Slice of a conversation with Naseeruddin Shah

Prologue: It’s difficult to love cinema and not admire Nasseruddin Shah. And it’s childish now to tell that “He’s a fine actor.’ I always loved the texture of his voice and body language. And I also heard stories about him (being a moody subject for interviews) from my senior journalist friends. As destiny willed I got to interview Naseeruddin a couple of weeks back. There was a sense of aloofness and a sense of involvement about him. After the interview was over, he was enjoying a cup of tea all alone. I always wanted to tell him one thing and that particular mement, I battled with my inner self, “should I walk upto him and tell or just let it go.” But then something within me urged me to go ahead. And I went told him, “Can I tell you something? You might get irritated..” He said, “Ya, I might… but tell me.” I told him, “I was in a relationship with a guy (we parted our ways after being together for quite some years) whose body language had lots of similarity with you… and he had the same mop of curly hair.. and when he used to act smart, I used to tell myself, “What’s the hell he think of himself—- Naseeruddin Shah? And like you, he also studied in Aligarh Muslim University.” He laughed generously and said, “Oh.. I m happy to know that and which department he was in?” I told him and he also asked me what’s he doing now and whether I am in touch with him or not. And then as I was turning to say him bye, he gave me a real heart-warming smile and told me, “Say my hi to him and stay in touch with him.”    

I am attaching the copy of my interview with Naseeruddin Shah  which was published in the Times Of India

‘Butterflies… They’re at rest!’

Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah talks about things that matter to him in an interview with AT

Deepika Sahu

   He’s one of the finest actors Indian cinema has ever produced. His body of work encompasses films like Sparsh, Albert Pinto ko gussa kyon aata hai, Masoom, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho, A Wednesday and many more. He’s Naseeruddin Shah, for whom acting comes naturally. For innumerable cinephiles across the country, he is still the ‘ultimate actor.’ Yet when he’s far from the ‘reel’ world, he exudes a sense of reticence. So even in the midst of journalists and cameramen, he enjoys his moments of solitude and a cup of tea. It comes across almost as a ‘still’ moment which is so very rare to find in today’s world of instant stardom and absolute glitz.
   But when he’s in a conversation, he’s attentive and laughs quite generously. His twinkling eyes match his quick witty remarks. He’s at ease and there’s a sense of openness when he deals with questions.
   He seemed really happy to bring the much-acclaimed play Ismat apa ke naam to A h m e d ab a d . I n t e re s t i n g ly, Naseeruddin discovered Ismat Chughtai much late in his life. Taking a retro look, he says, “Ismat Chughtai acted in the film Junoon and I had no clue who she was and what she wrote. Years later I read her works in English and I was completely hooked. There was an element of instant connection.” Ismat Chughtai’s work also brings in the subject of banning books (as she also faced the same threat for alleged obscenity in her work). Shah says, “We b a n n e d the rec e n t book o n Gandhi even without reading it. And not to forget the fact that India was the first country to ban Satanic Verses.”
   The timeless relevance of stories has always appealed to him and he believes, “Human nature has not changed. So, whether it’s a story about drunken husbands, sufferings of women or child issues written years ago, it’s still the same. Wherever we have performed in the world , people have always connected with the stories.”
   So, one can’t help but ask the most natural following question about whether films have changed or not? He laughs and says, “No, films haven’t changed at all. Previously we had black and white films now we have color, gloss and technology.” And then he adds, “Earlier we had V Shantaram  m a k i n g movies on progressive ideas. But today, the number of films we make has increased substantially but content-wise not much has changed.”
   Shah has been working with his wife Ratna for years now. Ask him about his experience of working with his family and he says with a smile. “ Having same interests helps a lot and there’s so much to talk about. We never get bored at home or work.” So, are there creative differences (as most people keep on talking about)? “Yes, there are creative differences but never the big ones that disrupt the harmony of our home,” he adds with a laugh.
   Ask him about Ahmedabad and he says, “From the air, Ahmedabad looked like a city growing in an organized way.” He has his memories of working in Ahmedabad (he staged plays in both IIM and NID) and he also shot for his film Bhavni Bhavai at Vaso, a nearby village. So, will he go back to savor a slice of yesterday? He says, “I don’t go to places where I had pleasure before. May be there’s a mall which has come in the place of the haveli in which we shot Bhavni Bhavai.”
   Does he feel butterflies in his stomach before going on the stage for a play (as many actors keep on talking about it)? He laughs and says “My butterflies are all at rest.” Then on a serious note, he adds, “To me, acting is the most natural thing. I have no sense of anxiety. In fact, I feel a great sense of calm before I go on stage. I can go to sleep an hour before the play. So, I can’t understand when actors talk about having butterflies in their stomach before going on stage. May be, they should look at alternative careers.”
   He has done films,television,a cricket show and theatre And in each of these mediums, he has set a benchmark.But which medium he enjoys the most? He says immediately, “I like the job of acting. I have enjoyed all the mediums.Right now,I am enjoying theatre and directing and helping young actors to learn. It rejuvenates me.”
He finds the word teaching a bit like preaching yet when you see him far from the arclights, he might be passed off as an academician walking in an Ivyleague university campus. Completely absorbed in his own world.


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