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Nasser — fearless and forthright

Nasser, well-known actor of Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi cinema has just returned after an overseas assignment in English. In a tête-à-tête with MALATHI RANGARAJAN he touches upon various matters including his career and the film industry.

As a performer he has always made a mark ... — Pic. by K. Pichumani

WHAT BEGINS as a formal interview turns into a friendly chat once the discussion shifts to matters that affect him most. Nasser is just back after a 28-day stint for "Nothing But Life," an English film made in the U. S., with an Indian cast and a Hollywood crew. You catch up with the actor to get a first hand account of the experience but in the couple of hours you talk to him, he dwells with candour on many other matters too — from money and fame to his slips and disappointments.

His latest assignment in English ...

"Nothing But Life," is made by director Rajeev Anchal and shot entirely in the U. S. — in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Las Vegas. Madhavan plays the lead and the heroines are Kaveri and Neha. "No ... I don't do a negative role ... in fact it's very positive. It is an interesting story about a psychiatrist and his patient. I play the psychiatrist," says Nasser. "Nothing ... " is a bi-lingual in Malayalam and English. Thambi Antony who lives in the U. S., is the producer. Music is by Vidyasagar. You understand that in Malayalam the film will have songs.

Lavish in praise ...

Srinivasan, the inimitable actor, is doing the Malayalam version of Nasser's role.

Nasser could have done it himself, after all he's done around 25 Malayalam films, of which two — "Butterflies" and "Guru" — were for Anchal himself ... "You have to watch Srinivasan in the role ... then you'll agree that he's a wise choice," is Nasser's reply. "And for me doing it in English is a major challenge ... " Nasser is all praise for Madhavan too. "He's a joy to work with ... always cheerful and co-operative. Whenever I felt I could improve on a scene and requested him for another take, he would oblige with a smile ... "

The technical crew of "Nothing ... "

Except the producer, director and cast, all the others were from Hollywood. Their approach was thoroughly professional, Nasser tells you.

"The entire film was canned in 44 days, out of which my work was for 28 days. Every evening, after shooting we had to gather together for a rehearsal of the scenes to be shot the next day. Their discipline is amazing. They use the multi-camera system to shoot. Every scene was shot two or three times with three cameras, from different angles and as it was live sound sometimes we had to go for a further fourth take," Nasser explains.

"Nothing ... " is not Nasser's first English film ...

Nasser's first English film is "Morning Raga" with Shabana Azmi — a venture directed by Mahesh Dattani and filmed by Rajeev Menon. The second is "Perfume Garden" shot by Ashok Kumar. Nevertheless, "Nothing But Life " is the first of his English films made abroad.

His Hindi sojourn ...

Those who've watched Nasser's natural essay in the recently released, "Phir Milenge," would feel that an actor with such potential needs to make more such forays into Hindi films. Of course, Nasser is not new to Hindi either. He has done the Sunny Deol starrer, "Angarakshat," and "Criminal," a Mahesh Bhat film that had Nagarjuna as the hero.

Caught in the swirl of typecasting ...

"It is a bane," says Nasser. Once a villain, you are always one. Only very few have seen me beyond the set parameters — like Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan. Mani Ratnam had the confidence to cast me in a positive role in "Nayakan" and later in "Roja." Kamal called me over to narrate the story of "Magalir Mattum." I loved it and told him so, all the while thinking that he would be doing it. When he told me I should play the role, I was surprised. Me? A comedy hero? I thought. `I've noticed your sense of humour on the sets. I am sure you'll do it well,' he said. I again did comedy in his "Avvai Shanmugi." But how many such makers do we have?" Naturally Nasser's favourite roles were in "Kurudhi Punal," "Devar Magan," "Nayakan" and "Anbae Sivam." Bharathan's "Aavaram Poo" is the only exception in the list.

His theatre leanings ...

Nasser has introduced a lot of theatre faces in his films — Pasupathi, Kumaravel, Bala Singh and many such. "But I know how to use them, not everybody does. And it's a challenge. Why this sudden urge to use Kooththu-p-pattarai artistes now? You need to know how to use them because they are on a different plane... otherwise they are just wasted."

As a producer ...

Nasser has produced and directed four films. "I thought I knew the trade ... I prefer not to talk about my last film, "Popcarn." All I can say is that it was a disaster and I regret it. I am still paying off the debts I incurred then. That's why I accept every film that comes my way." "Avathaaram" was a worthy attempt and so was "Maayan." He gives a sardonic grin. "Devadhai" was again a different story. "I wanted Arvind Swamy for the hero's role. But he wanted to play the villain. The part I eventually played. In a very dignified manner he told me so and that was it."

The "Maayan" misery ...

Nasser is still smarting from the wound that a hero caused him. "I told him the story and gave him the script. He was thrilled and accepted the advance. He even gave me seven days for rehearsal, because I wanted a thorough preparation before the shoot ... the day before the announcement was to be made, he called up to say he wanted to meet me and as I was too busy I sent Kameela, my wife. He told her that he could not do the film and returned the advance. "But the reason he gave is what irks me ... `I'm a top star now. So my friends tell me that I shouldn't do films like this one,' he told her." A visibly incensed Nasser leans forward from his chair and asks, "What did he mean? Films like this one?! Like what? Do I make B grade films or porno stuff? I had planned a Braveheart like story on a huge Rs.3-crore canvas ... in a fit of rage I decided to go ahead with the project and played the lead myself with a much smaller budget. Not a sensible move but I did it ... "

And who is this hero?

Without hesitation he says, "Ajit ... " and adds, "You can quote me ... "

On actors turning politicians

"Anyone can. That's not the point. But so much of cleansing needs to be done within the industry itself ... what have the actors done about it? Producers become paupers because of the exorbitant interest rates ... it goes up to 60 per cent!! If things are straightened out he could avail himself of a bank loan and breathe easy. But who cares about the producer's fate? Is there an actor who insists on portraying women with dignity, on screen? If there is such an actor, I'm willing to leave everything else and work for his political success ... "

His family ...

"My wife is my manager ... she takes care of all my work schedules ... " he says with pride. His three school going sons love their dad's performance. "But they feel very sad when I am bashed up by the hero," he laughs.

Connecting through the arts

CONDUCTING THEATRE and acting workshops has always been on Nasser's agenda. In June this year, he had been to Singapore to hold one. "I've always been doing it. Schools and colleges invite me for such interactive sessions and I accept them with pleasure. Recently I had also been to GRD College in Coimbatore for the purpose." He is a regular at Pondicherry University's Department of Drama. Nasser has given his voice for about eight stories of the audiocassette of `Karadi Tales' so far. "These activities give me the oxygen to carry on in Kodambakkam," he says. When a father calls him up from Dubai to say that his child loves listening to Nasser's narration, the compliment is something he cherishes more than anything else.

"A lot of homework has to be done before every workshop. And sometimes many last minute changes have to be made. Like during this Singapore trip, I was given to understand that my students would all be television artistes. But there you don't get leave easily. So only half the number could turn up. Therefore we took in other aspirants too, from the age group of 15 to 55. As I had planned the programme for TV actors I had to make a lot of changes to suit the heterogeneous group. I accept only small groups, say about 20 at a time. Only then can I give individual attention. These projects give me immense satisfaction ... " says Nasser. "I want to connect with Tamils all over the globe ( It is any day more purposeful than star nites," he adds. Nasser also runs a Centre for Tamil Arts, called Adavu, that includes folk arts, story telling, research and docu-filmmaking. Nasser is definitely different from others of his ilk. He shrugs his shoulders and smiles: "I am not ... they are."


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