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Naseer courts Ismat

Actor Naseeruddin Shah is now a compelling storyteller too


HIS RANGE is formidable and his roles have embraced a continuum of acting from blind teacher to brash advertising executive. Recently, however, Naseeruddin Shah has been staging plays based on short stories, with his family in the cast. Looking ahead he hopes to teach and direct, but currently it's the staging of essays by Harishankar Parsai which is keeping him busy.

Your recent plays have focussed on a sort of story telling based on short stories. How did you come to discover and explore this form?

It came from the dearth of current Indian plays available. I, as a sort of desperate measure, resorted to reading some Hindustani literature, first of all the stories of Ismat who was a great writer. I knew her personally but had no idea of the level of her writing. I would visit her and she was quite fond of me. Never once did she suggest I read anything she'd written. On my own I discovered these stories in an English translation and was totally mesmerised by the quality of the story telling.

Along with discovering storytelling, was there a parallel disillusionment with the Bollywood roles you were being offered?

I've never been very comfortable with the Bombay film set-up. I never fitted in and I was never very good in those movies. My orientation into movies was through the early films of Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, etc. To fit into those films, I had to shed all traces of larger-than-life, heroic acting from my work to portray the realistic characters required of me. Having discarded that brash confidence I had when I was 17 or 18, I found it difficult to recover (laughs). So when I was asked to work in these larger-than-life movies and play these roles, I found myself unable to perform the task.

I'd be a liar if I say I never wanted to be well known and celebrated and famous... no one becomes an actor to serve art.

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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