Nawazuddin Siddiqui at JLF 2018: Manto only spoke the truth while I lie frequently
If you thought the recent controversy over his now-withdrawn memoir, An Ordinary Life, would have tempered Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s candour, you were wrong. The actor was his usual outspoken self at a session on his yet-to-released film Manto, in which he, naturally, plays the lead.
“Commercial films pay more and for that I have to dance,” the actor said when asked about being typecast as a serious actor in Bollywood. He revealed that he has danced in his forthcoming film Genius and that he had learnt to strike a balance between serious and commercial cinema.
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The Front Lawns, the largest venue at JLF, was packed for the session entitled Manto: The Man and The Legend. The Nandita-Das directed biopic, which will be released this year, focuses on the immediate pre-and post-partition periods that critical in the writer’s life. Manto, who wrote screenplays for Hindi films for 12 years in Mumbai, moved to Pakistan after the Partition and died of liver failure at 42. In his stories set during the Partition, he wrote unflinchingly about the violence and madness that accompanied India’s independence. Das believes his dislike of all hypocrisy and his steadfast belief in humanity made him particularly relevant.
“By doing a film on Manto, I am trying to respond to today,” said Das. “He was tried six times on charges of sedition and obscenity. He was a champion of free speech who looked beyond religion and nationhood,” she said.
When Vinod Dua who was moderating the session asked how he had prepared for the role, Nawazuddin replied that he had found it difficult to get into character as Manto only spoke the truth while he lied frequently. “I am not like Manto and that was a challenge,” he said.
Das, however, believes the actor has a lot in common with the dipsomaniac writer, including a temper, arrogance, and a sense of humour. Incidentally, Nawazuddin has worked gratis for this film. When the discussion turned to period dramas, Nawazuddin said he would like to reprise the role played by Dilip Kumar in Mughal-E-Azam. “People underestimate my personality. I can do royal type roles too.”
The inevitable question about censorship popped up from the audience with someone asking Das if she believed her film would run into trouble with the censor board. “How can a handful of people decide what the entire nation should see?” Das responded. Without mentioning the furore over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmaavat, she hinted at it. “Self-proclaimed custodians of culture now want to decide what people should be allowed to watch. We must defend the freedom of speech of those we disagree with. A diversity of opinions would make us more discerning,” she said.
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