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    How I've survived is a mystery: Naseeruddin Shah

    [Interview by Subash K. Jha]
    Friday, June 18, 2004
    It''s hard to imagine Naseeruddin Shah doing a typical Bollywood song and dance sequence.

    But not only has Shah done so in the past films of Rajiv Rai but he is also playing a "flamboyant, play-boyish character" in the director''s new movie "Asambhav". Shah, associated with sensitive and powerful films like "Masoom" and "Sparsh", however, said in an interview that while Bollywood was getting slicker, "we''re still doing the same old stories."

    Everyone looks up to you as an actor. Is there anyone you look up to?

    In the Indian film industry, I'm afraid, no! But I admire the younger set of actors who have come in the last 10-15 years. I really admire them because they have made it on their own.

    Look at the careers of Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty and actors like Irfan Khan and Boman Irani. I think they are marvellous actors. They have not made it in the industry because they are the sons of some famous actor. They've made it because of their talent and their ability. I must say I admire them because they have brought a certain system of discipline in the film industry today.

    What would your comments be on the film industry today?

    It's becoming much slicker on the surface, but I don't think we are making any progress in terms of content. We're just doing the same old stories.

    You've worked with Rajiv Rai in most of his films. How different is "Asambhav" from "Tridev" or "Mohra"?

    All three films are different. In "Tridev" I play a romantic role. Rajiv Rai cast me as a romantic hero in "Tridev" against the advice of all well-wishers. I did a singing and dancing role. When he approached me, I told him that I was not capable of doing such a role. I feel I contributed a little to the success of that film. I worked very hard on the dancing aspect. I think I was adequate and not brilliant. But it was the unexpectedness of it. He then approached me for "Gupt". But I had other commitments at that time.

    He then approached me for "Mohra" and asked me if I wanted to play a villain. Rajiv thought of making my character in "Mohra" a cripple, but I suggested that we make him blind. That's how "Mohra" happened. That launched the careers of Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty.

    Then came "Asambhav". He offered me the role of a play-boyish, flamboyant kind of character. It's quite different from what I have done before in terms of characterization and appearance. I have dyed my hair blonde. I have worn a lot of cool clothes. I play a cheerful, witty character in "Asambhav". My character is slightly wicked, who of course turns out to be good in the end.

    I'm with Rajiv in anything he does. I admire him. He is very warm and compassionate and he's also a successful filmmaker, which is a very rare combination.

    The music of the film is extremely contemporary. You've also recorded a song for the film. Did you agree to sing instantly or did you have to be cajoled?

    (Laughs) Rajiv Rai does not have to cajole me to do anything. I cannot forget the fact that he has given me two box-office hits in my entire career of 250 films.

    How I've survived sometimes is a mystery to myself. I don't participate in any singing, but in this movie I've sung a song. It's more of speaking. It's a rap number. It was great fun to do that.

    When one thinks of Naseeruddin Shah, films like "Masoom", "Monsoon Wedding" and "Ijazat" come to mind. You'll now be seen in "Asambhav". As an actor, do deglamourised roles appeal to you more or negative, funny

    I've never selected roles simply because they are glamorous. I have realized one thing in my career and that is I cannot survive on the basis of glamour or attractiveness. The attractiveness lies in the truth I can bring to my performances. I don't fool myself by saying I am a glamorous actor. Glamour has never been an essential component of my work. But I'm flattered when I'm offered a glamorous role like in "Asambhav".

    I've recently done two pretty unglamorous roles. In the first film, "Akooni", I play a crazy Parsi guy. The second film, called "Farzania", is about a Parsi family caught in the midst of riots. The film is not about riots. It's about how this family gets affected when their son gets lost. I must be excited by the roles I get. I think such roles are getting fewer and further considering the stage I am in and my age. Characters have to be intellectually stimulating.

    There are a lot of youngsters in the film. Were you reminded of the days when you were doing what they are doing now?

    No (smiles). That's a dangerous trap to fall into. Everybody I meet keeps reminding me of "Jalwa" and so on. But that's in the past. I treasure those memories. But I don't live in the past. I look into the future.


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