Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who had as many as 5 releases in 2017, is gearing up for an even more promising 2018, with an envious slate of films.
The actor will be seen in British filmmaker, James Watkins’ upcoming show for Amazon Prime Video, McMafia. Watkins’ previous directorial credits include the Daniel Radcliffe-starrer horror, That Woman in Black, Eden Lake, The Descent Part 2, and the terrifying episode, Shut Up and Dance, from Netflix’s hit show, Black Mirror.
He will also be seen in Nandita Das’ biopic on celebrated Indian author, Saadat Hasan Manto, easily one of the most-awaited films of 2018, and one that’s likely to tour festivals before opening in cinemas.
However, the most controversial choice remains Nawaz’s decision to star in the biopic of Shiv Sena leader, Balasaheb Thackeray. Sena, a right-wing party based out of Mumbai, has been notorious for their divisive politics arising from their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim stance and Siddiqui happens to be both.
The irony is staggering.
But Nawaz isn’t worried. “What am I?” Nawaz questions, dramatically lighting up a cigarette.
With smoke covering his face in his dimly-lit office, one that has minimal furniture, he appears like a sinister character straight from a noir thriller, say, about organized crime.
“I am an actor. I act. Nothing else matters. My focus is to chase interesting characters. When I spend three months only in preparation for the role of Bal Thackeray, what I am doing is trying to live another life for those three months.”
But… and there are many buts.
When he plays a character like Thackeray, he also embodies everything that Thackeray stood for — an intolerance for migrants, especially from Uttar Pradesh, and a very pronounced hatred for the members of the Muslim community in India (Thackeray had asked for the voting rights of Muslims to be revoked)
How does he reconcile with such contradictions?
“Politcs ka masla alag hai (the political issue is different),” Siddiqui says.
“Why aren’t you looking at the fact that they decided to give me the chance to play Bal Thackeray? I can tell you, many top actors of the industry were vying for this role. Many. I can’t name names. But many A-listers were queuing up for this part. But Sanjay Raut saahb(Shiv Sena politician, who’s producing the film) chose me.”
Siddiqui says it was an opportunity too good to let go.
“Which actor would say no to play a character as fierce as Balasaheb Thackeray? His personality was such that every actor in the world would die to play the role,” he says. “All the other things aside, they gave me this role and one should appreciate that. I can’t be judgmental about the characters I play.”
But the contradictions are too stark.
Co-opting instead of putting up resistance for a political outfit that’s traditionally oppressed art and its freedom, is problematic.
And Nawaz’s presence in the film gives the Sena a kind of credibility that comes from having an A-list talent on-board.
Was there any pressure playing on his mind?
Did he worry that saying no to an offer from the Sena was an offer, to quote Don Vito Corleone, he couldn’t refuse?
“Saying no was never a thought. Which actor would say no? This role is a goldmine for me. I was, and still remain, excited to play the character.”
Actors, by definition, are free to play actors they don’t morally agree with. For instance, an actor can play Adolf Hitler, but the problem arises when the script glorifies or ignores, the ideas that he stood for. Since the film is being produced by someone from within the party, does that not risk glorification?
“It’s a biopic and it’ll cover all aspects of his life. The idea is not to glorify. We start from the 90s, starting from when he was a cartoonis, and have tried covering the entire 90s era.”
Will the film reference the bans the party tried invoking on several films? “Now, I can’t tell you the whole script. You’ll have to watch the film for that.”
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