The Bollywood film industry has not achieved anything to be proud of: Naseeruddin Shah

Published: March 8, 2014

The veteran actor sits down with The Express Tribune for an exclusive interview following his first-ever performance in Karachi at the Napa Theatre Festival. PHOTO: JALAL QURESHI/EXPRESS

KARACHI: 

“There has always been a scarcity of a good story in the Bollywood industry,” says Naseeruddin Shah. “The only reason these films are seen is because of Indian dhabas [and similar communal viewing spaces] all over the world, otherwise I feel that the Bollywood industry has done nothing of note thus far.”

Shah has always been no-holds-barred about his opinions, and does not shy away from using his sharp tongue to flay those he feels deserve it most. “It is the easiest thing in the world to fool the audience, and this is a feat that our film directors are pulling off splendidly,” he says.

He has much to say on the achievements, or lack thereof, of the Bollywood industry. “Out of all the Indian actors, there is merely a handful that I consider to be superlative at their craft. Dilip Kumar has done some exceptional work in a few films, and if one attempts to search for them, one or two good films can be found among Amitabh Bachchan’s body of work. Otherwise, I do not feel that the Indian film industry has accomplished anything that is worth talking about. There is very little done so far that can justifiably inspire pride in those involved in the industry.”

Shah believes that fame is a fickle friend, and the only thing an actor can count on is their talent, and their body of work. “There was a time when Rajesh Khanna was the most beloved man in India – an era when he was one of the biggest stars in the Bollywood industry. There were women who used to write him letters inked in their own blood, and when he decided to get married, there were rumours that many of his ardent fans had taken their own lives out of grief. But no one remembers him now.”

“It’s because beauty and fame are fickle and fleeting, they are never with you for the long haul. The only thing that stands the test of time is an actor’s work, and his work was never at a level that people would hold it in high esteem now. That is why he is forgotten now.”

It is clear that Shah is one of those few remaining actors who want their work to speak for itself, and is not caught up in the race to collect as many awards possible, especially in an industry that has become commercialised. “People use the number of awards an actor has received to measure their success and stature, when the truth of the matter is that every manjan (tooth powder) and pan (betel leaf) seller has opened their own award academy. I don’t believe in awards or accolades, which is why I don’t believe in their credibility and never go to collect them.”

Despite the lack of importance that he gives to awards, he has accumulated many over the years for both his film and theatre work. He is one of the most celebrated actors of his time, and he speaks to The Express Tribune about what he considers to be important as he moves forward. “I am now at a point where I no longer see any dreams for myself, and do not want to work day and night to achieve something purely for myself. The only wish I have now is to reach those places where I am needed so I can support aspiring actors and upcoming talent however I can.”

It might come as a surprise to hear that Shah did not always nurse a dream to be an actor. “I wanted be a cricketer, but I realised early on as a youngster that out of such a large Indian population only 11 people are selected and only they get to play, so I forced myself to stop thinking of cricket as a career path. If I had another life to live, I would become a cricketer.”

Shah is celebrated for his body of work both as a film and a theatre actor, and does not find too large a divide between the two when it comes to acting, but highlights a fundamental difference between the two mediums that greatly affects the level of patronage both enjoy. “Film has a larger reach than theatre because one film can be played simultaneously all over the world, but theatre can only be performed in one location at one point in time to one audience,” he says.

As a result, there will always be those who will find film to be a more worthwhile financial investment, but it is theatre that Shah feels is a more intellectual experience for the audience. “One needs to have a single minded focus when watching theatre and constant attention has to be paid to the stage.” This is quite a departure from the experience of watching most Bollywood movies, which requires one to check their brain and disbelief at the door.

He declared the Napa Theatre festival a positive development for theatre in Pakistan, saying, “The step forward that has been taken today with the festival is something that should have happened a long time ago.” Shah’s opinion stems from the fact that he found the experience of performing in Karachi one that is unparalleled thus far in his career.

“I have performed Ismat Apa Ke Naam all over the world, from Mumbai and Lucknow to Lahore, but I have never encountered an audience like Karachi’s before. People here understand every line that is spoken, every shair (line of a poem) and appreciate a performer’s talent in a manner that I have not encountered before.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (44)

  • Ganesh
    Mar 8, 2014 - 10:03PM

    This fellow got mmense wealth,name,fame from Hind/Indian film industry and he is belittling it in a foreign land,that too enemical Pak!!Only muslim actors are capable of this – ungreatful people..!!Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Mar 8, 2014 - 11:55PM

    Shah does not explain what he meant by achievement? Indians have made many beautiful art and commercial movies. Billions of people enjoy it and other millions earn their livelihood from these movies.

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  • sumesh
    Mar 8, 2014 - 11:56PM

    @Ganesh: I think you are going a bit too far…It’s his opinion and why should we have a problem with it? He is one of the finest actors in the Indian film industry and he is known to speak his mind…Buddy, you just need to relax!

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  • Dilip
    Mar 9, 2014 - 12:05AM

    He would have had some credibility (for these statements) had he had the guts to say all these things in India itself. I can guarantee that Mr. Shah will have lost a huge number of his fans and other appraisers by this single event. What the more (and idiotic) “communal minded” people in India will say of this I can only shudder and regret… but he has unfortunately brought it all on himself. He is no authority to speak about these things, not even a “right”… and has only exposed himself to ridicule and surely will lose a lot of friends as a result as well… sad.

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  • someone
    Mar 9, 2014 - 12:50AM

    Well bollywood is entertaining the Indian viewers for years now, not just in India but across the world. It touches the emotions of the people. What else does a picture need to do other than entertain the people. May be Naseer Sahab should have had stuck to theater performances if he did not like the movie industry. Of course every Industry has good and bad products associated with it and Indian film industry is no exception either. It makes all sort of movies and for almost every type of viewer. Entertaining India and growing every year for past 100 years is nothing less than an achievement.

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  • mimi
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:11AM

    Because of bolly he sits there now. Because of bolly he travels by busi ess class…..Recommend

  • MA
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:20AM

    truth hurts!

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  • imran bhatt
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:22AM

    You being here in another country, speaking to us as an honoured celebrity as a refined product of Bollywood and you are still not proud of it.

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  • MA
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:32AM

    Shah Sahib, Sour Grapes case here. Other than Mirza Ghalib, you do not have much to your credit in film acting. Recommend

  • Abbas
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:32AM

    I had a great respect for this person. Were it not for India and bollywood he would have been mr nobody!Recommend

  • MA
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:37AM

    @Ganesh:
    Before you go critisizing what relegion he is of, ponder on the fact that it has BEEN muslim actors and actresses who made the Indian screen so successful. In music too!!!

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  • anil
    Mar 9, 2014 - 1:50AM

    This man sits there because of Bollywood . Not because of theaters you work for . No one cares for theaters now a days . A country run by youngsters doesn’t want to spend time in theaters on weekends . I think this man considers himself the ‘Dada Saheb’ of Bollywood . Recommend

  • andani
    Mar 9, 2014 - 2:28AM

    @Ganesh: MR.GANESH
    IT IS NOT INDO-PAK IT’S ABOUT ART ,LETRATURE ,DRAMA,POEM,URDU ADAB, WE LIKE INDIAN MOVIES BUT WHEN YOU TALKE ABOUT STANDER I AM SORRY TO SAY URDU DRAMA AND POEM IS HIGH STANDER INDIAN BOLLYWOOD CAN NOT TOUCH IT. PLZ OPEN BOOK OF URDU ADAB YOU WILL LOVE IT.

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  • Nitin
    Mar 9, 2014 - 2:40AM

    Who told Rajesh Khanna is forgotten? Rajesh Khanna is the first Superstar of Hindi Cinema. His memory will live in our hearts & minds forever…

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  • optimist
    Mar 9, 2014 - 3:12AM

    What’s wrong in accepting the truth.
    .
    Bollywood is interesting mix of Masala movies. A serious artist does have trouble with that. It is natural. These people are different from ordinary people.

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  • Nasir
    Mar 9, 2014 - 3:37AM

    I think most of the readers here failed to understand his message. The statement he made here is not new. He was saying same thing in one the Indian channel’s interview and Youtube has that clip as well. What he is referring to is a critique which lacks in Indian Bollywood industry. Bollywood makes some 700-800 films a year but none of them come any closer to Hollywood’s movies even the Hollywood’s non-successful commercial ones The Departed, The Losers etc. Most of Bollywood movies are copies of Hollywood as we all know… and this is what Naseerudin Shah has mentioned that we don’t create related to the sub-continent any new story line. And he’s absolutely right, just rubbing the salt at the right place!!

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  • PakLand
    Mar 9, 2014 - 5:36AM

    I think his opinion should not be taken as a national offense but rather a typical teacher’s opinion to future students to strive for better srandard. He is not defaming India but instead callinh for better quality compared to early moving makers of 1930s and 1940s. He is not alone in denouncing Sex n Vulgarity which has eaten-up class and story we all knew.

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  • subhash kumar
    Mar 9, 2014 - 6:31AM

    I am Also with You …Shah emphasizes on his willingness of bollywood success.He want to say bollywood couldn’t achieve that much it should achieve @MA:

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  • Chulbul Pandey
    Mar 9, 2014 - 7:11AM

    Mr. Nasiruddin Shah is an accomplished actor and admittedly one of the finest India has produced. Obviously, he knows what he is talking about and his words carry a lot of weight.
    .
    However, It would be a grave mistake to undermine Bollywood’s far reaching effect on its audience. Walking in the streets of Orlando, I have been stopped randomly by college women from Morocco who talked to me for half an hour about Amitabh Bachchan’s movies, as if I was one of their own… Ran into a group of guys and girls in from Russia in New York, trying to sing Shah Rukh Khan songs, asking me to join them…. All because I was Indian :) Some of my own coworkers from American heartland Mid-West know a lot more about Abhishek and Salman than yours truly.
    .
    Reaching out to so many different people from all walks of lives and from all corners of the world is no small feat by any means. Not to mention, it is the only medium of entertainment for so many in South Asia. Bollywood or Hindi Cinema has its own magic or appeal that has a very wide reach and that is something to be proud of.
    .
    Sincerely

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  • Ahmed Ali Khan
    Mar 9, 2014 - 10:22AM

    @someone:

    The Indian movies which I used to watch 60 years ago, I dont see much improvement in the Indian movie Industry as far as the direction and quality of movies. I will admit the color movies and out of country shooting location this is the new achievement. The quality of songs as far as lyrics and composition is gone down. The majority of the movie used to be masala movies are still happening. So Mr. Shah is right Indian movie Industry has not achieve anything yet.

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  • Mohammad Ahamad
    Mar 9, 2014 - 10:32AM

    @imran bhatt:

    Learn to accept the critic without getting annoyed. Everybody has a right to speak his/her mind. Dont think that he is speaking against India or against movie Industry.

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  • Anurag
    Mar 9, 2014 - 11:09AM

    As a free citizen of a free country, Mr Shah is entitled to have an opinion of his own . In fact many of us would agree to his point of view. But there are few other facts which should be kept in mind. Commercial value of a movie is a big aspect which is taken care by all the film industries across the world and it depends on the taste of the people and society which provides viewer ship to that particular industry. In our country the majority of viewers love this ‘larger than life’ feel of Bollywood movies so it’s quite obvious to have such movies most of the time. But the biggest irony is that the people amidst whom he is making these complaints have no different taste than ours. Rather their own movies are doing even worse in these terms. So I guess, what Mr Shah said, applies not just to Bollywood in isolation but to cinema audiences of the entire subcontinent .

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  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Mar 9, 2014 - 2:16PM

    I agree with Mr naseruddin Shah. The quality of script has fallen a lot. A lot of plagiarizing is taking place in scripts. He is a patriotic Indian and we are proud of him. The art movies performed by him is enjoyed even today. My seven years old son enjoys it more than a stupid dhoom series of movies. Hats off to the great maestro. How many actors and actresses have acted in theatre of our generation ?. Please learn to appreciate constructive criticism. It is not yippie yippie 100 percent. We have to improve and we can or we fall into a precipice of Pakistan movie decline.rab rakhaRecommend

  • Broken-Heart
    Mar 9, 2014 - 3:31PM

    Something for pakistan to cheer about…!

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  • Sridhar
    Mar 9, 2014 - 4:52PM

    I watch both hollywood and bollywood movies. Living in US, watchinb hollywood is unavoidable. It is not that hollywood does not make trash movies but those movies don’t get the acclaim. In India, as audience matures, better movies will be made and are being made.
    Hollywood has set its own standards but who is to judge if that standard is the right one? Bollywood makes movies primarily to entertain. It does a fine job of that.
    Now, Shah is a fine actor but he has been cribbing a lot on various channels that bollywood is not good enough. He made his name in bollywood only. Nobody would even know his name because he is from the theater. Some fine actors from theater became big names in cinema. Eg. Shivaji Ganeshan from Tamil film industry is a legend in South.
    To say that bollywood does not make good movies is wrong. There are some fine movies made by Guru Dutt, Raj kapoor, Khwaja Abbas, Mehboob Khan etc. But bollywood has not made any films that tells the story of India. No great films on Ashoka, Akbar or on the Indian epics. Hollywood has made good movies on every character in Bible. Bollywood has steered away from historical movies, preferring the same “song and dance” sequences that have gotten boring. Of late, bollywood has become a poor copy of hollywood with clownish behavior of actors who are all “wanna-be” hollywood actors. In that crowd, Shah stands alone as an actor with a brain. Unfortunately, he is in the wrong place and he can do nothing about it.

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  • Sukhbir singh
    Mar 9, 2014 - 6:18PM

    Another wayward statement by this chap from pakistan after criticizing ”Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” . I seriously doubt your agenda Mr Naseer , you are spending most of your time in pakistan nowdyas and nobody have problem with that coz maybe people are giving you more love and attention in pak , In india people forget stars at later stages of their carrier but please don’t get a delusion that you are some special one ,even if a forgotten man like Kumar shanu choose to spend time in Pakistan he will get a same treatment .I have seen closely people in pakistan are far more crazier for bollywood stars especially those born around 90s . Enjoy Pakistan but please stop giving such type of statements for an industry which gave you so much .

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  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Mar 9, 2014 - 7:42PM

    Shah has talent and resources therefore he should do something extra-ordinary to satisfy himself. His statement about Rajesh Khanna is also wrong. Actors, musicians and singers will also become gold with passage of time. These forms of art could not become precious in the past because we did not have physical records like paintings, architecture, poetry, prose and sculptures. There must be great performers, singers and musicians in the past but unfortunately we cannot enjoy them, so we know little about them. Future generation won’t face this problem.

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  • kanwal
    Mar 9, 2014 - 8:30PM

    I think he has a point there. The measure of quantity of bollywood movies versus their quality yeilds a disturbing story really. And hope the people commenting here could ever get over the typical India vs Pakistan stupidity in everything. If ever India could present a single actor abroad as representative of their talent, it will be this man, not shahrukh khan or amitabh or likes. So he has earned the right to say what he likes, specially if it can make some difference.

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  • AK
    Mar 9, 2014 - 10:08PM

    what was special in Chennai express, Dhoom3, Krish 3 and jai ho …. all seem Masala movies…Recommend

  • someone
    Mar 9, 2014 - 10:18PM

    @Ahmed Ali Khan:
    Well I would like to disagree with you. May be you are missing those social message movies of old times. Today’s Indian movies are not about social message but about society itself more or less. They are becoming a blend of escapism and reality. Let me ask you if you have seen movies like “Gangs Of Vasseypur’ , Taare Zameen par, Shanghai, Kahani, Lootera, Wake up Sid, Rocket Singh etc.? They are all product of bollywood and pretty good ones too. Now bear in mind that about 80 % of people out of 1.2 billion people of India like escapists movies because real life is really harsh and that is why you see movies like Dabang too. Bottom line is people want to be entertained for 2-3 hours to have a good time and to get away from the reality of life outside the cinema hall. Indian movies do provide that and have been providing for 100 years now. One may not like all the movies produce by Indian film industry but not all the movies are supposed to be a super hit one. All in all, Indian film Industry is providing the entertainment to a large population of India and nearby audience successfully and that Sir, is an achievement by all means.

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  • iqbal
    Mar 9, 2014 - 11:34PM

    pseudo discourse! if bollywood is vacuous then what about the awards he won??
    and why didn’t he make a difference by directing films after ‘yun hota tau kia hota’?
    recently he went to the extent to criticize farhan in ‘bhaag milka bhaag’!!!

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  • Sid
    Mar 10, 2014 - 9:29AM

    @MA: Purely for rebutting how stupid ur point is as much as Ganesh’s statement was. Look at this angle, it is the tolerant audience who does not care what the artist’s race is which allows them to prosper.

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  • Sudhanshu Swami
    Mar 10, 2014 - 9:43AM

    Every thing have its role. We dont expect bollywood to launch Mangalyan.
    Bollywood (and Indian Cinema) is name of entertainment, and it has been successful in the same. Because of bollywood Indian languages,dances and culture(though distorted) did spread worldwide
    You yourself acted in very good movies as well as low level few. Because of bollywood you received wealth,name and fame. You could use better words to express yourself.

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  • Nikki
    Mar 10, 2014 - 11:16AM

    Bollywood contributed in spreading VULGARITY and Violence a lot.

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  • Skilled
    Mar 10, 2014 - 1:55PM

    Bolly movies are generally exaggerative, and overacting

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  • Mar 10, 2014 - 2:00PM

    A Living Legend!

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  • Mar 10, 2014 - 3:22PM

    I feel very pity for nasirji. What is the relevance of quoting Rajesh Khanna’s popularity and historical facts with his topic of interview. What Rajesh Khanna achieved and his contributions to the Indian cinema is still untouchable and nobody can forget him because his work merits will rule in our hearts and mind life long and for the generations to come. Moreover, where from the question arises about forgetting of Rajesh Khanna, The Original Superstar of India. Very immature and childish comment of Nasir Bhai, perhaps this is effect of dirty picture or age.

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  • N.Sid
    Mar 10, 2014 - 3:47PM

    ‘Bollywood Film Industry’ is what it is called. As an industry it has achived a lot, catering to the livelihood of millions of people, as an art film medium it hasn’t achieved anything substantial. Recommend

  • Karachiite
    Mar 10, 2014 - 3:50PM

    “I have performed Ismat Apa Ke Naam all over the world, from Mumbai and Lucknow to Lahore, but I have never encountered an audience like Karachi’s before. People here understand every line that is spoken, every shair (line of a poem) and appreciate a performer’s talent in a manner that I have not encountered before.”
    This is music to the ears…Recommend

  • I am a Khan
    Mar 10, 2014 - 4:03PM

    Bollywood used to be a good film industry. The last set of good actors bollywood produced was Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla. Nowadays it has seriously deteriotated. We the public are bored to death with sons/daughters of stars/film people who do not even know the ABC of acting. If Bollywood wants to survive, it should stop boring us (the people/audience) with hopeless children of film walas. It should go out and find heroes and heroines from among the people. Remember Dilip, Amitabh and Shahrukh were not children of film stars. I feel there are some good actors and actress on Indian TV soaps that should be given chance as bollywood heroes and heroines.Recommend

  • NonReal
    Mar 10, 2014 - 7:28PM

    bollywud films were good for music. all ruined now

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  • hoshiar singh gill
    Mar 14, 2014 - 12:00AM

    In large percentage of Indian films there is no attempt to cover historical personalities or

    important events or mirror rich trends in progressive litrature of the sub continent. Indian

    Cinema is for gullible Indians and Pakistanis.Who else would waste their time and money

    on this mediocre garbage.Film is a very powerful medium and many countries across the

    globe have made a rich contribution to this medium.For serious people across the globe

    who love India Indian cinema is a great let down.The dresses that actresses wear are

    getting skimpier and skimpier,the plots weaker and more meaningless with each film and

    the inferiority complex of the Indian elite is there for every one to see.Shameless Indian

    film makers,corrupt politicians and bogus gurus have eaten away the Soul of India.

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  • Ian
    Mar 26, 2014 - 5:55AM

    The reality is what has Bollywood achieved in all these years. With the majority of the movies It’s the same old predictable story-lines and cringe worthy acting, and should I mention no creativity, mashed up and scenes cropped from South Korean, Chinese, British and American movies.

    No doubt there are some fantastic actors but the quality of movies have been very poor, that’s why I have never watched an indian movie at a cinema.

    As for the revenue, yes India has a lot more money these days but a big chunk goes to paying actors, spending on actual content is very minor.

    Even to this day, you cannot compare an Indian movie to a British or American movie, actually no way near to South Korean or Chinese movies.

    Bollywood runs because of the domestic revenue which makes more than 75% of the total revenue.

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  • hoshiar singh gill - england
    Apr 9, 2014 - 12:36AM

    shame how some people can interpret a rational comment made by a well meaning person
    to be an attack on the very entity the latter is feeling concerned for!

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