On the sets of Malayalam film Naval Enna Jewel in Muscat, Oman, Adil Hussain met American/Iranian actor Reem Kadem for the first time. “She began speaking rapidly and I couldn’t understand a word,” says Adil, an Assamese. “I asked her what she was talking.” Reem burst out laughing and said, “I’m speaking Malayalam.” “Reem had memorised all the dialogues by heart. She delivered a knock-out performance as Naval,” says Adil.
In Naval Enna Jewel, Adil plays an Iranian government official who can speak Malayalam. “This was one of the reasons I accepted the role,” he says. “The character is not Malayali, and has an accent. Half the acting is in the voice, the sound which comes out of my being. I felt it’s an important story, which deals with how women are exploited in countries like Iran and Iraq.”
Adil hit the international spotlight when he played Santhosh Patel, the father of Pi Patel in the award-winning Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee. “Ang is the humblest director I’ve ever met. He allowed me to do what I wanted and then said, ‘Just put 10 per cent affection to your sternness’,” says Adil.
He got the script of Life of Pi six months before the shoot. “The itinerary was given to me two months in advance, along with the mobile number of the chauffeur,” he adds.
Adil has also acted in the 2012 The Reluctant Fundamentalist (a post-9/11 story about the impact of the Al Qaeda attacks on a Pakistani and his treatment by Americans in reaction to them), and in French, Norwegian, Bengali, Hindi, Assamese, Tamil and Marathi films. In 2017, he won the National Special Jury Award for his role in the Hindi film Mukti Bhawan.
He laments the lack of film learning opportunities in India. “For a population of 1.3 billion, there’s only one Film and Television Institute of India and a National School of Drama, with 26 seats,” says Adil, an alumnus of the school. “There should be at least 20 drama schools.”