Naseeruddin Shah is an actor who speaks his mind and takes stand on issues be it about the plight of the migrant labourers in the wake of the pandemic lockdown or the political situation in the country. In a candid interview with Manjit Thakur of Awaz The Voice, he spoke about interesting things he ended up doing in the lockdown; made honest observations about his alma matter Aligarh Muslim University. Excerpts from the second part of the interview:
Do you believe that our tolerance comes from the legacy of Ras Khan, Rahim and Kabir and it’s in our DNA?
Time will tell; I would also like to believe that it’s in our DNA. Of course the song 'Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai, sabko mera salaam,' that we used to sing was neither a fake expression nor an act of hypocrisy. The messages was heartfelt and truthful. One day, this hatred has to end; it will happen on its own. It will die like a snake that coils around itself and is choked to death.
Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to s Aligarh Muslim University and he called AMU. There he called the place as 'mini Hindustan'. You have studied there; how was your experience?
Persons from three generations in my family had studied in the Aligarh Muslim University. So, I had to go there too; learnt a lot there. Two of my great teachers Mujibur Rahman Saheb and Dr. Zahida Zaidi have encouraged me a lot; they made me believe in my latent and assured me if I have ability I would succeed in my chosen path. Besides, I became familiar with Urdu language. Although Urdu was my first language but I had lost touch with it because I studied in English medium schools.
Those days, however, I also felt, a myopic outlook prevailed in the AMU. Although the AMU boasts of a long list of great writers, story writers, philosophers and historian like Irfan Habib, Sheharyar, Ali Ahmed Saroor, Dr.Rahi Masoom Raza and it was natural for me to get influenced by them.
However, there was also an area of conservatism and narrow mindedness. I was fond of theatre but as per the constitution of the university, boys and girls couldn’t be seen together on the stage. So, we had to perform only all-male dramas. Many times riots were caused because of frivolous and baseless issues. Like a year before I joined, the students had attacked the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ali Azam Jung who had a narrow escape from death. Because of such developments, Aligarh University become infamous. Although majority of the people in the University were peace-loving and all efforts were being made in the direction of making the Aligarh Muslim University a centre for progressive and advanced studies there was also a conservative section that stopped the progress of such an effort. At present I have no idea of the situation there since I haven’t been there.
Naseeruddin Shah in movie Mandi
You started writing during this lockdown and preparing for the plays....
(Smiles) I wrote my autobiography; also translated it in Hindi and Urdu (during the lockdown). It covers the period of my life when I got married to Ratna (Pathak Shah). Thereafter, life moved on smoothly; there was no storm in my life (laughs) and therefore, writing about it was meaningless. The period after that wasn’t so interesting. Struggle is always interesting; when things turn normal and life turns smoothly, it is not interesting.
However, I have many experiences of working in theatre and film industry for 40-45 years. I am writing a sequel to narrate these experiences. I have seasoned my experiences (with some drama) and written them as short stories while maintaining the truthfulness of my original experience. I have also attempted writing a script; that is quite a difficult thing to do. During the lockdown I also read King Lear with my son. He was quite bored and complained as to why all characters speak so long (Laughs). I tried to explain the story to him but he wasn’t impressed. He asked why Shakespeare Sir has to kill everyone; in one particular play there are six corpses lying around; sometimes there are eight (laughs). I told him that he has also written humorous and historical dramas. I have read six or seven of Shakespeare’s 35 plays; I know about four-five others but haven’t read those, For example Taming of the shrewd. I read all other 22 or 23 plays of Shakespeare in the lockdown. Some of these (laughs) are simply useless; some are great. Wondering why he was considered such a great playwrigh. However, there are some gems (plays) in the overall collection and those are really great. I tried to practise my flute too
..And Raghubir Yadav is your guru...
Yes (laughs incessantly. It (learning flute) will take long. Raghubir is my guru. I keep calling me on phone to know about notes. He torturers me on the phone
(To be continued)