For someone whose gritty performance recently sent shivers down many a spine, Manzar Sehbai laughs a lot. “I’m 61. I’m not a traditional actor… actually I don’t consider myself an actor at all,” he says, before bursting into another chuckle.
The actor made his film debut with Shoaib Mansoor’s Pakistani film Bol last year. And now he’s going to make his Bollywood debut with Hasnanin Hydrabadwala’s Ya Rab. “I have no connection with either film industry. So yeh (the offer) hairaangi ki baat hai (this news is surprising),” says Sehbai, whose Urdu-Hindi keeps sneaking into the conversation as he reveals that he left Pakistan over 35 years ago.
“I was working in experimental theatre in 1976 when I got a scholarship to do research work in theatre sciences. I moved to Germany soon after that,” he says.
Since then, Sehbai has been out of touch with films, both those made in India as well as those made elsewhere.
“I don’t watch films, I have only seen mine in chunks. I have no reason to,” he says. But he does feel that since Bol, Lollywood has begun to show signs of revival. “Some people are coming forth, but you can’t say that Pakistan has a film industry. The state of the industry is bad,” says the actor, who feels that Indo-Pak co-productions are the only way to go for the Lahore-based entertainment industry. “Bol will lead to more work in Pakistan and winning the first Oscar for the documentary is very encouraging, but I think if people from India go and produce joint ventures there, it’ll be great. Making films in Pakistan alone is virtually impossible. There are beautiful people and the passion exists, but it’s just not easy for them to come here. Cinema can bring the two countries closer.”
Though he has no conscious plan to continue his acting stint, Sehbai will return to Lahore later this year for another film starring Naseeruddin Shah.
“I have already given my commitment to that one and I am looking forward to it,” says the actor who, in his Bollywood debut Ya Rab, plays the central part of a neurosurgeon. To be helmed by the co-director of Emraan Hashmi’s The Train (2007), portions of the film have already been shot in Lucknow recently. But the moment Sehbai treasures the most from his recent visit to India was his meeting with veteran Dilip Kumar.
“For about an hour, he held on to my hand. Saira Banuji was lovely. He’s a great actor and still enjoys cinema. I’ve never wanted to imitate any actor in my life, but after meeting him I’ve begun to reconsider that,” he says, smiling.