In dialog with Firstpost, Naseeruddin Shah opens up concerning the bane of plagiarism in Hindi cinema, the enjoyment of rediscovering Shakespeare and reciting Faiz in lockdown, and his concern of turning into a legal responsibility on his household.
In director Anand Tiwari’s latest web-show Bandish Bandits streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Naseeruddin Shah’s central character of Pandit Radhemohan Rathore, a Hindustani classical virtuoso, cuts a formidable determine. He’s a patriarch with a conspicuously inflated ego that urges him to ascertain a gharana named after him, thereby setting the backdrop for the story that traverses the musical terrain of the nation. Co-starring Sheeba Chaddha, Atul Kulkarni, Rajesh Tailang, Amit Mistry and Kunaal Roy Kapur in supporting acts, with newcomers Ritwik Bhowmik and Shreya Chaudhry within the lead, Bandish Bandits sees Naseeruddin Shah assume centre-stage after a quite underwhelming response to his 2019 enterprise, The Tashkent Information.
In a Zoom name with Firstpost, the veteran actor opens up about touchdown a meaty position after years, the plague of plagiarism in Hindi cinema, and his concern of turning into a legal responsibility on his household.
What actually struck me about your character of Pandit Ji in Bandish Bandits is how, regardless of being an aged character, it’s well-written with nuances — a rarity relating to how aged characters in Hindi leisure are written. What about Pandit Ji stood out for you probably the most, and the way tough was it to play him bodily? Contemplating he was a classical singer, and it concerned sure mannerisms and idiosyncrasies particular to his occupation…
To start with, I discovered the entire story very fascinating; I’ll come to the character in a bit. However I believed the way in which the story was unfolding, and the theme of the battle between the completely different kinds of singing and likewise the battle between the assorted gharanas themselves, together with the politics that goes on — was extraordinarily fascinating. The truth that Pandit Ji wasn’t a ‘goody-goody’ man, and that he had gray shades — damaging shades additionally — jogged my memory of a whole lot of some folks and lecturers I’ve recognized, my father being considered one of them. I drew upon him to present this benevolent, however stern angle to my character.
The problem itself was to have the ability to sing these numbers, at the least to have the ability to lip-sync to them. Lip-syncing to songs has not likely been my sturdy level — I believe the one time I’ve performed it efficiently was in Ghalib, the place Jagjit bhai sang so superbly, and likewise in a tune for Masoom. In any other case, I’ve at all times did not deliver off these scorching numbers, which generally I’ve been requested to do, and which I used to be fully ill-suited for.
However right here had been some very advanced compositions, which I first needed to get my head round. Fortunately, I had this excellent younger man named Akshat as a instructor, who defined the aalaaps to me. When he [his character of Pandit Ji] goes ‘aaa aaa aaa’, it is not simply ‘aaa aaa aaa’. There is a completely different sur in every of these ‘aa’s. So Akshat would work out whether or not it was a sa, or a pa, or a ga, or a re, or whichever of the seven notes it was, and would say that that is what Pandit Ji must sing. So, he first made me practise singing the notes, after which do the aakaar, as they name it, the place one goes ‘aaa aaa’ with every of the notes. I needed to work actually arduous, however I need to say I loved it as a result of it has been a very long time since I had an element which prolonged me, and for which I needed to do precise bodily work. I actually loved that as a result of I have never performed too many movie roles in the previous few years, and nothing very thrilling has come my means. What I’ve performed have been cameos principally. So, after a very long time, I had one thing that I may actually sink my enamel into.
By the way, one other considered one of your initiatives, Mee Raqsam, is slated to launch on one other OTT platform quickly. As somebody who has been vocal concerning the mediocrity celebrated in Indian cinema, do you suppose the entry of digital platforms has made a major distinction to the standard of labor being performed in the nation?
It is too early to say. However one has to confess that every one the work that is occurred throughout the lockdown on the OTT platforms has been commendable. A few of it has been completely sensible; none of it has been nugatory, I would say. With none of the trimmings, large budgets, and the pointless ornamentation, filmmakers have been making an attempt to inform their tales — tales they consider, tales which have affected them. So it definitely has garnered an viewers, I believe. I do not deny that there are nonetheless hundreds of thousands who need to see the blood-drenched revenge dramas. However an viewers even desires to see content-driven drama — at the least they’ve abruptly realised that they wish to see content-driven drama. I believe it is the identical dormant viewers, which was watching Pakistani serials some years in the past after they had been being telecast, as a result of these had large content material. The writing was extremely good; the presentation additionally. And a whole lot of the appearing additionally was glorious. Their movies are very shoddy, however their tv work is excellent. I believe it is that very same viewers which was craving to look at this. I consider they’ve had sufficient of watching blood gushing from folks’s wounds whereas they’re having their dinner, . I do not suppose it is probably the most palatable factor to look at.
Nevertheless it stays to be seen whether or not it will have a long-lasting impact. As quickly as issues return to regular — in the event that they ever do — will we simply return to the ‘300-crore’ monsters? Or will we lastly study our lesson? That is the query hanging within the air.
Throughout the lockdown, a whole lot of artwork types have migrated to on-line areas, together with theatre that’s at present witnessing quite a few experiments. You have claimed to take pleasure in performing dwell probably the most, and you have additionally stated in an interview that the prospect of your movies being watched a 100 years from now terrifies you. What about it terrifies you? How are you coping in a world that’s more and more attaining a doubtful permanence by way of its digital footprints?
[Laughs] Truly, I’ve no cause to be terrified. I believe it is one thing I wish to say — it is a intelligent line. However the reality is that nobody remembers the crap, . They bear in mind the nice issues. And by chance, I’ve performed just a few good issues. The crap far outnumbers the nice, in fact, nevertheless it’s the nice ones that’ll be remembered. Once I title some film I’m completely ashamed of, I’m a lot relieved to know that nobody has heard of it. So, it should not actually terrify me.
However, as I’ve stated earlier than, we stand poised for the time being to take a inventive leap, so far as the writing, the presentation of flicks, and so far as the presentation of theatre are involved. I actually want that may occur, and we leap in the best route — and it definitely appears to be taking place. It is very heartening to notice that almost all of individuals placing issues out throughout the lockdown are children, and never the older era. And that is nice. In any case, I’ve large religion within the youthful era as a result of they’ve proved that the longer term is protected of their palms. I believe they’re much more conscious, they’re far savvier, they are much higher knowledgeable, and I hope that their judgement will stay unimpaired. I’ve nice religion in them.
Even Bandish Bandits options actors from numerous generations, together with the one after yours to which Atul Kulkarni, Sheeba Chaddha, and Rajesh Tailang belong. Then there are the newcomers like Shreya Chaudhry and Ritwik Bhowmik. Do you see vital variations within the ethics, sensibilities, and approaches of those completely different generations of artistes, or have they remained largely the identical?
Atul is from a practice the place self-discipline is a lifestyle. Marathi theatre has at all times been very vibrant, very inventive, very alive. Atul’s introduction to appearing has been by way of that, the place you carry out perhaps three exhibits a day, that too in three completely different theatres. So that you simply bought to have your wits about you on a regular basis. Although Atul has been considered one of my college students on the Nationwide College of Drama, I’ve been deeply impressed by a few of his performances. I do not take any of the credit score for his talents. Actually watching him as Gandhi, and watching him within the movie Natarang, was actually mind-boggling.
It is not as if all actors from my era had been very skilled and really dutiful, and so forth. I used to be a fairly indisciplined actor myself once I was youthful, and I’m not pleased with it. However I’ve to confess that I used to be, and there have been many others too who had been indisciplined. However by and enormous, I believe the standard of self-discipline improved with Atul’s era, as a result of someplace, appearing now not remained an indulgence. Appearing began to be taken significantly, and actors started to be taken significantly as a result of they weren’t solely simply clowning round, they had been voicing opinions, and this was across the ’70s. These had been legitimate opinions written by mental folks, who knew what they had been speaking about, and actors had been the mouthpieces for these opinions. So Atul comes from a era like that. I come from a era that was considerably self-indulgent. And the much less stated the higher concerning the era earlier than mine.
However I’ve seen that the standard of self-discipline getting larger and larger, the worth of self-discipline getting larger and larger, and never simply with the ‘severe’ actors, however with a few of our youthful stars as nicely. I’ve seen a large amount of self-discipline. I’ve observed that they’re punctual, arduous working, they do not have too many unhealthy habits, and that they have been uncovered to a lot extra, so they’re savvier as actors. As stars, they know precisely what to do.
And so far as actors like Ritwik and Shreya are involved, they’re of the era, which has lastly understood that it’s an excessive amount of arduous work that goes into the making of an actor. Luck has little or no to do with it; I will not say it has nothing to do with it — however luck means being on the proper place on the proper time, and that could be a matter of calculations to a sure extent. So, I do suppose that the standard of appearing is rising, and it’s getting higher and higher. We’ve a number of completely excellent actors, each female and male. I ponder how lengthy it’s going to be earlier than the movie trade begins to recognise the skills of a Gulshan Devaiah, or a Geetanjali Kulkarni…I ponder how lengthy it’s going to be. However these persons are fairly sensational at their jobs, and so they’re not simply flashes within the pan — they know their job. There are such a lot of, and I can enumerate a number of names of completely excellent younger actors whom I envy. I want I used to be pretty much as good as they’re once I was that age.
So, I believe it is getting higher. However once more, as I stated, the standard of appearing depends upon the standard of the writing, and writing has been the bane of our Hindi motion pictures. We’ve been simply too comfortable to plagiarise on a regular basis. I imply, plagiarism turned respectable within the ’70s — completely shameless and bonafide. A few of our so known as ‘masterpieces’ are completely plagiarised motion pictures. Hopefully, that’s behind us.
I not too long ago requested this query to each Nandita Das and Javed Akhtar, and would additionally wish to ask you — as somebody who’s fiercely political on display screen and off it, what do you consider the apolitical artist, and their apolitical artwork? We see this time period getting used generously by folks working in Hindi movies. Do we have now the area and luxurious to understand apolitical artists at this time?
Artwork for artwork’s sake? I do not suppose so. And Faiz Saab stated this nearly a century in the past, that he doesn’t consider in artwork for artwork’s sake. Artwork has bought to have a motive and a function, which doesn’t imply that you simply compromise on its aesthetics, in any respect. A painter would nonetheless be required to color with as a lot excellence as if he was portray a lovely lady, whereas he’s portray a significant image. Those that shrink back from expressing their opinions are both genuinely apathetic, or they concern they’ve an excessive amount of to lose. How a lot can an individual who has been financially safe for seven generations lose? I do not perceive.
In the mean time, what are your greatest issues as an artiste above the age of 60, whose mobility and consequently, entry to work, has been closely impacted as a result of pandemic — maybe excess of the youthful generations have been affected — and is more likely to be this fashion for some time?
What are my anxieties? None, actually, as a result of I believe whereas doing any work, which requires solitary riyaaz, you may by no means be lonely. Loads of actors are confused about what sort of riyaaz they need to do. They know what musicians do, they know what dancers do, however actors are confused and ask ke hum kya riyaaz kar sakte hain. What do folks do to remain in observe? And I say, simply hold appearing — however not with your loved ones [laughs]. Although that can be needed generally.
How I’ve been staying in contact is by reciting issues, by memorising issues. I’ve at all times had this nagging curiosity about Shakespeare’s performs. I’ve learn a few of them like everyone has at school and faculty, however these are the performs everybody is aware of. So I resolved to return to those I didn’t learn about. Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, As You Like It — everybody has learn them. However there are 36 of them, and I’ve managed to plow by way of about 30. There are six nonetheless remaining, and I do not know if I’ll full the report.
However my concern shouldn’t be a lot about being ignored within the chilly, or not getting employment. They’re going to at all times want an outdated man — even in youthful tales, they’re going to want an outdated man or an outdated lady. But when it occurs, it occurs, which suggests I will not be of any use. What bothers me, if something, is to change into a legal responsibility on the household, and that’s the reason I think about it my duty to take care of my well being.
There may be this very heartbreaking line in one of many performs we do, known as Expensive Liar, the place the girl — who George Bernard Shaw was in love with and stored writing letters to — her profession has light, and he or she has needed to go away to America to earn crusts of bread by appearing in small components in Hollywood motion pictures. She says that ‘I believed the battle of life was fought in our youth’ — not a little bit of it. It’s whenever you’re outdated and your work shouldn’t be wished that the battle rages and goes on and on.
After Irrfan Khan’s passing, you gave an interview to The Indian Specific, the place you recalled a scene rehearsal for Maqbool, by which you thought Irrfan had really handed out, whereas he was simply appearing. You talked about that you simply had by no means skilled one thing like that earlier than. From such anecdotes and accounts, one can gauge simply how invested the person was in his craft. In his presence, and actually additionally in his absence, one realises how he challenged the ‘star’ system Indian cinema is obsessive about. On this context, how does one comprehend the lack of an artiste of Irrfan Khan’s stature? Does it subtract a form of idiom from the craft of appearing or filmmaking?
You can not attribute such a cosmic significance to it — there isn’t any doubt that it’s a huge loss. However the reality is that he had performed sufficient to ascertain himself in all our hearts and minds. And residing and dying is a giant joke anyway. I’ve at all times believed that the way in which you die, or whenever you die is of no significance…it is how a lot you’ve got performed along with your life that’s of any significance. I believe Irrfan did a large quantity along with his life within the temporary time that he was given, and he has left behind an instance for all of us who should face the grim reaper eventually. [He has shown us] find out how to confront this eventuality with braveness and fortitude. And other people say that, , they solely fake, they solely fake. Effectively, the hell! Bravery is all pretence anyway. Bravery is nothing however the potential to cover your fears. All people feels scared, it is how nicely you may disguise your fears that qualifies you to be courageous or not. And Irrfan was one of many bravest males I’ve ever come throughout. I miss him.
You say you might be somebody who is not notably comfy putting a dialog with a stranger, which is why you try to attain out to folks by way of your act whereas on stage. For Irrfan, curiously, you had stated that the viewers reaches out to him each time. Have you ever ever aspired to realize that by way of your craft, the place you would like your viewers reached out to you, and never the opposite means spherical?
I can not take that likelihood [laughs].
However why not?
I’m fairly okay reaching out to the viewers. I like reaching out to them, offered I haven’t got to achieve out to them in actual life [laughs].
Now that we’re amidst such extraordinary occasions, which has allowed us to maybe pause and introspect, what are the sorts of conversations you hope will emerge from the Hindi movie trade after this ordeal has handed?
In Hindi cinema, the one conversations one can anticipate is gossip and anecdotes, and I do not anticipate it to alter. Individuals cannot change that shortly. And I’m not a fantastic fan of both gossip or anecdotage.
Lastly, what are you doing to hunt consolation throughout the lockdown?
As I stated, I’ve learn fairly a little bit of Shakespeare; I have never watched as many motion pictures as I believed I might. I have been extra concerned in studying. I’ve been studying Evelyn Waugh, who is also considered one of my favorite writers. And I’ve been studying Anthony Burgess — I’m ending the Enderby Collection. So sure, various materials has gone in throughout this era.
You’ve got additionally been studying fairly a little bit of Faiz, if I’m not unsuitable?
Sure, not loads, however a bit, sure. I like reciting him.
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