From blink and miss roles to films that are especially written for him, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has traversed a long way in the film industry. In an exclusive interview with RBN, the actor talks about his role as Saadat Hasan Manto in Nandita Das’ film In Defence of Freedom, and the challenges to step into the shoes of the controversial author.
How Manto is still relevant to the society?
Freedom of speech is an integral part of a democratic system and should be cherished. A progressive society should also give respect to freedom of expression or else we will go back in time if there are no diverse views or analysis.
How difficult was it to portray Manto on screen?
The most difficult part was to swallow his dialect. Since there is no video or other footage available to understand his characteristics, I had to depend on Manto’s writings to understand the rhythm of his speech and the way he used words. I read almost all of his writings to understand the man better.
What is the film all about?
It’s the author’s journey, his relationship with his wife, and his life in post-Partition Lahore. Rasika Dugal plays Manto’s wife Safiyah. In this film, Nandita (Das) has tried to depict the need and importance of freedom of expression. The film raises questions about why should not one write about the not-so-pleasant things in society. Every picture cannot be beautiful and one has to accept that. If none was ugly then no one would like the beautiful. However, if one showcases the ‘ugly’, the society comes down heavily on that person.
You have worked for Nandita before in Firaaq. How do you see her as a director? Also, do you think that an actor has responsibilities to uplift the society?
Nandita, as a filmmaker, has matured over time. She is a very good friend and a great director to work with. But at the same time, as an actor, we are mere entertainers. Our job is to entertain people. It’s not our sole responsibility to usher in social change. But yes, as human beings, we all must fight together to bring in the much needed change to build a stronger and better nation.
Tell us about your look in the film
I look simple and deglamorous. I am dressed in a simple white kurta and a loose pyjama, sporting thick black-framed glasses. Many told me that I look exactly like Manto after the film’s poster was launched (laughs).
What is your take on Manto?
Saadat Hasan Manto was a fierce man who lived on his own terms. He showed a big thumbs down to social dogmas. He was highly revered, and had an irrepressible desire to scratch the mascara off from the face of the society, often with his dark and sardonic sense of humour.
I read somewhere that awards doesn’t move you much
Well, awards and public recognition last only for a single day. Everyone forgets it soon. But it’s hugely motivating if your director praises you after saying ‘cut’ from behind the monitor. A film’s director is like a captain. If your captain is happy with your performance then you know that audience appreciation is not far off.
Biopics are content driven films. What are your expectations from In Defence of Freedom?
We actors always keep our fingers crossed before every release (sighs). The rest is fate. It’s not always that content driven films work wonders. But I am confident about the success of this one. And like I said earlier, Manto is relevant even today.
Did you ever think of giving up when things didn’t go your way?
Yes of course. Many times I felt that I was wasting my time in the industry because things just didn’t work out. I was used like a mere prop in many films. But I couldn’t go back either as I knew no work except acting. Also, I was afraid that my friends would tease and bully me for not becoming a successful actor.
And your words for upcoming actors?
All I can say is work hard. If not today, it will pay off in the near future. Listen to what your director says and rely on your instincts. Trust me, it will work wonders in your life. Sooner than later you will be praised.