Life beyond films... real and special!
Naseeruddin Shah has said goodbye to masala films and is busy doing meaningful theatre in a big way. Along the way, he has found time and space for disabled children. In New Delhi this past week to help children with special needs, he shares special things with RANA A. SIDDIQUI about his career, his joys, his disappointments... .
Naseeruddin Shah... no more "Encounter", time now for meaningful theatre. Photos: Anu Pushkarna.
NASEERUDDIN SHAH is visibly upset. He is not facing the camera, nor giving sound bytes to scribes. Dressed in arrogance to go with his purple shirt and grey jeans, his demeanour is akin to that of an Army-man. "I wanted this affair to be less high-profile," he reveals the reason for the creases on his forehead. He is in New Delhi to celebrate the silver jubilee of Aadi, Action for Ability Development and Inclusion, formerly The Spastic Society of Northern India. The organisation is holding painting and theatre workshops for children with disabled artists of repute. Naseeruddin Shah is now the brand ambassador for Aadi "for an absolute giving" which has opened "a significant chapter" in his life.
To begin with, he is making a contribution along with his wife Ratna Pathak Shah and daughter Heeba Shah in the form of three stage productions. "Ismat Aapa ke Naam", his repeat plays based on three women-oriented stories by famed Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai and `Manto, Ismat Hazir Hain" based on five stories of Saadat Hasan Manto that includes Manto's "Kali Shalwar" for the first time. "These plays have brought tremendous response, more than other plays put together in my lifetime," Naseer reveals. They will be will staged at FICCI auditorium this Monday to raise funds for Aadi.
"I wanted to spend some time with children here rather than giving interviews and boasting of what I have just begun to do. I wonder just because I am here today to contribute a bit to this segment of society, cameramen are overactive. Nobody bothered to write about Aadi who have been silently making significant changes in their lives for last 25 years!"
After venting his uncomfortable feelings, he seems to be calm. "I am here to make friends with disabled kids. Share their experience and then know what they need from us. Though for me disability is not an absolutely alien subject as one of uncles at home was blind. And during my school days in Aligarh Muslim University I had a few blind students in my class. I always used to be amazed at their fascinating behaviour. But I could only observe them closely later during the making of `Sparsh'." And we all know, this film of early 1980s, had established him as a class performer.
"It is not difficult to be motivated by a personal tragedy but it is definitely difficult to be motivated only for the sake of it," he philosophies.
"It is not a secret anymore that actors are more for entertainment, over-paid, over-privileged. But one can always do best in the area he is in. What bothers me is very little interest that we show towards hard work," Naseer is getting absolutely overwhelmed by the alarming ratio of disabled in India out of which only 45 per cent have access to education while 2000 organisations are working for them across the country.
He is here to make a tangible difference "not through entering into politics, never," he warns those who are trying to read between the lines.
So does it mean goodbye to films? "Yes! The kind of commercial cinema that is being made these days, I will never work in it. I am fed up of masala films. The very thought of working and watching those films makes me puke," Naseer minces no words, hides no disgust and contempt.
Is this the reason that he has not been seen on the big screen after his last film "Encounter"? "Yes."
So what is his next move? "Theatre. Meaningful theatre which is proving to be more satisfying for me as an actor as well as a human being," he emphasises.
So what is he doing in theatre that has quenched his thirst of artistic pursuit? "I have started taking our classical writers for plays. Ismat and Manto to begin with. I teach theatre to small children in Mumbai. I take theatre classes for some young and aspiring students of the National School of Drama for which I come from Mumbai very often."
What does he aim to do with that? "If as an actor, I make some contribution in the field of acting, I will feel I have done something significant."
How does being a brand ambassador of Aadi help? Hasn't the thought come a little late in his life? "Yes, but came, which is more significant. Better late than never. But I alone will not be make a difference. I feel sorry for talking about my being here before glaring camera flashes. I never craved for space in print. I have just begun today. And they are doing it for 25 years! My salute to them," he is emotionally charged.
His contribution to theatre through classical writers has opened a new chapter in this realm. But how far is he satisfied with what others are doing in this realm? "Lot of work is being done and it is a must because it is only out of the lot that the best can be picked up."
Mumbai breathes theatre. What about Delhi? "In Mumbai also people are making third-rate bedroom farces but the fact goes that theatre is more vibrating here."
In Delhi, it is Naseer's name that draws crowd. People are just not watching others. "Is it my fault", he shoots back.
Would he do stage on all stories of Manto? "I intend to. God willing."
Would he do something substantial for spastic children in future? "Inshallah!"
"Hello Uncle", a wheelchair-bound little girl touches him. Naseer turns back. "Oh! Hi. Sorry, I forgot your name."
"I want your autograph. My papa loves you very much. He has sent his hello to you," the child has clear speech, though she takes some time in articulating. "Definitely," he signs an autograph and returns her father's greeting. He ruffles her hair, moves to other children. He wishes to spend time with them, not media.
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