your performance  in Manto is something Marcello Mastroianni would have recognized.

I’ve tried to keep  my  interpretation of Saadat Hassan Manto as quiet restrained and controlled as  possible. Manto  never raises his  voice. Yet he never has a problem  getting in getting people to listen to  him . The  louder  we speak the more we expose our insecurities about losing our identity. We Indians speak too loudly.

Like Marcello Mastroianni, you never have to raise  your voice to be heard?

You know, I was in  Rome for one-and-a-half months  shooting for  my friend Tannishtha Chatterjee’s film. And I visited the museum devoted to Marcello Mastroianni. Just to see all the artefacts  from his films, to savour and  experience  his life, was  a tremendous high  for me. Where are  the museums for  our great actors like Ashok Kumar and Dev Anand?

‘I Have Never Been Called Handsome in My Own Country’: Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Who are  the  other actors  you admire?

I  don’t admire actors. I admire  performances. I saw this Hong Kong film In The Mood For Love. And I  was  blown away  by Tony Leung’s performance, I thought Michal Keaton was mind-blowing in Birdman. But  my favourite  performance is   Leonardo di Caprio in Wolf Of Wall Street. He  played  the character as  wildly as  possible not  bothering about  pitch and rhythm. I like that sense of unpredictability in the  performance.

You  constantly strive for it?

I do. I don’t care  about any of the trappings  of  showbiz. I wouldn’t say I don’t care  about the money. But  that comes  from the  big commercial films. The money I make  doing Genius empowers me to do Manto which I did for free.

Do you get get enough  money in commercial films?

Hamare  film  industry ka  ek ajab wasool hai. They know your exact value and they  pay you  the amount you deserve. Not a penny more not a penny less. So yes, I’d say I am paid well by mainstream cinema.

How do you  choose from the dozens of offers every week?

I sit with my team over every offer .We look at my character and  the set-up. The main criteria  is  to find areas  that  the characters  take me  into. They have to  be places  I haven’t visited before.  I  won’t repeat  myself.

But the series  of sociopaths  character  you played were in same genre?

But you can’t compare the sociopath in Raman Raghav with the one on Monsoon Shootout. They  were all different , though dark characters.

You mentioned  shooting with Tannishtha Chatterjee in Rome. How was that experience?

Very lliberating. I was in  Rome and shooting at a stretch for the film without  interruptions. That’s how I want to  shoot. One film at a time. There will be no overlapping. I like to  surrender myself completely to my character. You will never see me using my phone on the sets. I keep away  from all distractions while shooting even it means  offending someone  like  you who feels I’ve changed.

Tannishtha is your second female  director in a row after Nandita Das. Is it any different shooting with a female director?

Now there is a third female director  Debamitra Haasan with whom I’m doing a light-hearted rom-com Motichoor Chaknachoor. It’s no different at all from shooting with male directors. Once  you in front of the camera  the  gender  of the director becomes irrelevant. The instructions  he or she give is all that matters.

You are being praised like no other actor in living memory. Doesn’t it make you vain?

I don’t  sit and think about the praise. I  just move on  from one role to another looking for new challenges. Mujhe apne kirdaar mein baariqiyan dhundna bahot  pasand hai(I love looking  for nuances  in  my characters).

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