It's nearly mid-day and it is beginning to get quite muggy, yet our man keeps his cool. Dressed in a slick light grayish-blue suit and sporting a pair of aviators, he poses for the next shot leaning against a bicycle.
This is home. He need not pretend or try too hard. Nawazuddin Siddiqui was a star here much before he became one in Bollywood. The patent look on his face is intense and he goes with the flow. Everybody knows him in district Muzaffarnagar, the location for our shoot for a story in this weekend’s HT Brunch. The date is Saturday, September 24, and the campaign by Hindu activists that forced him to pull out of participating in the Ram Leela in his hometown has not erupted yet.
Nawaz continues to live the life he led before becoming a star. Rolling his own cigarettes in between conversations, he's totally at ease with his surroundings. One does not get this opportunity when one interviews or shoots a star actor in the usual hyper sanitized and obsessive publicist-controlled events in Delhi or Mumbai.
The village life suits him. He has been up early many mornings, working and driving his farm tractor around the sugarcane and mustard fields that he knows since childhood. “It's necessary that I do this,” he says when I ask him about farming. He's trying to implement pivot irrigation as a sprinkler system for smaller crops to aid water conservation. This is necessary as the water table in this area has fallen drastically. “I learnt this from a French actor who own farms around Nice,” he says, referring to his visit to Cannes this year.
“The last decade in cinema has seen the rise of character actors and there is now space for them in the mainstream apart from the big names who rule Bollywood,” says Nawaz. It's clear that he takes pride in his accomplishments and the fact that he's carved out a niche for himself through roles that have become synonymous with him.
We wrap up some shots of him playing gilli danda with village boys, some of whom are children of his childhood chaddi buddies. An old friend sports a neat looking pistol, hanging from his waist belt. Quite different from the expected katta, the crude, local handmade gun synonymous with the hinterland. After all, this is one of the most crime-prone belts of western Uttar Pradesh.
Nawaz sets the tone for my next portrait of him, now indoors, holding the gun in his hand after carefully removing all the bullets. “The shots seem a bit planned and obvious,” I mutter. He improvises quickly, posing with a bullet between his teeth, his trademark mischievous, wicked grin back on his face.
Post a late afternoon nap, when the heat becomes a bit more forgiving, we head out to a beautiful, red-brick kiln, with the entire village in tow. It takes some convincing by Nawaz's entourage of brothers, bodyguards and old friends to clear the horde of curious onlookers and allow us to carry on with the shoot. We climb rickety stacks of freshly-made bricks piled high. I set up my lights as Nawaz chews on a stub of sugarcane from a nearby field. After a few shots, the sun sets. We sit down on the dry mud with Nawaz, but there are no starry airs, only unfiltered rustic breeze.
Web Producer: Abhinash Kumar Jha