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?
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).