"I would be happy if people just called me an actor.”
Today’s celebrity has the most interesting success story in the history of Indian cinema. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has gained acclaim not only from the home industry but is also a recognized figure among the international film fraternity.
“There was electricity in our village only for 2-3 hours a day, so all my life, I studied under a lamp.”
Born in 1974 in Budhana, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Siddiqui is the oldest of the eight siblings. Not having chosen acting as an obvious choice, Siddique graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, as a result of which he worked as a chemist for a year.
“I love observing people. Each face tells so many stories. It lets me understand emotions, and that, in turn, helps me apply my skills as an actor.”
As destiny would have it, Siddiqui moved to Delhi in pursuit of another job. On watching plays, Siddiqui was instantly drawn to the world of acting and cinema and began the quest of getting admitted to the National School of Drama (NSD) in the capital. As part of the admission process, Siddiqui participated in over ten plays.
“I have done over 2000 characters in theatre in seven years. I have a lot of ‘masala’ to show. I have this confidence which allows me to try different roles in every film I do next.”
Siddiqui successfully graduated from NSD in 1996 and moved to Mumbai, the city of dreams. After three years of struggle, Siddiqui initially only appeared in cameos by making his Bollywood debut in 1999 with the film Sarfarosh. Later in 2000, he appeared again in a small role in the film Jungle, followed by the role of a pickpocketer in the film Munnabhai MBBS in 2003.
After having started small in Bollywood, Siddiqui was largely out of work between 2002-05. His financial status was so meagre, that he shared a small space with four people and had a hand to mouth existence by conducting acting workshops.
It is alleged, in 2004, which was also the peak point of his struggle period, Siddiqui could not even pay rent for his flat. He was compelled to stay with a senior from NSD, who in return asked Siddiqui to cook meals for him.
“I used to clean the sets and serve tea to the artistes.”
In 2009, Siddiqui continued getting work for cameo roles. He appeared in Dev D, Rasila and New York. Time was however drawing near, when Siddiqui’s enduring years of struggle were soon to be rewarded. Finally in 2010, Siddiqui appeared in the role of a journalist in the movie Peepli Live. It was his performance in this film that gained attention.
Two years later, in 2012, Siddiqui appeared in the movie Patang: The Kite. The movie premiered at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival. This also saw the beginning of Siddiqui’s film screenings at international film festivals.
“Sometimes, when you delve into the minds of characters, you realize that even though their thoughts and actions are definitely socially unacceptable, there’s some truth to what they think.”
Siddiqui’s performance was applauded by Roger Ebert which “transformed his acting style.” The special mention of the film led to its release in Canada and the U.S. and also gained reviews from the New York Times.
The rise of an actor
“I didn’t know one has to lift weights to become an actor. I can look stronger through my eyes than my abs.”
In 2012, Siddiqui appeared in a considerably bigger role in the film Kahaani, as an intelligence officer. It was however Anurag Kashyap’s gangster epic Gangs of Wasseypur which prepared a perfect stage for Siddiqui to showcase his acting wonders.
Further, Siddiqui also featured in Talash in 2012 and grabbed the lead role of Shiv Gajra in a blockbuster film Kick. Siddiqui’s performance in the film Bajrangi Bhaijan also gained numerous accolades. For Siddiqui’s role in the film Haraamkhor, he won the award of Best Actor at the New York Indian Film Festival. In addition, Siddiqui also won the Special Jury Award and National Film Award 2012, along with Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2013.
“A good scripted film keeps more importance for me as it comes in my comfort zone. Once you’re a commercial star, you’re largely restricted to playing a single-minded state.”
Siddiqui was also awarded with the Best Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor for the movie Lunchbox.
Leading his way through the pack, Siddiqui had soon emerged himself as a lead actor, grabbing lead roles in Manjhi, Black Friday, Badlapur, Manto, Thackeray, Photograph, Motichoor Chaknanchoor and the hit Netflix series, Sacred Games.
An Ordinary Life
“Being a recognized face has its problems. I miss the freedom to go anywhere I want to.”
Siddiqui’s struggle, relentlessness and persistence to achieve big in life is a story that needs to be told. In October 2017 however, after Siddiqui narrated his life through his memoir, he instantly became part of the film industry’s biggest controversy. Within a week after its release the book had to be withdrawn from its stands for the buzz it created.
“I am apologising to everyone who’s [sic] sentiments are hurt because of the chaos around my memoir, ‘An Ordinary Life’. I hereby regret and decide to withdraw my book,” Siddiqui was quoted as saying about the release.
Awards and Honors
“I feel happy that I am being honored for doing films of my own liking.”
Throughout his film career, Siddiqui has won several film awards including National Film Award, Asian Film Awards, New York Indian Film Festival, Lions Gold Awards, GQ Men of the Year Awards, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, IReel Awards, amongst others.
“There is nothing called negative characters. The negativity and positivity exists in all of us.”
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