The one thing that strikes you about Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah's personality is his perfect diction that flows in a rich baritone voice. But then as he talks, the thoughts and words strike you too.
A product of National School of Drama in Delhi, Naseeruddin Shah has been impressing Indian and international audience from the time he first captured their attention in Shyam Benegal's movie Nishant (1975). Since then, the extraordinary artist has never stopped impacting his fans with his power-packed performances.
Whether it was portraying Mirza Ghalib on television, playing a role in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in Hollywood, doing a voice over for Karadi Tales or being the hero in an out and out commercial film like Jalwa, there is something about Naseeruddin Shah that appeals to everyone. His explanation about his remarkable and eventful journey from theatre to movies to television is equally remarkably simple, and pithy — it "just happened."
"The fact that I started with serious movies was not out of choice. I was an unemployed actor then. I would have taken any role that came my way. I was lucky that I was spotted by Shyam Benegal and was cast in leading roles right away. I never decided to make myself exclusive to movies, or television or theatre.
There is no point in doing that since they are all performing media. I jumped at the opportunity to act on television when I got a chance, though I am not keen on doing it again since it is time consuming," he says.
It was once in a life time opportunity for theatre aficionados in Muscat to see the icon of Indian film and theatre industry take stage for the NPA Events-organised play Dear Liar in Oman. As he speaks it is evident that Naseeruddin has a special love for theatre.
"I love theatre and that is why I do it. There is no other reason," he states in a matter of fact tone. The actor spoke with high regard about the Indian theatre guru, the late Satyadev Dubey.
"We met through Dubeyji plays in 1975. He was a genius. There can be absolutely no two ways about it. His contribution to theatre in Bombay is greater than anyone else's. Dubeyji worked under very difficult conditions. He never had a home. He used to live in a guest house all his life. His determination was totally inspiring. He was greatly convinced about his vision for theatre which went against the grand kind of theatrical style of people like Alyque Padamsee and so on," he said.
Explaining that it was a great learning experience to work with him, Naseeruddin said, "He had a knack of making us do the right things during a play. He never wanted to waste time in experimenting. He knew what he wanted. With his vast experience of theatre and tremendous knowledge, he was able to distil what he wanted to convey. He laid great emphasis on pronounciation (ucharan). That helped us greatly."
He went on to add, "Dubeyji devised his own kind of group, his own style which depended on the contacts and not on the decorative elements of theatre."
For him, the greatest benefit of working with Dubeyji is to get introduced to George Bernard Shaw. Though I had studied Shaw in school and college, Dubeyji's obsession with Shaw was something else. I had never seen a person so much in love, awe and complete understanding of the writer that Shaw was. Bringing Shaw into our lives is the biggest favour he did us."
His drama group Motley, formed in 1979, is still active in the theatre scene in India.
"We manage to stage a play a year," he said. Speaking about the theatre scene in India, Naseeruddin said, "The encouraging sign is that there are a number of young people engaged in theatre today. That wasn't the case 20 years ago.
"There are young people doing other jobs and coming back to theatre in the evening.
Besides, there is a lot of new playwriting by these youngsters which is what we really need. I can't say signs in theatre are heartening but there is enthusiasm among youngsters."