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Nawazuddin Siddiqui: With small films, I get a lot more than what money can buy

In a no holds barred conversation, Nawazuddin Siddiqui talks about being the darling of indie filmmakers, minding his own business as an actor, and steering clear of Bollywood camps

Q. You will be seen playing India’s Mountain Man in Ketan Mehta’s next, which is a biopic, and the trailer has received an overwhelming response. What attracted you to the story?
A. For 22 years, a person keeps hammering away at a mountain to carve out a road through it. And when you hear such a motivational story, you want to share it with the world, especially in today’s age when you have only a handful of inspirational figures to look up to. Dashrath Manjhi’s lifestory is one that will spur you on to strive for the impossible. It was a challenging role, both physically and mentally. We shot at real locations and the villagers (people in Manjhi’s native place, Gehlaur, in Gaya) helped me understand the hero that Manjhi was. Just standing atop the mountain there used to motivate me. Every time I dressed up as Manjhi for a shot, they would shout out ‘baba, baba’ and when I would get out of that avatar, I would go unnoticed. The response to the film’s trailer has been completely unexpected. I am grateful to everyone who has appreciated it and confident about the film all the more.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Q. It is always challenging for small films to acquire a good number of screens. Also, for a small film with a great message, it takes a helluva lot of effort to market it. Don’t you agree?
A. Yes, that’s true. Apart from big money, big films also have star power to see them through. Small films are not always good, although now a lot of nice ones have been coming out. If a small budget film has an interesting subject, more screens ought to be allotted to it. A lot depends on word-of-mouth publicity too. Once a film garners positive buzz, it automatically gets more screens. Plus, on reality shows, smaller films must also be get a scope for promotions.

Q. Do you think the pressure to promote low-budget movies ultimately comes on actors?
A. The promotional strategies of big budget films have actually increased the pressure on small budget films. We have a unique plan to promote our film, but I cannot reveal that right now.

Q. Has the film travelled to festivals?
A. Not yet. It was stuck due to legal issues and is set for a theatrical release now. Once it hits the big screen, we will take it to various festivals.

Q. You entered the mainstream zone post Kick, but also received some amount of criticism for your performance in it. What kind of reviews are you expecting for your role in Bajrangi Bhaijaan?
A. I personally feel that the audience appreciated my Kick performance a lot. So did the critics. To be honest, the response was far better than what I had anticipated. And in any case, I don’t get affected by reviews. I do feel happy when appreciated, but not disheartened when someone writes me off. An actor’s job is to act. I work on one film and move on to another and my job ends there. If my director is satisfied with my performance, my job is done. The audience’s appreciation is the ultimate reward that I strive for. We shouldn’t harbour too many expectations because it becomes disheartening if things don’t turn out the way you would have liked them to.

Q. This is the second time that you have worked with Salman. How has your equation with him evolved?
A. When I did Kick with Salman, I didn’t get the opportunity to interact much with him, but while doing Bajrangi, we used to travel to several places together or just sit back and chat after pack-up. The
off-the-set bonding made a lot of difference to our performance delivery.

Q. You have worked with Salman Khan twice and you are also involved with Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Raees. How do you manage to not be part of any camp?
A. I don’t want to get into all that. If I like a role, I take up the project. I am not a part of any camp and there are chances of the actors’ creativity to get restricted if you become part of a particular camp. Limitation sets in if you work with one actor or director, since there is only so much that they can explore your talent.

Q. Do you think doing big films once in a while allows you the freedom to do smaller projects or pursue the brand of cinema that you believe in, although they don’t really pay much?
A. Even when I was doing small films, I did not take them up just for the sake of money. If making money had been my objective, I could have opened a sugar factory in my hometown, Burhana, since there is a massive scope for sugarcane farming business there. But the acting ka keeda had bitten me so hard that I couldn’t think of anything else. It’s my passion. With small films, I get a lot more than what money can buy. Before taking up a project, I only consider the script and not its size. film. I just want to be known as a good actor.

Q. You had a key role in Badlapur, but all the marketing was centered on lead actors of the film. However, ultimately, you stole the limelight from Varun Dhawan and ended up being talked about the most…
A. That’s what I have been telling you. An actor’s job is to act well. I think we become corrupt somewhere if we start thinking about who is getting more mileage during the promotions. I had come to Mumbai to realise my acting dreams and I am doing just that. I cannot thank god enough for being kind to me... I am happy that I am able to do ‘my’ kind of work.

Q. In a recent interview, Amitabh Bachchan had expressed his wish to work with you. Are you doing Sujoy Ghosh’s next with Big B?
A. Yes, I am fortunate to have got an opportunity to work with Mr Bachchan, but it’s too early to talk about the project.

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