A screwy, visceral charm marks Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s villainous turns - be it in Badlapur, Kick or most recently, Genius. Directed by Anil Sharma, Genius is billed as a launch vehicle for Sharma’s son Utkarsh (remembered for his childhood appearance as Jeete in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha). Nawazuddin plays the main antagonist in the film, a conniving and mysterious gangster called ‘MRS’. The role seems a no-brainer for Nawaz, but he refuses to slack it off.
“I approach every new role with a fresh treatment. Gone are the days when you were labelled as hero or villain. Even heros are playing characters these days. I try to find some humanity in every person I play. If I am playing a cop, it shouldn’t be defined by my uniform. I should tap into the man behind the uniform,” he says.
Arriving in the wake of Sacred Games, Genius looks like a frivolous excursion on his part. But Nawaz disagrees. “Critics and cinephiles have this unfair perception about mainstream films. They assume commercial films are inherently bad. That’s not true. I often see performances in mainstream films that are better than those in so-called art films. But people don’t appreciate them because of their bias towards the genre. We need to shed this attitude.”
That said, patrons of serious or realistic cinema still claim Nawaz as their poster boy. “There’s a fraud going on in the name of realistic cinema. If someone mouths a dialogue with a jitter or lack of mannerisms, people think he is doing realistic acting. That’s not realism; that’s casual acting. Realism is placing yourself in a believable premise and connecting internally with the situation.”
After Genius, Nawaz will be seen in Manto and Thackeray, two biopics of stark ideological contrast. He has also signed four more films, while old projects like Shoebite and Ghoomketu await release. “I want to keep pushing my craft. I want to internalize my characters more and more, and remove external pollutants from my performance. Even in a film like Genius, I have tried to find an internal motivation for my character. It’s not the same process with every film. Some come easily, some don’t.” A dialogue about ‘Deshbhakti’ in the trailer of Genius was met with online resistance; the slur has been modified in the film’s theatrical cut. “I don’t have much to say about that. That’s a dictate of the Censor Board. We can’t do much about it. Hum kya kar sakte hain isme?”