IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE OF HIS LOW-VOICED, staccato sentences, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is interrupted by a somewhat famous actor, who gets up from an adjacent table in the coffee shop where we are talking and strides over dramatically, hands slightly upraised in a posture that manages to blend benevolence with reverence. Nawaz scrambles to his feet, and is immediately folded into an effusive and somewhat awkward embrace, with the top of his head reaching the middle of the actor’s chest. “Masha’Allah, what work you’ve done. Madarchod, mazaa aa gaya,” declaims the actor in his impressive baritone. “And behen ki that poster, what an idea, blew my fucking mind,” he continues, referring to the election-style posters for the mob drama Gangs of Wasseypur II (GOW) pasted across the city. The audience of coffee shop patrons drinks in the scene, and Nawaz, released from his grip, nods, smiles, humbly puts his hand to his heart, and murmurs his thanks. Finally, with a pat on the back in farewell, the actor leaves, and Nawaz sits down and resumes fiddling with the menu that has been his main preoccupation since he arrived for our interview. He looks up to give me a sheepish smile, and I ask if this sort of thing happens to him often. He shrugs, his nonchalance belied by the glint of mischief in his much-discussed eyes. “It happens sometimes—now.” Almost 12 years after moving to Mumbai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has finally, in the language of his peers, “reached” Bollywood.
“WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BE A HERO HERE? You need to be six feet tall, fair. You need to be able to dance and maybe ride a horse. You need to have rippling muscles and know how to fight. The only thing you don’t need to know is how to act,” Nawaz says. “That you can do without.” After a gruelling few minutes of monosyllabic responses and grunted , interrogative “Aen?”, Nawaz has been goaded into a full, magnificent rant by one of my questions—something to do with stars and acting. “That requirement I just don’t fit. That’s a fact. And another fact is that I had given up on the idea of being a hero, or even acting. Flat-out given it up,” he continues. “I had settled with the idea that I would do a few bit roles, take some workshops and be content with this-—the rest was beyond my reach.” It was at this point, he says, that the ‘new wave’ of filmmakers who were brave enough to cast without what he calls “the baggage of a star cast” found him. “I just fitted into the madness.”