Earlier this week, actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui took to social media to make a statement regarding his newly-published autobiography, An Ordinary Life. “I am apologising to everyone who’s [sic] sentiments are hurt because of the chaos around my memoir, “An Ordinary Life”. I hereby regret and decide to withdraw my book,” he tweeted and posted.
The trouble began when an excerpt from the book was published in a national newspaper. It was from the chapter titled “Relationships”, in which the 44-year-old actor talks about his relationships with fellow actors Sunita Rajwar and his Miss Lovely co-star, Niharika Singh. While Rajwar’s full name is not disclosed, the sections about Singh were more detailed, leading the actress to denounce Siddiqui for not taking her consent before publishing his autobiography. Later, in a long Facebook post, Rajwar wrote that the 44-year-old actor’s version of events are “extraordinary lies”. She countered his memories of their relationship, calling him a “sympathy seeker”, and that she ended the relationship because of his “poor way of thinking”.
Siddiqui did not address either of these statements made by his former colleagues and lovers, so perhaps it was the legal complaint that shook him. A Delhi-based advocate, Gautam Gulati, filed a complaint against the actor in the National Commission for Women (NCW) for “outraging the modesty of his Miss Lovelyco-star.” He lodged a complaint with the NCW, seeking direction for the registration of an FIR under Sections 376 (rape), 497 (adultery) and 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman) of IPC.
The complaint read: “The actor has published it without having second thoughts about how this kind of act can ruin the married life of the victim. For minting money and garnering free publicity for his book, the actor has bargained the modesty of a woman”. In a statement to the press, Gulati stressed that Siddiqui was “evidently married when he was having an affair with Niharika and kept her in the dark about it.”
Thanks to an advanced proof made available to some members of the press, a few of us have had the opportunity to read what Siddiqui’s publishers, Penguin Random House, were pitching as the “most anticipated book of the year”. Written with Rituparna Chatterjee, An Ordinary Life charts the journey of one of India’s most exciting and acclaimed actors, from his childhood in Budhana, in Uttar Pradesh, to his training at the National School of Drama; from working as a chemist’s assistant at his uncle’s shop, to being a security guard in Delhi, to the many years of struggle in Mumbai, spent in despair and desperation, as he tried to get roles in an industry that had little room for a dark-skinned, small-built man from the heartlands.
In the light of the events that have transpired since the excerpt was published, one thing is clear — autobiographies are a tricky business, because they often blur the lines between honesty and truth. It takes writers years to understand and appreciate that difference, and to use it masterfully to tell their story.
Siddiqui’s autobiography, like most others, walks the line between his idea of himself, and how the world perceives him. So many of his actions are simply reactions in the course of his engagement with the world around him. As an actor, Siddiqui writes, he has thought long and hard about the background of the characters he plays, their relationships with other participants, and what compels them to act the way they do. If he had applied the same technique when it came to his autobiography, it would have made for a richer, more layered read.
So much of what we consider the truth about ourselves comes from recognising the patterns we exhibit, over the course of many, many years. There is no doubt that Siddiqui is a remarkable man who trumped all kinds of adversity to become as successful as he is today. His single-minded focus to become an actor, against all odds, is the stuff of Bollywood legend today.
But sometimes, a long fight only makes us harder, less empathetic, less willing to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes. When it comes to some people, especially his former lovers, Siddiqui uses broad brushstrokes to define and describe them, thus robbing them of any agency they might have had as players in his life story. The writer is under no compulsion to be kind, but often, it is under the garb of honesty that we inflict unnecessary pain to others.
Controlling the narrative is a power move, and by painting them as one-dimensional beings, he commits his biggest blunder as a storyteller. It is not what we say, but how we say them, that tells our readers and listeners much more about who we really are, than who we think we are. Removing the book from the market is an act of appeasement, and perhaps it will soothe all those ruffled feathers. But it does nothing to save Nawazuddin Siddiqui the writer, a man who told his story but lacked the courage to stand by it.
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