"Mr Bachchan, If He is Candid, would Deny...": Naseeruddin Shah
Faridoon Shahryar (FS): We have with us the legendary actor Naseeruddin Shah whose next film ‘Maximum’ is releasing shortly. Huge honour to have you back on Bollywood Hungama!
Naseeruddin Shah (NS): Thanks!
FS: You’ve said that in ‘Maximum’, you are not playing Daya Nayak. Is it having context with real-life experiences or people?
NS: It has drawn it’s inspirations from real life. The characters are not based on anyone in particular. And we have taken great pains to state that because we don’t want the film to be misunderstood as a biopic. The film is also not seeking to explain the motivation behind people like him. It’s a study of two characters and they do have elements of Daya Nayak, Pradeep Sharma, Vijay Salaskar and others. But the characters are neither representative of them, nor is the film making any kind of comment on the police world. It’s about two people who happen to be policemen and who can be described as ruthless, cold-blooded, merciless mercenary. But they have their own beliefs and set of values which is quite different from the accepted norm…
FS: During the early 2000 phase, a lot of findings had come up that policemen possessed bungalows and a lot of money and this was also the period of lot of encounters. Does the film tackle these things as well?
NS: Absolutely. It’s very easy to say that these people should be put away or that what they did was wrong. Of for that matter, to curse them for being ineffective and corrupt. But what I have felt is that it’s not easy to be a policeman. Try doing one of their jobs. Try being a traffic cop for half an hour, for instance. The amount of work they do, the kind of frustration they meet up in the course of their work, the kind of danger they have to encounter, you realize that what is expected of them and what they receive in return is not at all commensurate. And it’s not just the cops. All types of people resort to all kinds of corrupt practices in all sorts of fields. It just happens that the police world is dealing with human lives. That’s what makes it peculiar and poignant. So, neither is ‘Maximum’ justifying them, nor is it condemning them. It’s just presenting a picture of a world which exists. It’s upto you to decide whether or not it should or whether these guys were right. This is what they did and this is the price they paid for crossing the lines.
FS: What is it about director Kabeer Kaushik that made u sign ‘Maximum’? He earlier made ‘Sehar’ which was a phenomenal film.
NS: Yes. And in between, he came up with a couple of bad movies. But that’s a part of the game. I still stay by my memory of ‘Sehar’ and would love to be a part of a similar film. I think Kabeer is back on his home-ground with a subject like ‘Maximum’. He did get diverted and tried to make films for the commercial industry which was not his cup of tea. But now, he’s back on his familiar turf with ‘Maximum’. He’s very well-organized, calm and trusting director.
FS: You just delivered a blockbuster in the form of ‘The Dirty Picture’. Don’t you think you should now hike up your price and that you should get crores because this is what the norm is these days…
NS: Well…I have hiked up my price! (laughs)
FS: Which film is that for? ‘Dedh Ishqiya’?
NS: ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ has still not fallen into place and I still don’t know the script yet. But I don’t know how I have reached where I have reached, starting from ‘Nishant’ for which I was paid Rs 7500. And that was a fortune for me then. And I haven’t been conscious of all this actually. In fact, after ‘The Dirty Picture’, I was recommended to increase my price since Vidya and Arshad were charging X for their project. But it doesn’t concern me who’s charging what. I charge as much I feel I need. I am not in the race with anybody and I am content with the amount I am earning. Once Tennis player Boris Becker turned down an offer to play a tournament for which he offered around $ 5 million. When people asked him the reason for it, he answered that ‘I already have $ 15 million! What is it with $ 20 million that I can’t do with $ 15 million?’!
FS: You had a pivotal role in ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman’. Many were of the view that you should have hired an agent in the West and that you should have done more Hollywood films. For instance, Anil Kapoor bagged ‘Mission Impossible 4’ after ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and the amount of publicity that was done for Anil was too much.
NS: Yeah. He likes doing publicity about himself! I am not interested in that.
FS: But wouldn’t you like to do more of Hollywood films?
NS: Not really. It’s no different from our Bombay industry. They have a little more class because they have more money. But otherwise, it’s no different from our industry. So if I have to do rotten films, I’ll do it here. Why do it in Hollywood?
FS: Our Bollywood characters get easily stereotyped and you have also taken note of it. But in Hollywood, it’s mostly the character that’s far more important than the star…
NS: True. But when they think of an Indian character, there’s always a stereotype. Always! I was offered few roles after ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman’ and I refused since I don’t want to play the coolie or the maharaja or the butler. It’ll be a while before the Indian actors are accepted in the mainstream in Hollywood as leading actors. In England, it’s already happening, in television. But in America, it’ll take a while longer. What I was being offered, I didn’t fancy doing those parts of an Indian wearing a turban and saying ‘Yes Master’! And Hollywood doesn’t think beyond that. They think in stereotypes.
FS: You’ve also said that you are the ‘Amitabh Bachchan of parallel cinema’. But at the same time, you never dreamt of being the art film hero. It was something that was forced…
NS: Yeah because it just happened. Even Mr Bachchan would deny that he would have never dreamed of reaching where he has. When he was doing ‘Reshma Aur Shera’ or ‘Parwana’, I don’t think he would have imagined this for himself. He was always a good actor. To be called the ‘Amitabh Bachchan of parallel cinema’ is a misnomer because in no way is the analogy correct. Mr Bachchan’s very presence ensures massive revenue, coverage, publicity and finally box office returns. My presence doesn’t guarantee any of those things!
"Won't Be Difficult To Start Lusting After Madhuri Dixit": Naseeruddin Shah
FS: There was a point of time, especially after films like ‘Tridev’ and ‘Mohra’ when you were quite an intrinsic part of parallel cinema…
NS: Yeah but then I realized that I didn’t quite fit into those movies. I can’t play larger-than-life characters or a man beating up 25 people. I can play true to life parts, vulnerable characters, twisted character, letch or even a villain. But I am not cut out to play a conventional leading man in commercial Hindi movies. I realized that a bit late.
FS: You did a film called ‘The Blueberry Hunt’ where you had an interesting role and look. What happened to the film and why hasn’t it released yet?
NS: I think you should ask the person who made it. I’ll give you his phone number and you can ask him. I have no idea. The film is complete since more than a year and nobody is touching it. I think when you’ll see the film, you’ll understand it.
FS: Is it too dark?
NS: It’s very artistic! It’s so artistic that I don’t think anybody understood it, except the guy who made it. Maybe he didn’t understand what he has made!
FS: What makes you take up such films?
NS: I recently did a film called ‘Charlie Ke Chakkar Mein’. It’s a thriller made by a young of bunch people in just Rs 25-30 lakhs. My heart went out to these people. They asked me whether I would like to play a small role and I happily agreed. And it has turned out very well. Same is the case with the fellow who made ‘The Blueberry Hunt’. He told me that he’s making an action film in Rs 25 lakhs. I have always believed that successful films can be made very cheaply. And hence, I took up the film thinking that here we have a great material on our hands and we can make a film that can’t possibly loose and that we could swing a film in 25 lakhs and we did. It’s just that the film itself doesn’t make any sense. And the guy who made it refused to be drawn into any kind of discussion.
FS: However, in today’s age, there are plenty of non-theatrical avenues to recover costs…
NS: But for that, the film has to make one iota of sense at least…
FS: You yourself don’t find it interesting?
NS: I don’t understand it though I have seen it twice! And I acted in it!
FS: Regarding the budget of a movie, you recently said that too much money is spent on irrelevant things. ‘Nishant’ I believe was made in Rs. 3.5 lakhs. Even ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’ is an apt example. What is your take on today’s time when too much emphasis is laid on box office, 100 crores, weekend collections…
NS: Tons of money is wasted in commercial movies which really angers and upsets me. I still believe that a film like ‘Ishqiya’ could and should have been made on a smaller budget. But since it was not, I charged my pound of flesh. Why should I reduce my price when it’s going to be a lavish expenditure anyways? It should have been made on the kind of budget that ‘A Wednesday!’ was made. ‘A Wednesday!’ is such a huge success because it was made on a tiny budget. So if I am confronted with a monumental film worth many crores, I make sure that I get a fat share of the pie. But I still believe that someday, a 25-30 lakhs movie is going to bust the box-office. It’s surely going to happen here, like it did in Hollywood.
FS: Any chance of a sequel to ‘A Wednesday!’?
NS: The film has been remade into Tamil, Telegu and god knows what else. I think it’s ripe for a sequel. But there’s no sign for it. The director at the moment is busy with another project (Special Chabbis).
FS: You have said that you have loved the earlier works of Dilip Kumar and also of Amitabh Bachchan, during his pre-Zanjeer era. Also, you’ve often tore apart your own work. I have heard during the shoot of ‘Junoon’, when unit members used to clap after you have given a shot, you didn’t like it as it used to give a false sense of delusion to an actor. How can you be so ruthlessly honest with yourself and others?
NS: To me, bettering my abilities is more important to me than anything else in the world. I don’t see anything to be gained by diplomacy. It’s different to be disrespectful. And I have never been disrespectful. But if I have been forth-right. If it displeases anyone, that’s too bad. I would appreciate if they bothered to see my work but I don’t think either of them has seen much of my work. And I can be so ruthless with myself because I have realized that its pointless deluding yourself and that I still need something to prove myself. I was a worthless child, I was a bad student, I came last in class and I was dismissed as someone who would amount to nothing. The horrors of that kind of treatment as a child still stay with me and I can never come to terms with them. I think I still need to prove something to myself. That’s why I try to be honest about my own work and about other’s works as well.
FS: Which are the works of Dilip Kumar that you loved?
NS: Everything before ‘Ganga Jamuna’
FS: Don’t you think ‘Karma’ is good enough?
NS: I have never seen ‘Karma’ actually!
FS: Really? But you had acted in it…
NS: I have seen bits of it. But I couldn’t be bothered with the whole film. It was too long!
FS: Even after it became a huge hit?
NS: Yeah, yeah!
FS: Hits and flops doesn’t bother you?
NS: Except that I can increase my price! (laughs)
FS: So are you excited to work with Madhuri Dixit in ‘Dedh Ishqiya’?
NS: Yes, I am a fan of Madhuri. I am also a fan of Abhishek (Chaubey) and think that he’s a terrific filmmaker. If frankly asked, I am more excited to work with Abhishek than Madhuri. That doesn’t decrease my excitement of working with Madhuri. Who my co-star is, has been of little consequence to me at every stage of my career. I do not consider my business to pass my comment on a co-actor. I work with whoever I am cast with. I was terribly excited working with Dilip Saab but he’s the only one.
FS: Your character in ‘Ishqiya’ lusted after Vidya. Can we see a similar romantic angle with Madhuri as well?
NS: I believe so and that won’t be difficult at all to be lusting after Madhuri! (laughs)
FS: You had lovemaking scenes in ‘The Dirty Picture’ while you went along in the item numbers of ‘Chaalis Chauraasi’. Do you enjoy this side of cinema?
NS: Well, I enjoyed ‘The Dirty Picture’ very much. I loved every moment of it. Vidya is simple and open. I have known Milan Luthria for a long time, has taught me horse-riding and he also likes me. So, the feeling is mutual. I had no terribly demanding dramatic scenes to do and it was indeed sheer fun. But doing these dance numbers is not fun because it is hard work and I am not very good at it.
FS: But your mannerisms in ‘Ooh La La’ was great fun and was loved by people…
NS: I got it right after 35 years of practice!
FS: Pankaj Parasher has been one of your favourite directors. Any chances of ‘Jalwa 2’?
NS: Nope. Not with Pankaj! About half a dozen other writers have approached me for potential scripts for ‘Jalwa 2’ but it never materialized. Pankaj keeps talking about it. But I don’t think it’ll ever happen and that it should be left alone.
FS: And ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro 2’?
NS: No, that too should be left alone. And Ravi (Baswani) and Bhakti (Barve) are no more. Everybody else has become like a pumpkin. Satish Kaushik, for instance, has changed beyond recognition. It’s a good memory and hence should be left untouched.
FS: So that was Naseeruddin Shah talking about ‘Maximum’ and a whole lot of interesting things. We can just keep on talking about a lot of topics because the man is an encyclopedia of cinema, experiences and a whole lot of other things. Thank you so much sir, lovely to have you and all the best for ‘Maximum’ and your forthcoming ventures.
NS: Thank you!
FS: That’s all we have from Bollywood Hungama. Keep on watching!