“Working on Patang has had an enormous impact on every role I have done since” – Nawazuddin Siddiqui

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Nawazuddin Siddiqui, if you don’t know his name, you soon will. The young actor has made quite the splash in Indian films with performances in Peepli Live, New York and most recently in Kahaani. He also has several big films getting ready for release this year including the upcoming Gangs of Wasseypur and later this year Talaash, plus if you can believe it six more. However, did you know that his first major role was in Prashant Bhargava’s beautiful Patang? In the film, he plays Chakku, a young man with a lot of angst, anger and no direction, whose life is transformed not only with his interactions with some street kids, but also the kite flying festival that is at the heart of Patang. The character is a bit of a tough guy, who struts and fights, but with the kids he becomes someone else. It was a role that Nawazuddin says immediately intrigued him, not only because he got to work with children, but also because of the way Patang was filmed, he had to throw away everything he learned about acting and just be and respond. I got the fabulous chance to talk with the actor while he was in the US. The interview was actually conducted with both Nawaz and director Prashant on the phone, who translated my questions and his answers for me. (Thank you Prashant!) It worked out rather well, as you will see, because there are some amazing answers. Read on to find out about Nawaz and his experience on Patang!

What drew you to the role?
I was really attracted to this role because I heard that I was going to be acting with children and that requires you to be very responsive. You have to improvise with them because they are non-actors and you really have to keep it real with them. You have to let go of everything you’ve learned and just be. That challenge of that role and of this process immediately kind of attracted me that, wow this is something different and I want to be part of it.

What did you like about your character Chakku?
I saw and met a Chakku like character in real life and from that I was drawn to just how real the portrayal of the character was in terms of the script and the process. Also it was completely unlike what I was doing for the roles I was cast in Bollywood. Just by the truth of the character and also observing the person in real life, it really interested me. It really meant a lot to me.

When I was watching the film I could never quite figure out who Chakku was. Because he was this big tough guy, but he was so sweet and tender with the children. Who was he to you?
At home, with the arrival of his uncle, he sort of freaks out. His home life was not that good and he never received love from his father. He wants to enjoy life, but he does not get that energy from home. With his uncle coming, there was so much anger there, they never saw eye to eye. So when he is with these kids he gets that energy to open up and live life. It just opened up something else inside the character, and it’s still the swagger and all of that, but with the kids he could be that leader he couldn’t be at home. He was somewhat put down at home. When he met these kids it became something that was much more, where he could let go and show a lot of his kindness.

There was that last scene, when Chakku hangs the garland on the picture, what did that mean to him?
He had this interaction with his uncle during the course of the day and there was so much going on that was very disturbing on that front and then all the interactions with the kids. When he saw this image of his father, rushes of memories came back in terms of the brighter moments of their relationships. It was just a way to acknowledge that and a way to move forward.

You have said that you had to ‘let go and live on the screen’. Was it scary to work like that?
Actually the fear came not through the uncertainty of the process for me, but the reality of how it actually unfolded. I’ve never done something like this before. Real involvement with the kids was scary because we were shooting on real locations with real people who were unaware of the shooting. So it was scary in terms of the response that we would receive from them.

The director explained one story. There were a couple of scenes and two of them actually where great scenes, but were deleted. One of them was a scene were he went up to a sunglasses stand and his objective from my end was he and these four-five kids were tp go up and steal three pairs of sunglasses and no one knew about it. We were pretending to film other things and our sound guy was way off somewhere else hidden. He comes up and he starts stealing the sunglasses and he steals one and then steals another one and on the third one he gets caught. Being a Muslim in this area of the old city of Ahmedabad where there’s been a lot of Hindu-Muslim conflict, for him doing something illegal there and also being a Muslim it can really result in something awful happening. They grabbed him and they shouted at him and the crew came in and interrupted and that eventually provided him with some comfort. It really scared him a great deal to kind of venture into those territories. To be so forward sometimes in these scenes.

As an actor, what was it like to act in such a different film, with such an uncertain process?
At first it was scary, because you are implementing what you’ve learned (He studied at NSD, the national school of drama in India -ed), but you have to give up all of that. The kind of acting that I was used to doing and also the kind I’ve learnt – all that I had to let go of when I was with the kids. Eventually I got used to the process and I started enjoying it. At first, it was very hard and scary for me too, because I would try to come in with some sort of preconceived idea and then I would get very stiff because these kids would not do what they are supposed to as it was written in the script. They would do whatever they feel like. But eventually I kind of rose to the occasion and all that fear went away when I decided alright fine I’m just going to react to them and when I react to them I’m just going to be there. When that happened it really freed me up and that fear started to lift. But it was something I had never done before like this. It’s also something that has impacted the future work that I do.

After working on the film, did it change you as an actor?
When I did this role with enthusiasm, it really allowed me to understand what it truly meant to be comfortable on screen, natural and respond. And now whenever I do something I recall that long and challenging process on Patang as almost a barometer for what I do next. It’s something I can always return to and it has had an enormous impact on every role. Now people are really noticing me and everyone says regardless of what I do ‘Wow! How are you so natural?’ And I say the time on Patang was the major turning point for me for when I realized how to tap into that and I really understood it in a way that I can recall it. It was a very good thing for my craft. Working with those kids is something that is always going to be with me and is very much the motivation for what I am doing now.

What did you feel when you watched the finished film?
I enjoyed the film. It captured the city very authentically and it’s something completely novel in the way that it was shot and put together. But when I watch myself act I sometimes felt I could have done it another way. I don’t get satisfaction from it. I always feel that I could have added a little more. I feel like I could have improved upon it. Lots of self-criticism happening. Also, honestly we had done so many scenes in this film. We had done so much exploration and for every scene there was so much more that transpired. And sometimes when I watch the film, which was edited and brought down to size, I felt like I wish I saw more of it. I want to see this part that happened here or I wanted to see this journey happen. There are moments in the film and I recall there was this thing we shot then I wish you (he says to the director) had put it in.

After seeing him in Patang we must agree with Prashant, who said in our interview with him, “I think he is destined to be something quite amazing. There is a power that he has as Nawaz Siddiqui that is going to be something really special.” Apparently directors agree too because he has many more great performances in store for us. Be sure to see his outstanding work in Patang when it opens on June 15th!

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