Culture

Why we love Nawazuddin Siddiqui

The indie poster boy is giving Bollywood blockbusters a subtle makeover

If you look up Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s filmography, you’ll scroll into a past lined with untitled roles — criminal (Sarfarosh), waiter (Shool), pick-pocket (Munna Bhai MBBS). These were early victories in the Muzaffarnagar native’s 17-year-long Bollywood pursuit. Now, Siddiqui, 42, is a well-trumpeted name even on big-ticket 100-crore runners. After overshadowing Varun Dhawan as the vile-but-lovable criminal Liaq in Badlapur, the actor was juggling two Khan-led releases. In the first, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the annual Eid spectacle from Salman Khan, Nawaz plays accomplice to a Hanuman-devotee, on a journey to take a young mute Pakistani girl home. Later, he will tranform into a cop in pursuit of SRK in Rahul Dholakia’s Raees. Cause for celebration, sure, but mostly caution. “After a life of struggle, when you finally find success, there is a tendency to rise a few inches off the ground,” he says. 

He controls symptoms of bloated head by actively looking for roles that can manage to make him feel insecure. Like the time he struggled to inhabit the single-minded Dashrath Manjhi, a man who spent 22 years chipping away at a mountain for a woman he loved in Ketan Mehta’s upcoming Manjhi: The Mountain Man. “It has been the most difficult role of my life. I couldn’t understand it because I’ve never loved anyone as intensely.”

Siddiqui’s indie-commercial balance might be tipping in favour of glossy blockbusters for now, but he isn’t speaking their language just yet. “Our industry has a habit of labelling method actors ‘too serious’,” he says. “But if you have a brain, why hesitate to use it?” 

Bajrangi Bhaijaan releases on July 17 and Manjhi: The Mountain Man releases on August 21

You may also want to read: 15 minutes with Radhika Apte