Swinging between offbeat cinema and hardcore commercial masala fare with absolute ease, actor Naseeruddin Shah’s choices have been rather unpredictable. “That’s the whole idea. I think people should give up trying to figure it out. I have never been able to do it myself and gave it up a long time ago,” laughs Naseer, who will now be seen playing a power-hungry cop in Maximum. As we settle down for a tete-a-tete, the actor talks about his career graph; and also reveals why he resented being called the ‘Amitabh Bachchan of art cinema’!
How would you describe your career graph?
A lot of consistent highs, but dips too during many failures, bad decisions and wrong choices, but to be honest I’ve never looked at my life as a career. Instead I treated it as a joyride, so I can do what I please, and that’s what I have done. In the beginning it was by chance that it happened because I didn’t get too many offers that I could refuse and by the second film I was entrenched in art cinema and working with the best filmmakers there. So, I’ve just gone with the flow.
Do you surprise yourself with your own choices?
Yes, particularly when they turn out to be bad ones (laughs). So I look back and wonder why I did them, but there are no regrets. See, it’s always the fall of the dice! Wednesday, Ishqiya, The Dirty Picture were all films that I took chances with and were all a shot in the dark, but they worked, while there are others that didn’t.
You’ve always been associated more with arthouse cinema despite your commercial hits…
Yes, I had always been doing commercial fare, but it was only after Tridev that the industry sat up and noticed my commercial value. At that point they felt upset. I think they wanted me to live in a one room all my life and were disappointed (laughs).
You were called the ‘Amitabh Bachchan of art cinema’…
Yes, and it was not flattering! I mean I would act in every second art film, which Bachchan never did in commercial films. His name draws money. I am incapable of doing stuff that he can. I tried and failed, so it was a bad label to give me.
You ever miss being tagged a star?
See, when I joined acting it was not for my love for it. My only love was fame and riches like any 20-year-old, but my orientation was in realism, where my personality was completely stripped off any sort of narcissism which is what a star requires. And I worked so hard at getting rid of it all, that I could never recover it. But it’s not something I miss.
Do you think you’ve got your due as an actor?
I never had any illusions of grandeur. I had wanted to work only to keep myself afloat, so in that I think I have got more than my due. In fact, I still get to play the romantic lead, sing songs with girls younger than my daughter. Back then, I tried the song and dance, and was really bad at it. But 35 years of practice and failure and I finally get it right. Playing a sleaze came more naturally (laughs).
You haven't directed after Yun Hota To Kya Hota?
I don't think I will direct ever again. There's too much of commercial dynamics vs creativity happening there and I can't pander to that. I need to have that artistic freedom, not bound by someone else's money. So I will probably direct when I am producing my own film. Till then I am happy directing in theatre.