I want to direct a play: Naseeruddin Shah
Try googling Naseeruddin Shah and information such as his birth date (20 July 1950), his National Awards (Paar; 1984, Sparsh; 1979), his Padma Shri (1987) and Padma Bhushan (2003) and other accomplishments of the artist trickles out.
But there is much more to the man whom director Anjan Dutt — the shooting of whose film BBD has brought the actor to town — describes as "the best actor in the country".
The statement gains greater significance from the fact that the star of the last millennium, Amitabh Bachchan (Google predictably chokes with the stuff on him), is also currently shooting in Kolkata.
But you have to meet Naseerbhai — every one in Dutt’s unit calls him that — to unearth the deeply irreverent and scintillatingly cynical intelligence of the man behind the sterling roles and the sketchy Google facts.
"I’m no longer interested in commercial Hindi films. I’m not even looking for great roles any more. I only accept ones to which I can make a contribution," says the 56-year-old actor, whose enduring passion has always remained theatre. What turns him on about theatre is that "every time you are on stage you have an opportunity to correct your errors".
Tired of a medium that is "too immediate" and "boring", Shah must have found his character in BBD challenging enough to accept it. He plays Rajiv Gupta, an ultra-rich Marwari industrialist of Kolkata with many investments in the city. "He is very polished, very dignified… a character cut out for Naseeruddin," says Dutt.
If theatre teases out the best in Naseeruddin, he is currently neck-deep in a project for which rehearsals have already begun. He is acting in Antigone directed by Satyadev Dubey.
"If I had a choice I’d direct a play, which affords me enough time to work on it," says the man who is loathe to direct another film after his directorial debut, Yun Hota to Kya Hota — a fine film, one must add — bombed at the box office.
"I have no head for money and film direction is too much of work," he declares, adding that he had a lot of support from his cast though not enough from his producers.
The press conference is suddenly over. Naseeruddin, who has been shooting from the morning, is too tired to talk. But not before we have caught a whiff of the man.