Birthday Special: Naseeruddin Shah's Best Roles
There's a beautiful quote I once read by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, 'No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight of the soul.'
I've always perceived the artistry of Naseeruddin Shah along the same lines. An extraordinary actor and star, his greatest accomplishment is his unpredictability fascinating beyond the brands of filmmaking.
In one film, he'll crunch your heart with his disturbing finds of human psyche, in another he's ridiculing those very ideals and in still another, he's just plain mean looking for zero redemption. But all this time, he's magnetic and credible. He's peculiar and yet he's not.
There's no pinning down the magic and methods of one of India's best actors but there's celebrating, 62 years of him. Yes, that's how old the actor turns today and we honour his unbelievably loaded oeuvre by picking 15 of my favourite Naseer performances.
P:S: Of course, it's an incomplete list considering the impossibility of fitting them all in one space. But bear, indulge and post in your picks.
Unlike random star sons making leather-clad debuts on a swanky bike, Naseer chose to play a diffident brother to his more unscrupulous predecessors with his share of complexes in Shyam Benegal's disturbing depiction of feudal tyranny. Aces, this.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah with Smita Patil in Nishant
Shashi Kapoor's tour de force in this first-rate Shyam Benegal creation has an equally passionate supporting act from Naseer.
The obvious histrionics and ferocity with which he plays the mutinous Sarfaraz Khan, striving against the 'angrez' mouthing its most memorable line, 'Hum Dilli Haar Gaye Hai' with all his might, is simply wow.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah with Shabana Azmi in Junoon
The irony and disappointment faced by a lawyer by the fiercely convoluted legal-social system is effectively portrayed in Naseer's intensity and Govind Nihalani's powerful shift from cinematographer to director.
His interactions with the Puris -- Amrish, the mentor and Om, the objective are especially absorbing.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Aakrosh
Not a believer in perfection?
Clearly you've not seen a flawless Naseer in Sai Paranjype's sensitive romance, Sparsh.
Essentially, a love story between a reserved widow and a proud, blind principal of a school that share his disability, Sparsh is a lone example of doing it right.
Much credit to the actor, then 30, for bringing out the dark but protective, confused and tender facets of his Anirudh with commendable grace and accuracy.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh
Mirza Ghalib (1988)
If a performance could be laminated, Naseer's accomplished portrayal of/in Mirza Ghalib qualifies as one.
Doesn't matter if the biopic is technically not a designed-for-big screen endeavour, Gulzar's vision and the actor's realisation of the legendary Urdu poet are easily one of the most striking triumphs of their individual resume.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Mirza Ghalib
This underrated NFDC gem directed by Vijaya Mehta set in South Mumbai doesn't feature him in the title role but Naseer with his endearing Parsi accent and quirks is an absolute win.
Right from his body language to his innate genius for getting under the protagonist's skin as Pirojshah against Anupam Kher's engaging Pestonjee with a chemistry that dazzled their more recent A Wednesday as well.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Pestonjee
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983)
In a movie brimming with memorably madcap characters, right from the uproariously corrupt Tarneja/Ahujas to the wandering, most-wanted corpse D'Mello, Naseer keeps it real and romantic to compliment his goofier companion, Ravi Baswani.
But his humorous side comes out in ripples when asked for secret codes or fancy-dressing to participate in the iconic Mahabharat stage scene. Jai ho!
Image: Naseeruddin Shah with Ravi Baswani in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron
And so you bring in Naseer, wonderful, nimble Naseer, as he goes on to achieve multi-dimensions as a man genuinely trying to change his nightmarish new designations -- a guilty husband and unable-to-commit father.
In the end, his efforts are suitably rewarded -- on and off screen.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah with Shabana Azmi in Masoom
Mirch Masala (1987)
Lecherous, vicious, obstinate and autocratic Naseer demonstrates an entire shade card of evil as the relentless Subedar in Smita Patil's pursuit to make Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala a vividly kinetic experience.
The Subedar has sparks of SP Sultan Singh (J P Dutta's Ghulami) but the latter is brutal product of cheap jealousy and chauvinistic conditioning whereas Subedar is unapologetically, irreversibly vile.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Mirch Masala
One never thinks of Naseer in terms of box office but if there is one actor who has, on more than one occasion, bridged the gap between art and commerce, it's him.
Although Pankaj Parashur's cop caper borrows generously from Eddie Murphy starrer, Beverly Hills Cop, his stylish packaging of the actor in an uber cool avatar not only changed viewer perception but also underscored his much celebrated versatility.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Jalwa
There's much to admire in Gulzar's intimate take on relationships and its legendary composer R D Burman's pitch-perfect soundtrack that reads its essence.
And while the ladies -- Rekha and Anuradha Patel -- convey their share of strength and luminosity, it is Naseer's tangible inner chaos and vulnerability that gives this complicated triangle its true core.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Ijaazat
Bombay Boys (1998)
It's one of his most outrageous roles (alright nothing beats the lime bikini in Tehelka) as the ferociously over-the-top, theatrical underworld don, Mastana in Kaizad Gustad's audacious feature.
Naseer, however, has so much blast unleashing the possibilities of emotional exaggerations and extremes in a film that doesn't bear the baggage of mainstream, it's impossible not to be blown away.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Bombay Boys
Jaane Tu... Yaa Jaane Naa (2008)
Length has never been an obstacle for Naseeruddin Shah.
Whether he's playing an author-backed title or contributing in not more than three scenes, the man breathes excellence.
As the deceased Rajput turned chatty model in a painting hanging imposingly is his wife's flat, Naseer's hilariously feisty Amar Singh Rathore, anxious to see his pacifist son fulfil all the three mandatory conditions to qualify as a true Ranjhore male, is one of the most delightful cameos of last decade.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Jaane Tu... Yaa Jaane Naa
A Wednesday (2008)
Armed with a cell phone and staunch ideology that refuses to let have terrorism its way, Naseer plays an angry, anonymous Mumbaikar stirring the system within a span of few hours with his cleverly thought out strategy.
The restraint in his resentment and spine in his conviction conveys a compelling picture of society's greatest victim -- the common man in Neeraj Pandey's tidy thriller.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday
Dil toh bachcha hai ji, Naseer's take on these lilting Gulzar lines is so perfectly captured in his subdued, nuanced and lingering performance as the mild-mannered, lovelorn, old school Khalu.
While his co-stars Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi have clearly more snazzy parts, Naseer modestly controls the tone of their scenes with a assured mix of experience and reckoning.
Image: Naseeruddin Shah in Ishqiya