Naseeruddin Shah: My first salary lasted me two weeks
Shortcuts are not part of Naseeruddin Shah's dictionary and you can see the love he has for his chosen profession when you watch him do a Paar or Sparsh with as much passion as he does The Dirty Picture. Lata Kubchandani finds out what evokes such commitment in one of the most talented actors in India.
When did you become an actor?
My school did many plays. I was convinced I could do better than the kids who did them. When I failed in a class, my dad put me into another school.
Here I got together with four friends and enacted scenes from The Merchant of Venice in front of a crowd. And at 14, I knew without doubt this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Suddenly, my grades got better, I got into the cricket team. It changed my life! And my poor misguided dad thought I was studying which I wasn't!
Which roles gave you the greatest joy?
Ghalib has given me the greatest acclaim and a tremendous ego trip! But there have been others -- Masoom, Sparsh, Bhavni Bhavai -- all close to my heart because I wasn't forced into these projects. But surely I can't claim favourites!
Do you have any supportive teachers?
Father Cedric, a Jesuit priest gave me the confidence to perform. I owe him a huge debt for that. In drama school (Ebrahim) Alkazi (former NSD Director) inspired me.
Should one work for passion or pay?
Ideally both. I am lucky to be in a profession that I love and pays me well. But it depends on your priorities. With me it was always about doing what I love and the thought of failure was not something I pondered over. Where my next means come from didn't worry me.
How do you cope with failure?
First of all admit to yourself that you have failed, fallen on your face. Nothing life-damaging about that. I've had my share of failures; films I had great hopes for, but which didn't work. You have got to be philosophical about it.
How do you usually celebrate success?
I think success is for contemplating. Unless you reflect you cannot figure out the reasons for your success.
Is there scope for good actors aside from stereotyped heros?
Yes. Nobody had foreseen Irfan Khan's success. He's been around a long time but hasn't had it easy. You have to persevere otherwise it's easy to succumb and say talent is not recognised.
Your first salary...
As an extra when I was 16 in Aman made by Mohan Kumar. In the last scene where Rajendra Kumar is being taken for his funeral I am standing just behind him, looking very earnest. I got Rs 7.50 and it lasted me two weeks.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah
Photographs: Ethan Miller/ Reuters