It goes without saying that Nawazuddin Siddiqui is one of the finest actors in Bollywood today. With films like Kahaani, Talaash, Gangs of Wasseypur and Raman Raghav 2.0 to his credit, Nawaz has slowly but steadily proved his mettle in the industry. Even in supporting roles, the likes in which other actors go pretty much unnoticed, Nawaz has been able to hold his own and leave an impression in the minds of the audience.
One look at Nawaz’s decade-long career and you can comfortably claim that the actor has, if anything, been brave with his choice of films. Be it playing a notorious serial killer, an immoral goon or an opportunist police officer, Nawaz has proved that he brings to the screen something magical and inexplicable with each of his nuanced performances. And one such highly underrated gem of a film is the 2017 release Haraamkhor.
In Haraamkhor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Shyam, a schoolteacher in a remote North-Indian village living with his wife, who happens to be a former student of his. He is sexually involved with Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi), a 15-year-old student who lives with her father. Kamal is a younger classmate of Shweta who is also in love with her. Haraamkhor makes for some very uncomfortable viewing in short.
While we have seen Nawaz play opportunist, conniving characters before, with Haraamkhor, he pushes the envelope further. The manipulative teacher Shyam is a kind of lecherous fellow who can go against the moral grain of even the most liberal and radical of viewers.
In simple words, Shyam is a predator (like Ramanna in Raman Raghav 2.0, but a lot less in-your-face). While director Shlok Sharma has made sure that none of the characters are shown in a good or bad light, Nawaz’s Shyam is the one who most us will consider the culprit. We very well know that the girl is infatuated and everything is happening with consent but our moral compasses will say that it’s still wrong. And the various disclaimers informing viewers that sex with a minor is a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code does not help his case. Now in addition, he also has a volatile temper and is shown beating up adolescent students in anger.
But it is to Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s prowess in his craft that he manages to up his ante with this performance too. No, it is not like mainstream Bollywood actors haven’t played antagonists previously, even Nawaz has had his fair share of such characters. But Haraamkhor’s Shyam is one such creepy fellow that solicits only mistrust and disgust from viewers, nothing more. He is never shown in a good light and is always portrayed as a man who can’t contain his lust. There is debauchery in his eyes and a street-smart evil in his gait. Nawaz’s choice of playing such a character is plain confident, ballsy and brave.
Never for a moment in the 90 minutes run of the film, does Nawaz let himself overpower the character. His craft is so flawless that you never see him on the screen, you always see Shyam. And for that purpose, Nawaz works with his body as much as the face, nailing the movements and gestures of his character. Some subtle details that especially stand out include the way he squats while teaching the children and the way he keeps the hands behind as he walks, left one on top of the right. The way he casually flirts with a school colleague and his sudden bouts of violence against his students seem absolutely natural.
A gravely important scene in this regard is one where we see his tryst with Sandhya in the isolated, dusty background of the windmills. Observed from a distance, the scene is harrowing to look at. Shyam first pulls the girl’s duppatta away, then tries to hug her as one can’t make out whether Sandhya is hesitant at first. But she does give in later. And Nawaz’s performance truly stands out. He is neither sympathetic nor loathsome in his craft demonstrating exactly why he has become the poster boy of Mumbai’s indie cinema. In a following long sequence in which Nawaz grovels before his wife when she decides to walk out on him and begs her not to punish him, he proves his mettle yet again.
With Haraamkhor, Nawazuddin leaves you wondering whether any actor who has stepped on the Indian big screen yet could have delivered an outstanding performance such as this.