Bollywood has always been about big. Big money, bigger productions, the biggest stars. In an industry obsessed with bluster, with overpriced stars and their PR machines on manic overdrive, we tend to forget that the machinery of magic that we know of as the film industry is equally run by the ‘little people’ - ushers who double up as ticket vendors at single theatres, reporters who practically invented the Page 3 format without even realizing it, gym instructors who sculpt superstars battling mid-life crises, rickshaw drivers who invented dhinchaak, the sound that has come to define Bollywood music. Also Starring is our tribute to the foot soldiers of pop culture who stitch together the dazzling quilt we call Bollywood.

Rising above stereotypes

Nawaz with his GOW poster
The actor talks about his years of struggle, his choice of films and why going to Cannes was a revelation
Nawazuddin Siddique blushes slightly when his ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ director suddenly pops in between the interview and instigates the journalist to ask Nawaz about his sex scenes in the film. It is not difficult to not notice this 5’6 actor as he quietly slips into the room and sits in a corner before the interview. For someone who has been used to not being noticed for long, this sudden attention from the media and audience is overwhelming.

Changing lanes
Siddique is the new flavour of the season after the success of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’. The recognition did not come overnight and took him 14 years of endless struggle to reach a space when directors are calling him with ‘different’ kind of films, the same people who had earlier wanted to cast him as a beggar or a petty thief. “Because of my short height, I was offered roles which corresponded with my structure- of a beggar or a petty thief. Later, even beggars were supposed to look good. It was frustrating,” he says.

Anurag Kashyap had seen one of Siddique’s plays in Delhi and had promised to cast him in a film whenever he directs one. Sure enough, he kept his word and offered him a role in ‘Black Friday’. “I was tired of doing these ‘blink and miss’ roles and really wished that someone would go beyond my physical aspect and give me a role more than just one scene. I never spoke about my frustration to anyone and was pleasantly surprised when Anurag Kashyap called me up and told me that he has a role where I would get to beat up people.  I went to Wassepur, attended workshop for the role, improvised on sets and became Faisal Khan,” he smiles.

Read: Gangs of Wasseypur review

Teething troubles
Unlike other strugglers, Siddique never actually aspired to become an actor in the first place. After graduating from college, he took up a chemist’s job but the boredom of doing the same thing everyday brought him to Delhi. “Somebody took me to watch a play and that changed my life. I was very fascinated by that form of art and the live feedback from the audience. I had no formal training so I started watching plays during the days and worked as a watchman at night to sustain myself.” Before being admitted to The National School of Drama, he worked briefly with Manoj Bajpai and Saurabh Shukla. “I did street theatre for few years and like every aspiring actor, trained my guns to Bollywood,” he says.

Almost a decade later, he stood out in ‘Kahaani’ where he portrays the gruff officer, Khan whose arrogance stems from the hard life he has known. Siddique himself has known the hard life, so it wasn’t very difficult to bring out the hardness in him. “When I came to Mumbai, I stayed with four people in a room which ended if you stretch yourself. There was no space to even move. There were times I wanted to take up odd jobs like waiting at the tables to sustain myself but I didn’t know if I would be good at any other work. Nothing gave me that satisfaction.” But not everyone has the tenacity to go through that hard life and Siddique recalls how one of his friends from National School of Drama lost his head after years of struggle. “He was an unconventional actor and after years of struggle, he left Mumbai suddenly and started visiting dargahs and temples to know if he will ever make it. Thankfully, I held on to my own.”

Meet the Wasseypur gang

A still from GOW2

Like him, his parents are still to get used to the congratulatory messages and adulation they get for their son. Living in a village which doesn’t have a cinema hall, they had to travel 40 kms to the neighbouring one to see their son on screen. “My parents are illiterate and during my struggling days, they had no clue what I was up to. They just wanted me to earn money and be happy. Unlike most educated parents who want their children to become doctor or engineers, they had no idea about my career or aspirations,” he says. His earliest memory of his village Burhana is watching C-grade films of Joginder. “Our village only had one theatre which screened films of Joginder, Mahindra Sandhu and Dada Khondke. These films were full of double-meaning jokes and sexual innuendos. I still love watching ‘Bindiya aur Bandook’,” he laughs.

Reality bites
His maiden visit to Cannes was a revelation for him. Apart from the exposure, he was shocked at how the industry still looks down on people who are not brands. "Before going to Cannes, I approached a few designers and asked them if they can design my suit. They outrightly refused me so I went to a shop and got it stitched from a local tailor. I am not Aishwarya Rai Bachchan so what I wear doesn’t matter,” he says matter-of-factly and his spirits lift up when he talks about Bollywood films in the West. “They find Bollywood films as amazing as we find the Malegaon films. But the perception is changing with the kind of work we are doing now.”


Distracting Anurag Kashyap

Bigger and better
This year, the audience is going to see a lot of him. Apart of GOW-2, eight of his films are lined up back-to-back, including Dekh Indian Circus, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely; Bedabrata Pain’s Chittagong; Liar’s Dice, and Shlok Sharma’s Lunch Box. In every film, he plays the lead and each film is completely different from the other. Being a product of NSD, Siddique firmly believes that a prior training in acting goes a long way in honing one’s skills. “I think it is very important. You may not need it for the formula or the masala films. But if you have to do a character-driven role, you need prior training as it tells you how to approach a role.  It hones your skills and tells you how play different characters. A talented actor will do a film well once but for doing a second film equally well, he would need training. My character in GOW is completely different from the one I played in Kahaani and my training at NSD helped me execute the characters well,” he points out.

Despite doing interviews for three months, Siddique says he still gets jitters before facing the media. “I am always scared that I will say something stupid and people will laugh at me. The amount I have spoken during GOW promotions is perhaps combines my whole lifetime of talking. But I am slowly learning to enjoy the space I am in now. Unbelievable but it finally happened, “he concludes.


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