“Maybe I need to be more careful.” Sitting on a cot on the terrace of his ancestral house in his native town, Nawazuddin Siddiqui says this is the thought going through his mind.
This is the longest break he has taken in Budhana since he moved to Mumbai to pursue a career in films 16 years ago. The family house, minimalist but sprawling, with construction still underway in parts, shows the success he has achieved since. The rooms in the front are full of visitors, being attended to by Siddiqui’s family. Above the terrace where he sits cross-legged, in a grey T-shirt and canvas shoes, his German Shepherd is angrily circling, keeping watch.
However, this Thursday evening, a day after he was forced out of his village Ramlila, Siddiqui seems a world away from the trappings of stardom. “I am a simple man who enjoys getting into the skin of different characters. But recently some incidents have forced me to contemplate about things… I need some change… Maybe I need to be more careful,” says the 42-year-old, the eldest of nine siblings.
The sounds of hawkers calling out to customers, while carefully avoiding open drains in the narrow lane dotted with kirana shops, travel up to the terrace of the two-storey house. The generators all around add a constant hum, helping fight some of the humidity in this power-starved area. Today evening too, there is a power cut.
The “incidents” Siddiqui refers to are the protests by the Shiv Sena to him playing the character of Ravana’s brother Maarich in the Ramlila, and the police complaint filed by Siddiqui’s younger brother’s wife against him and his parents, alleging “torture”.
Siddiqui says he was always “fascinated” by the character of Ram. “I had a friend called Madan Mohan who played Ram in the village production, and somehow, in real life too, he exuded that grace and charm. We were all terribly naughty in school, but not Madan. He would walk around asking people to behave… Everyone respected him. That was also the first time I thought of becoming an actor, I wanted that kind of respect too,” he says, asking one of his nieces to get him a cup of green tea. The others in the house, including the guests, are having the regular chai, with milk and sugar. “Thoda weight ka dhyan dena padta hai (I need to watch my weight),” Siddiqui smiles.
Pointing to a roof across his house, where his relatives live, he says they were some of his biggest dectractors when he dropped out of his M.Sc course in Baroda to join the National School of Drama. “During the days of my struggle, they mocked me for being short, dark… kehte the kya actor banega (they said look who wants to become an actor). Even when Gangs of Wasseypur released, they told people in the village that it wasn’t me, but a lookalike….” he laughs.
“Between 2000 and 2006, I only made two trips to the village… Bahut sharam aati thi (I felt embarrassed),” he adds, rising from the cot in the middle of the conversation to wave to a few children, who have been sneaking glances at the actor from behind boundary walls of the neighbouring terraces.
That hesitation ended with the critically acclaimed Gangs of Wasseypur. Siddiqui believes his role of ‘Faizal Khan’ in the film got him noticed in the industry, though he counts his role in Raman Raghav 2.0 as his best so far. Now, Siddiqui makes “at least one trip in six months” to
However, he still doesn’t travel with the entourages associated with Bollywood. Just two people: his manager and a security person. “Pehle zaroorat nahin lagti thi, par ab security zaroori hai. Kuchch bhi ho sakta hai (I didn’t feel the need earlier, but now security is needed. Anything can happen),” Siddiqui says.
Back in the village, he fills his time with farming. “My father was a farmer… All through my school and college years, I helped him on the fields. It comes very naturally to me. Abhi kuchch dinon mein sarson ki kheti shuroo hogi (In a few days, mustard farming will begin).”
While he can fit in anywhere, he adds, “Bombay… Budhana… Cannes”, “The conversations here are different… Shadi-byah, kiske ghar mein kya hua, sabko sab kuchch janana hai (Marriage, what’s happening in other people’s homes, people want to know everything). It is a small community. It is not the same in Mumbai.”
A rare blush across his intense face, Siddiqui adds, “Yahan sab bahut cool hain (People here are very cool)… They are always happy to see me.”
“Budhana is a peaceful place. Even during the Muzaffarnagar riots (of 2013), this was the only area that was unaffected… People were dying 2-3 km from here. But nothing happened in our kasba. Even for the Ramlila, people here were so excited to see me perform. But then I didn’t want any trouble.”
As darkness descends, people on the nearby terraces start retreating indoors. The Ramlila is set to begin in a few hours. Will he attend the show? “No, no,” says Siddiqui, rising. “There have been many rejections in my life, this is a small one. Maybe I will perform next year.”