Amidst a slew of this year’s political biopics in Bollywood, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s portrayal of the role of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray has perhaps created the most controversy. Some call it propaganda, while some believe filmmakers are finally pushing the envelope on new content. Even though the elections are due later this year, the actor disagrees that the films are meant to create an impression in the minds of the audience. In fact, he says that there should be biopics on politicians.
“We have been making movies on fake characters. Thank god there is a trend of movies on sportspersons or other real-life heroes. I think it’s a great trend. Politicians go through a great journey in life. It’s not a matter of shame to make films on them. Elections keep coming and going. Some people have been calling Thackeray a propaganda film, but do you think Bal Thackeray needed propaganda to promote his life? He will always be etched as a strong man in our minds,” he says.
Thackeray was known for his strong views. When asked about the ideologies that Nawazuddin disagrees with, he is quick to say, “I am an actor first and only if I believe in his thoughts and ideas will I be able to portray his role truthfully. My biggest truth as an actor is to embody the character’s thought process with honesty, so there is nothing I disagree with.”
Industry peers such as actors Siddharth and Richa Chadha have criticised Nawazuddin’s decision to play the role of Thackeray. In the Marathi trailer of the movie, he can be seen chanting the lines ‘Uthao lungi bajao pungi’—which some view as an attack on South Indians. But the actor remains unfazed. “They (the industry) have to broaden their minds. They need to understand it’s just a film and a dialogue in the film. We are showing facts in the film that actually happened and not something that I personally said. Balasaheb was a controversial character. Neither has he been glorified nor has he been whitewashed. That’s why people will take offence and some will like it as well.”
The actor gained fame after the release of Gangs of Wasseypur. But it took long for him to be established. “I had been working with the same instinct from 2000 till 2012. People’s perception kept changing. Just like how their opinions keep changing when there’s a hit or a flop film. Similarly, when you’re a struggler and until you start doing well, people start viewing you in a different light. My job is to keep doing films and they can keep changing their opinions as and when they please. And I have understood that you can never be late. If you’re getting what you want after 40 years of struggle that means you’re not late. If you want something wholeheartedly, your entire life may not be enough to achieve it.”
From Ganesh Gaitonde in Sacred Games to Liak Mohammed Tungrekar in Badlapur, Nawazuddin has often essayed grey characters in his films. Has he ever feel stereotyped? “You know the hero in Bollywood, who only does love stories in 25 years of his career, is actually the one who is a typecast. A hero does 25-30 films which are only positive roles, but we never call that being a typecast. In fact, doing grey roles has saved me from being typecast. Being a hero is a typecast. It’s something that our directors have done.”
But a lot of actors are now doing unconventional roles, a genre that Nawazuddin specialises in. “I don’t have a copyright over it. Anyone can do. It’s probably a new trend here, but in the West, most characters have a grey shade. Apart from the films that are made for kids like Batman and Superman, most have a negative element to it. Tragedy comes to me very easily. To make the audience laugh and cry is the easiest thing to do. But the hardest thing is to make them think,” he laughs.
While Nawazuddin initially emerged from filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s camp of realistic and dark cinema, he later went on to do commercial films such as Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Freaky Ali. So, what does the actor enjoy more? “I love doing romantic films more than anything else. In fact, all my upcoming films are in the romance genre such as Ritesh Batra’s Photograph. Anurag’s characters are realistic and I enjoy doing them too.
His characters have both good and bad side unlike other roles, which are mostly one-dimensional. Like the character of Raman Raghav where he says in the first scene that ‘I have murdered nine people’ and the policemen shoo him away. Later, when they arrest him for 40 murders, he says ‘you asked me to go away but I came to confess earlier’. Similarly for Ganesh Gaitonde’s characters, he may be a criminal but he believes in women and puts them above all. He also never delves into religion, which is also a good point.”