Nawazuddin Siddiqui started off with bit roles in films like Sarfarosh (1999) and Munna Bhai MBBS (2003). But today, after struggling in the industry for many years, the actor has not just earned a reputation with several critically acclaimed films, but he has also made his presence felt in big-ticket projects like Kick (2014), and Bajrangi Bhaijaan. He is the talk of the town for his role as Dashrath Manjhi in Manjhi - The Mountain Man.
The film is based on the life of Dashrath Manjhi, a poor labourer hailing from Gehlaur village in Gaya district widely known as the Mountain Man. He had laid a road through the mountain using only hammer and chisel in memory of his wife who passed away without medical treatment as travel to the nearest hospital took a lot of time due to the mountain. Here, we speak to him about doing mainstream films, his new-found stardom, and more.
You’ve done three back-to-back ‘commercial’ ventures. Are you enjoying your stardom?
Honestly, it still surprises me. At the same time, I feel good that my work is being appreciated, because you are getting it all after having worked hard for a long time. But I am still doubtful about it (stardom). Yakeen nahin hota hai (I can’t believe it). In fact, sometimes, I feel that the fans are running after someone who is walking behind me (smiles).
Do you think actors need to have brand value?
I don’t know. The media or my fans might say that, “You have become a star.” But internally, I want to only remain an actor. I feel good about the appreciation, but amidst talks of brand value and stardom, I fear that the actor in me will get lost somewhere. In that sense, I am very selfish. I don’t want to lose that actor due to such outside elements.
But since the industry is all about stardom and glamour, is it challenging to keep the ‘actor’ in you alive?
Absolutely, it’s very challenging. When you look around, every person is appreciating you, and calling you a star. But everything depends on you, and how you want to play the game. Either you go with the flow or save yourself from such things. Having struggled for so many years, I know that a lot of things just come and go in life. But, at times, because of stardom, you lose the honesty and instinct that got your to this stage in the first place. So, it’s better to remain grounded.
It seems that you are trying to strike a balance between being a ‘star’ and an ‘actor’.
I am not doing it deliberately. I don’t want to shift my focus. I am happy that I am getting an opportunity to play all kinds of characters. Honestly, that’s what I am enjoying the most.
How important is money for you?
I have been through a time when I have lived in Mumbai without any money for up to six months. Money isn’t important at all. If you have talent, money will follow. I think, since 2012, I haven’t kept a single paisa in my pocket. Everything is handled by my brother (Shamas Siddiqui).
Are you comfortable with all the starry trappings?
I still feel uncomfortable in designer clothes, PRs, and the blitzkrieg of film promotions. My job is to go on the sets, and deliver the world’s best performance. I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with the other stuff.
You are considered a gifted actor. Do these expectations ever affect you?
They only make me want to work harder. If I start thinking about such things, then I won’t be able to deliver. When you prepare for a role, you start doing so from point zero. So, you should have no hangover about being ‘super talented’.
You are part of many big projects currently. Do you have the time to sign smaller films as well?
I am doing both [kinds of films], and it’s important for me to create a differentiator [by playing different characters]. I don’t want to have a set image. I should know how to go about choosing my roles.
You are a successful actor now, and you have a huge fan base. What’s your ultimate aspiration?
It might sound poetic, but it’s the truth that I try to find my own self through every character I play. I thank God that I am in this field. I want to go away having played thousands of characters.
You are the solo actor in your next film. Did you ever imagine that you will see this day?
No. Such things never even cross my mind. The only thing I wanted and still want is that I should keep getting work.
Can you identify with the character (Dashrath Manjhi) you play in your next, Mountain Man?
The madness, or junoon (passion), that Manjhi had is very identifiable, because I have been through a phase when I was crazy about acting and my work. That passion is there today as well, and will always remain [with me] regardless of whether I have work or not. Plus, I am a fan of his stubborn attitude.
Do you think it’s really important to market yourself today?
If you know your work, and if you’re talented, they (the industry) will pull you out, even from your grave. But, if you don’t know it (your work), then it can send you back to the grave as well (smiles). If someone deserves success, he or she will get it, even if it takes some time.