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Journalism of Courage

‘I miss the rigours of theatre’

Adil Hussain, who recently bagged a major Norwegian award, talks about ‘sliding in and out of roles’ during shoots, and a new play in which he plays both Krishna and Arjuna

SOON after his much-acclaimed appearance in Mukti Bhawan (2016) as a harrowed employee trying to meet the annual target as well as an obedient son, who unquestioningly fulfills his father’s wish to spend his last days in Varanasi, actor Adil Hussain had been enjoying international attention for the Norwegian-Urdu movie What Will People Say (Hva vil folk si). In this Iram Haq-directed movie, Hussain plays an Oslo-based Pakistani immigrant, who forcibly takes his teenage daughter to Pakistan to live with their relatives and adapt to their traditional culture. This performance fetched Hussain the Kanon Prisen Award, considered to be Norway’s top recognition in cinema, for best supporting actor, last week.

As Hussain talks about What Will People Say winning multiple Kanon Awards, he adds with a chuckle that he is “delightfully surprised”. What makes the award “special” for Hussain is the fact that the jury members are peers. “Members of the Norwegian film industry, including directors, actors and screenwriters, vote for it,” says Hussain and adds that the movie is being released in all the Scandinavian countries. The movie based on Haq’s real-life experience, fetched her the Kanon Award for Best Director and Best Screenplay, apart from travelling to a number of international festivals. When she was 14, Haq was “kidnapped” by her parents and “forced to live for one-and-a-half years in Pakistan”.

Haq had Hussain in mind for the role of Mirza, who, with his hard work, has provided a better life to his family in a foreign land even as he holds on to his Pakistani culture. A casting director put them in touch. To understand the character, Hussain did not have to look far. “It was not very different from what I had experienced in my life. My father was extremely in love with me at the same time he was brutally strict when I hurt his patriarchal belief. He was egoistical. For him, he is the one who took the decisions. It is almost schizophrenic. He dedicated his entire life to educate us and did not spend enough money on himself. So, there are times he claims us more,” says Hussain, who is the youngest of seven siblings.

Does life’s experience make it easier for an actor to portray certain scenarios? “Generally, it does. It depends on what kind of actor you are. Then, you don’t want to depend on the imagination unless you are playing Spiderman. However, it’s different when one has to play Oedipus, who killed his father and slept with his mother. The immensity of that tragedy — how do you show that? I have no idea. That’s when the mysterious processes (of acting) come in,” he says. Last year, What Will People Say was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival and Dharamshala International Film Festival.

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Calling himself a “latecomer” in the film industry, the Delhi-based actor says he might have been a teacher — he taught at the National School of Drama, Delhi — however, it’s a totally different experience to act in movies himself. “I might be able to point out to an actor what’s working and what’s not. However, cinema is a director’s medium. So, I submit to the director, if he or she thinks my work is okay, I go by that,” he says. The actor, who came to prominence with his role in Ishqiya (2010), rarely sees the final result of his scenes. “That’s because I’m not a filmmaker. I’m just an actor trying to fit into a paatra (character),” the 54-year-old adds.

Instead of “switching on” as an actor while facing the camera to play a character, he believes in “sliding in and out”. Hussain says: “During the shooting of Life of Pi (2012), I have seen French actor Gerard Depardieu -— cracking jokes and then next moment doing a scene. I managed to do that while acting in Sunrise (2014). There was no method acting at play — I would be having fun and when the director would say, ‘Adil ready?’ I would ask for 20 seconds and I was there.”

This year, Hussain intends to take fewer movie assignments and focus on building a new play, which is written by Dilip Shankar. By his own admission, Hussain has been missing “the rigours of theatre” and he realised it when his wife Kristen Jain pointed it out. “The play explores the essence of Bhagavad Gita. I’m going to play, both Krishna and Arjuna, in it. We are preparing the play in such a way that I can present it anywhere, even in your drawing room, without lights and costume,” says the actor, who will be seen next in the Rajinikanth-starrer, 2.0, Love Sonia, an international project about sex trafficking, and Bioscopewala, an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala.

First published on: 17-03-2018 at 12:21:00 am
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