How is your lockdown period going?
Great. I am enjoying this time. I keep listening to music, playing different instruments. I cook food, clean the house. I have got the opportunity to do all the things I used to do in my childhood, so, I can’t let this go. I also heartily enjoy cooking. I am also reading some good books these days.
You have also composed music for many films. Have you always been interested in music?
To be honest, I had left my hometown to learn music, but embraced acting. And once I was into it, I started having fun. In the Parsi theatre I was going, you could not act without knowledge of music. That time I learnt one thing that whatever you desire from all your truthful heart, you get it. But your desire is very important. If you want something with perseverance, then at least you can find a way to reach there. That Parsi theatre showed me the way to life. There I used to do all the work with music and acting, setting stage, decorating, digging pits, making tents, etc. It was not that if you are an actor, then you will only do acting. After 6 years in the theatre, I moved to NSD (National School Of Drama). My musical soul got more place here. It is not that I am a master. But I have a hobby and I enjoy it very much. If I do not keep this hobby alive, then I may feel left alone. Let me tell you, if you are involved with music then you can never feel alone. It is an addiction and I am immersed in it.
You are playing an important character in the film Ghoomketu. Tell us something about it?
In Ghoomketu, I am playing the role of Nawazuddin’s father, with a short temper. He feels that the kind of life he have lived is absolutely right. He has a grocery shop and wants his son to do the same. But the son does not want to do that. He wants to become a writer. In our villages and small towns, people still think that what the father is doing, the son should also do the same. It was the same with me in real life. I am from a small village. As a child, I even grazed cows and buffaloes. There was no connection with music or acting. But I think that era was full of great art.
There was no TV, nor radio, there used to be only one shop in the whole village where they used to keep gramophone and people used to listen to songs from that. And we used to go to watch Ramleela, what great and fierce performers they were! How can you not love art while living in such an environment. Since then, I am still learning, I enjoy learning a lot.
You have previously worked with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in 3 more films (Firaaq, Peepli Live, Aaja Nachle). How is the experience working with him?
I enjoy working with everyone. At the same time, if someone comes from the theatre background like Nawaz, then there is more happiness. Then it seems that the shooting should go on, it should never end.
You have been a part of this industry for more than three decades. Are your satisfied with the way it is going forward?
No, I am not satisfied. If I will be satisfied, I will be finished (laughs). The day I get satisfied, my quest will end. I am working here just for the purpose of learning. In Television, in films, anywhere I work, there is a craving inside. Every time I look at my work, I think I could have done better.
What are the things you keep in mind while choosing films?
To tell you the truth, even if one line of that character touches my heart, and I find it truthful, then I do the film. I just need to see the truth in the character. It should not be forced. Some characters are given a strange tongue-in-cheek accent, clothed in a strange way, just to make people laugh. I do not trust such characters.
In your films, which character is your favourite? Or which character did you enjoyed playing the most?
There are many. I have a lot of fun, especially in the theatre. There are many names in films, like Salaam Bombay or a film I did, Raman Raghav (1992). My first film Massey Sahib was very special. People kept saying that the acting of the theatre is different and film is different. So there was a lot of responsibility. But it was a lot of fun doing that film.
You said in an interview that ‘when art becomes business, it loses its soul’. So, you don’t believe in box office or statistics?
Not at all, I still feel that as soon as art becomes business, it loses its soul. No matter how much you try, dishonesty comes. Your focus shifts on gaining and investing money. Why many big budget films are becoming flops, you can know only by seeing the first glimpse. There is no soul in it. Art and culture of our country has suffered a lot due to making it a business. It is slowly coming to an end. I have seen so many beautiful folk songs getting destroyed.
As you have just talked about the music, we would like to know what is your opinion on the recreations of old songs?
I have never been in favour of song remixes or recreations. I do not understand that. It seems that people do not have time, so they quickly make remixes in the direction of making songs. If you are recreating a song that people have not heard and you are presenting it in a better way, then it’s understandable to some extent. But otherwise what is the use? Do you want to show that earlier the song was nothing, now look I have made it tremendous! Now you call me old school or anything, but I do not enjoy remixes.
After television, films, you have started well on OTT. Do you believe it is a good time for artists?
Of course, there are many opportunities and one most beautiful thing is that people have started giving a little attention to good work, not only audiences but producers and directors too. Talking about Pan chayat, it is a simple straight story. In our films, village stories are mostly neglected. The producer and director feel that only the stories of the city attract audiences. But the truth is, even if we keep making films for 200 years, the stories of village culture will not end. I have also lived in small towns of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan. In the movies, mostly you spoil the culture of villages and towns by making them completely rustic. Some great writers have written so much on the stories of the villages like Premchand, one should read them, then you will understand. So I think the change that is coming now, it will lead to betterment.
Your latest web series “Panchayat” has been liked by people a lot. You must be enjoying the success?
I am really very happy that the viewers are enjoying it. I got a call from my village too, people are praising it so much. I think we succeeded. If people are liking the work that we have done, then it seems like the hard work has paid off.