Naseeruddin Shah talks to Suranjana Biswas about his upcoming film, Hope Aur Hum and his take on the wastage of money in our commercial industry
Sudip Bandyopadhyay, the director of the film, said in an interview that you are a perfectionist. What is your take on that? What was it like working with a debutant director?
I am not very unused to working with newcomers or people making their first film; I have worked with a lot of newcomers before as well. Also, this is hardly Sudip’s first film; he has made hundreds of commercials and other forms of films, but yes this film is his first feature. I also believe I have done at least a hundred films with first-time directors in my career. I have always liked and enjoyed working with first-time directors and I have never regretted it, ever, because a first-time director always puts his life and soul into making their film and it matters a great deal to them since it is their first product.
Most people who make their first good movie do not make a second good movie, but I am hoping that is not the case with Sudip. It was fun working with him on this film. I found him very open and he is also very generous and very trusting of his actors on the sets. The best part is he always knows exactly what he wants from his actors and the film.
The film looks like a family drama with a theme of hope. Can you elaborate on the story a little?
The theme of the film is actually ‘attachment’; hope is always there. It is an indispensible part of our lives, but mostly it is about the attachments in our lives, within the family. It may be with one’s grandchildren or with one’s home, or with one’s old household stuff, whether it is an old tape recorder or an old gramophone, or an old camera or an old car, the film is really about that. This could also be called ‘nostalgia’. In a way, this film celebrates nostalgia.
We get to see three generations in the film, with you playing the senior-most member of the family. How much did you relate to your character?
Well, I do not have any grandchildren yet but I related to my character by imagining about how I would relate to my grandchildren when I have them. I, personally, am very comfortable with children, and I know for a fact that children can be made comfortable or uncomfortable very easily depending on how you tackle them. I have always found that you can win over a child by simply being interested in him or her.
You have worked with children in films before. How do you connect with them so easily?
Children are very innocent, they are not actors. They do not even know what is good acting or what is bad acting. But, they know how they feel and they feel it intensely. So, what one has to do is to stimulate spontaneous reactions from them, on the spot, and that is the director’s job. As an actor, I help by relating to the kid, by fooling around with him, by playing cricket with him and by chatting with him. Also, I try and help him by saying, hey why do you try it like this and so on. It is always fun to work with children because they are spontaneous and trusted as actors. Also, they are very giving and very generous. They do not have traits or feelings like, for instance, the need to dominate others.
What is that one thing that made you say yes to the film?
I think it is the element of nostalgia that made me say yes to the film. I value it greatly. I was very moved by the dilemma of this old man that I play in the film. He is extremely attached to his machine and he cannot even conceive life without the machines. He is just desperate to cling on to it in many ways and ultimately when the machine becomes useless, he finds that there was a cure for it, but it is too late. All these things are very moving and I thought to myself that I wanted to be a part of this film.
What was it like working with such a talented cast including Sonali Kulkarni, Aamir Bashir, Beena Banerjee and many others?
The experience was wonderful for me to work with Sonali and Aamir, also because I have known them for a long time. I had a great time working with them, and the entire time it was very comfortable on the sets.
You have acted in films, on stage, and in short films on digital platforms. As an actor, do you find any difference working across mediums?
No, I do not really find any difference when I am working as an actor, regardless of the medium. There is not much difference, the only difference I feel is in the way an actor is presented. As far as the actor’s work itself goes, I do not think there is a difference between acting on stage, in front of the camera, a web series, television or any other medium or platform. It is the writing that has to be different.
Over the years, have box office numbers ever affected you? Do you ever track the numbers of your films?
No, not at all! I have never tracked such numbers. Also, my films have very few zeroes (Laughs). I am not interested. I have also never understood this whole box office aspect of films. I have never understood the kind of mathematics that governs this industry.
What do you want the audience to take back from this film?
I want the audience to go back feeling happy after watching the film. They should have a warm glow in their hearts after they see this film. They should not come to watch the film expecting some box office masala because that is not going to happen. But, this film has a lot of other things that will compensate in the absence of what the public normally likes.
This is not a single-screen type of film anyway; this is a film for the educated, urban audience but I have a feeling that it will resonate with the audience in small towns as well, because in small towns you still get to see people driving 1949 Fiats, old Lambrettas and things like that.
Small-budget films have done really well at the box office recently. Do you feel that the audience has become more receptive to different kinds of content over the years?
These films have always had a certain audience, and if it was 1,000 people 10 years ago, now it has become 10,000 people. The audience for big-budget, mindless movies will always be there. Those types of movies will always be made and they will always succeed. We have to accept that films like Hope Aur Hum belong to niche genres. We must not expect too much from them. If we start expecting these films to make `100 crore, we would be foolish.
The reason we make these films economically is that this is the only way these films can be profitable. If a film like Hope Aur Hum was made in `50 crore, it would never have recovered its investment. And why should it be made in that much money? There is so much wastage in our commercial industry, it is criminal. I think filmmakers should economise while making films like these. That is very important.
What are you looking forward to after this film?
Well, I am acting in a Gujarati film called Dhh, which should be releasing very soon, and then there is one more film The Tuscant File in Hindi, directed by Vivek Aghniotri.