Roger Ebert, one of America’s most revered and feared critics, cannot speak. He has lost his voice to cancer. Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui discovered this when he flew down to Ebert’s hometown Illinois to attend Eberfest, Roger Ebert’s annual film festival, where he invites filmmakers to screen their works, this month.
In a moving tribute Ebert ‘spoke’ on stage about Siddiqui’s work. Moved, the actor says, “He has lost his voice and the bottom of his face is gone. But his passion for cinema remains the same. Mr Ebert actually gives speeches on stage. He lip syncs to pre-recorded speeches.”
To ‘hear’ Ebert praise Siddiqui in such a way was a memorable compliment for the actor. Ebert, who liked Siddiqui’s work in the film Patang (2011), invited him home for lunch.
Says Siddiqui, “Mr Ebert and his wife played perfect hosts. Though he can’t speak I didn’t for a minute feel any inadequacy in our communication.”
At the exclusive lunch with Roger Ebert the other two guests were actor Michael Shanon (from Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road) and prolific Australian director Paul Cox.
All three — Ebert,Shannon and Cox — showed an interest in watching Siddiqui’s performance in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs Of Wasseypur Part 2, which is the sequel planned to Kashyap’s upcoming release Gangs Of Wasseypur, in which Siddiqui does not play a part.