Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah surprises Pakistani fans with live appearance at KLF

Actor attracted a huge crowd that gathered to hear him talk about his journey from mainstream to parallel cinema.

Entertainment Desk March 07, 2022

An unforeseen but pleasant addition to the international speakers on the last day of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) 2022 was the participation of renowned Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah, who joined via a live session.

He shared personal stories, his acting inspirations and even revealed that there was a time his wife and actor Ratna Pathak was jealous of how many offers he’d get. Because like him, she too, wasn’t “masala film material.” While detailing his journey from mainstream to parallel cinema, he talked about his reasons to take up commercial work despite his reservations aboout it and also acknowledged the role of poets like Mirza Ghalib in his creative journey, while emphasising on his love for literature festivals.

When the host, Shahzad Sharjeel, told him that people instantly imagine his face while hearing or reading about Ghalib, given the popularity his Mirza Ghalib (1988) garnered, Shah spoke about his connection with the poet. “My phuppi and phuppa resided in the same street as Ghalib’s. We spent our days at our phuppa’s house. And on our way there, we’d always see this beautiful haveli that was in shambles and everyone would tell us that a ‘poet named Mirza Ghalib used to live here’.”

Asked about his family, Shah informed that his daughter Hiba and sons Imaad and Vivaan are also part of the entertainment business. "Imaad was good at cricket but one day instead of bringing a bat in his hand, he brought a guitar. He writes songs with feelings and also acts. He is in a band with Saba Azad  now, who sings. My younger son Vivaan also acts,” he shared.

Albeit, his wife [Ratna], who is now busier than he is, once considered herself a failure. “There was a time when I had all these producers coming to our house to sign me and she [Ratna] felt ignored,” he revealed. I would tell her that your time will come but she would reply ‘Easy for you to say, you have all these people who visit to sign you and I’m just making tea for them. None of them want to cast me.’ While that was no fault of mine, I also knew in my heart that like me, Ratna and after her. my daughter Hiba, were not meant for commercial films. But while they might not be leading stars in a masala hit, because they are actors who can deliver, people will eventually recognise their worth.”

Shah then asserted that he’s not a commercial performer himself but had to do a lot of commercial work to eventually be recognised as a hero. “I worked in commercial cinema despite not having the looks of a hero. I never fit in either but I suppose it was my mother’s prayers that got me here. I’ve done a lot of underwhelming films. But it was always actors like Anthony Quinn that kept me going. They weren’t great looking either but they kept getting work because of their capability to deliver.”

The Gehraiyaan actor feels he's lucky fans don’t remember films he’s embarrassed of having done. “I know people remember me for Mirza Ghalib and Masoom (1983) but what people don’t remember is that I’ve also done films like Sunayana (1979), it was my third film, I even sang in it and did some failed acting. Shaayad (1979), Kanhaiyaa (1981), Khwab (1980), I’ve done several such films that thankfully no one recalls.”

He then detailed how his craft is more inspired and defined by the Hollywood cinema because of his unsupervised exposure to English films at an early age. “My father was a deputy collector and we were allowed to go into any cinema hall and watch films. He would let us watch all English films and Indian films if they were Dilip Kumar’s. He never came along. I would end up comparing Uran Khatola to The Wizard of Oz, a film like Azaad to The Prisoner of Zenda. I could see clearly the problems with Hindi films from back then. But I also knew that if I wanted to be an actor, I’ll have to work with similar problems. In the early 70s, Hindi cinema had also started churning out serious films and I made a mission to find a way to work in them.”

Shah maintained that while he wanted to do as many serious films as possible – films that people would hardly watch – he also wanted to be cast in a leading role. “Any actor who says he doesn’t want to be a hero is lying. Every actor wants to be the hero. In fact, every human wants to be the hero. I was no exception. So, when I started getting offers, I took them without even preparing myself for them.”

When the host drew parallels between Delhi and Lucknow being India’s cultural centers like Karachi and Lahore being Pakistan’s, to ask if Shah felt more at home in Lucknow and enjoyed its popular cuisines, the renowned veteran retorted, “I think Hyderabad’s cuisine is better than Lucknow’s. People forget Hyderabad when talking about Muslim culture in India. It is such a clean place with so much kindness. Lucknow has passion and Delhi has potential but Hyderabad has civilized people and good biryani.”

He added, “However, I myself am from Meerut, my father spent a few years in Lucknow but I don’t have many memories there. My connection with Lucknow has to do more with the films I’ve had to shoot in the city. Umrao Jaan (1981) was shot in Lucknow. These days, it’s become more like a film studio. It does have rich food too, albeit, for me Hyderabadi cuisine is the best – with no disrespect to anyone hailing from Lucknow, of course.”

Watch the session here: 

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