I was born in Budhana, a non-descript town in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district.
I grew up amongst nine siblings and my parents put in their sweat and blood to ensure that we were all educated.
As a child, I harboured dreams to become an actor, but it was important, and perhaps even realistic, that I have a sound educational background.
After graduating in science, I moved to Baroda where I worked as a chief chemist in a petro chemical company for nearly 18 months.
But acting was always at the back of my mind, so I left for Delhi one fine day and ended up staying there for close to seven years. I joined the National School of Drama and underwent training for three years... in the remaining four years, I made a living by taking up odd assignments — an advertisement here or a campaign there. I was part of an amateur theatre group initially for which I would be paid a pittance. I would do four shows a day and get R100 per show. But work was erratic and it was tough to manage my daily expenses. So, I also had to take up a job as a watchman in Noida to make both ends meet.
With the little money that I had saved, I moved to Mumbai in 2000 and thus began another chapter of struggle — this time, in tinseltown. For almost three years, I put up in Goregaon with five or six friends from NSD. My daily routine was to take bus number 79 which went to Dadar and nearby areas and then hop into bus number 225 to appear for film auditions in Yari Road.
I would hang out with my friends at Adarsh Nagar — it was considered a shady place then, but we went there as the food was cheap. I would, at times, not even pay for food and the hotel owner knew that whenever I would find work, I would pay up. There were also days when I went to bed hungry. At times, I would sit at a bar with friends and drink. For several years, whoever in my friend circle got work would feed the rest of us. So if we found out one of us has got work, we would stay at his place for days together till he could no longer feed us. But, in the meanwhile, we would have hunted down someone else to stay and share food with.
That was the place where we exchanged information about various auditions going on in the city. We would go to telephone booths, stand in a queue and call up directors one after the other. I always wanted to work with Saeed Mirza and one day when I called him, I asked him for him because I thought his assistant had answered the call. I was so shocked that it was him on the other side that the receiver slipped from my hand and I couldn’t muster the courage to speak to him or call back again.
Once a friend of mine was supposed to audition for Sarfarosh (1999), but he went elsewhere. So this bunch of people who came looking for him caught hold of me and asked me to audition instead. I went ahead and got selected... That’s how I got my first break, although it was a blink-and-miss role. After that I worked as a junior artiste in some ads, did some B and C
grade films too.
I was staying with a friend at Four Bungalows when I heard that a television commercial was being shot in Film City. This person who gave us the information said he had spoken to the makers on our behalf and we rushed there. We had to walk all the way because we didn’t have the money to buy a bus ticket. The ad required that a group of people sit in a bus and do random actions. But I chose to sleep inside because I didn’t want to get noticed. After all, I was a theatre actor and had worked as a junior artiste in ads. In the evening, when we had to get our payment, one of the ad coordinators asked for our card which we didn’t have. So, instead of R2000, he gave us R1000 and kept the remaining money with him. My friend and I went to the bar in Adarsh Nagar, ate and drank to our hearts’ content as we had not had proper food that month.
While leaving the bar, we both had only R200 each in our pockets and the next day, we were back to our struggle.
My younger brother, Shamas, moved to Mumbai a few years after me and began working in television. I was still a struggler and we stayed together. So even if one of us was out of work, the other one would pay the bills.
A few months after Sarfarosh, I met Anurag Kashyap as he was shooting for Shool. He asked me if I had done some work earlier. I mentioned Sarfarosh and when I told him about the role, a faint smile played on his lips. He had felt that my role in Sarfarosh was not played by an actor, but a real person. That was a big compliment for me and he signed me for Black Friday. After that I did New York and offers gradually started pouring in. I was able to shift to Malad, but life still wasn’t all that cushy. I had to change houses whenever the rent went up. I moved to a place in Andheri and when I bagged Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), I started staying in Yari Road and have been there ever since.
When I look back at those days, many sad memories come hurtling back. It was a harsh, hard struggle. I pray to god that no one should see such bad times; I wouldn’t want to relive those painful days. Now although I am not struggling for survival, there are bigger challenges at hand. Then I was alone and now I have a family to support. But what keeps me going is my passion for acting and everyday, I strive to better my art. Thankfully, I am now at a position where I get to choose scripts and roles, but a blanket of insecurity also envelopes me. What if I sign the wrong film? The struggle will never end.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an actor who has carved a niche for himself without a godfather in the industry.
Click here for mid-day 36th anniversary special