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Posted at: Sep 9, 2017, 12:18 AM; last updated: Sep 9, 2017, 12:19 AM (IST)

Unlikely stars spread hope

Shardul Bhardwaj
The success of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao has been an inspiration to many struggling actors from the small towns of India trying their luck in Bollywood

Shardul Bhardwaj

Thirtytwo-year-old Aasheesh Sharma has been struggling in Mumbai now for two years. His father, a central government employee, died when Aasheesh was young, and he and his twin brother have survived for most part of their lives on their mother’s pension and house allowance. While living within the boundaries of the daily pressures of a middle class family in a small city, the exposure to the Gwalior theatre scene and a subsequent encounter with the movie Haasil (2003) opened up a whole new world of aspirations for him. He today credits the performance of Irrfan Khan in the movie for having motivated him to pursue his dream of being an actor.

Fourteen years on, he has been a hotel receptionist, worked with theatre groups like Kshitij in New Delhi, worked at the Kingdom of Dreams, generating enough savings to ensure survival in Mumbai for the last two years. He plans to wait it out and keep giving auditions as Nawazuddin Siddiqui did. There are many Aasheeshs in Mumbai, who after having done a good amount of theatre in small cities and New Delhi, are waiting for their big break. 

Nawaz’s success has created something unprecedented for actors from the smallest of towns and villages of India. Gangs of Wasseypur came as a revelation where audiences fell in love with his unconventional looks, toting a gun and talking with the kind of rustic charm which the non-metro audience could instantly identify with. Suddenly, it was acceptable, maybe even ‘cool’, to not be fair, tall and upmarket, all buzzwords still found in a casting call in Mumbai. Soon the life story of Nawazuddin started emerging. The world got to know that this NSD graduate had worked as a chemist, a security guard, and waited for  years before getting a noticeable role in Black Friday (2007). There were times when he could not even pay his rent.

The story hit home with many, those belonging to the middle tier of India who had come to Mumbai to become actors, and suffered the same plight. The tried and tested line for actors in Mumbai “Time do, itni jaldi nahin hota” (Give it time) has received renewed validation with Nawazuddin’s story. 

Besides Nawaz, there is Rajkummar Rao who is  starring as lead in films entirely marketed on his face, the most recently noticeable being Newton. Such instances are looked upon as a positive by those struggling to carve out a niche for themselves. Aasheesh says he cannot talk or look like some of the actors belonging to upper middle class and upper class families, as “Nobody cares how you present the lines. They care about how you present yourself”. This is precisely where Nawaz’s of the world come in, who till date likes to keep a note of Rs 10 or Rs 20 in his wallet just to be reminded where he came from, and reminding us in the process of realities and hardships of the lives of a majority in our country. In his interviews, he retains a part of his roots, giving many young aspiring actors the confidence to not shy away from being themselves. 

Another such actor who wants to make it in Mumbai, Devas Dixit from Kanpur says, “Nawaz knew that when it will be time for (him) to get a break, (he) will get a break”. But it is not mere providence that Devas is talking about; it’s well-known that when Nawazuddin was not getting work in cinema, he was working in theatre, conducting acting workshops and doing short films. It is also well known that he is a graduate from NSD, and Rajkummar Rao, from FTII. So actors like Dixit have undergone training and emphasise also on constantly working and practicing as an actor, instead of just running through auditions with hopes and disappointments. So what has been further remarkable in Nawaz’s case is also how he has inspired people to see value in training to perfect one’s skills, and to approach acting as a craft.

Willingly or not, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is fuelling democratisation in the industry, with the variety of people who are aspiring to be actors, buying more time from their families, maintaining their own sanity, and finding liberation through their training in acting classes. Actors like Nawazuddin and Rajkummar Rao are also forcing the likes of Hrithik Roshan to hire acting coaches to improve their skills.

We might soon reach a stage where audiences will not go to the cinema hall just to watch Shah Rukh Khan being himself all over again. If such a time comes, then one will witness many more who come from the most backward parts of India make a mark for themselves in the profession — and it will be a generation of actors which will always talk fondly and respectfully about Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

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