With the Indian Film Industry being the biggest of its kind globally, there are a fair few names whose contributions will definitely go down in history. One such actor of this kind is Naseeruddin Shah, whose filmography is full of versatility and splendour. Never having shied away from doing things differently, Shah is one actor who has always kept his audiences on their toes. From a family man to an out-right villain, there doesn’t seem to be anything he can’t do.
With the actor turning 70 today, BizAsiaLive.com looks through some of Shah’s most celebrated roles.
‘Sparsh’ (1980) – Anirudh Parmar
At a time where many filmmakers were focusing on love stories that depicted boy meets girl, saves her from all evil and live happily ever after, Sai Paranjpye’s ‘Sparsh’ was much more reality based. Shah’s performance as Anirudh Parmar, a blind principle of a visually impaired school, opposite Shabana Azmi, was nothing short of heartfelt and raw. The story, which addressed the issues of the way society sees and treats people with disabilities was one that resonated with everyone. Already having had good amount of projects under his belt, it was very evident the actor brought out his best in this project. The way he played his character with ease, adding a sense of smoothness and confidence it was evident Shah really got stuck in with this character, where it got many talking about what more this lead will have in the future.
‘Paar’ (1984) – Naurangia
Another popular topic for filmmakers was also the depiction of the injustices the poor faced from the rich, where Goutam Ghose’s ‘Paar’ was one to remember. Shah’s role as Naurangia, a poor husband whose village suffered through the exploitation of the rich through corruption, greed and crime, was a performance that pulled at everyone’s heartstrings. Once again sharing the screen with Azmi, Shah played his character with such vigour, forcing his audience to come into his space, as his character battles through the hardship of showing up for himself and his family. Though a happy ending, it’s the hardship of Shah’s character that remains in the memory of the viewers, leaving a lasting, heartbreaking impression on everyone.
‘Karma’ (1986) – Khairuddin Chishti
To be able to share the screen with the likes of Dilip Kumar, Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor and still have an impactful presence is no easy task. However Shah as the perfect stand-off, unimpressed Khairuddin Chishti, was one act that deserved huge applause. As a part of a trio of goons whom Kumar’s character trains to be good, audiences found themselves rooting for an otherwise very unlikable character in Shah. What drew this impression was the way in which Shah cleverly displayed a hero within his role who has a very anti-hero personality, enabling his character to stand out from his other bad-boys turned hero co-stars.
‘Mohra’ (1994) – Mr Jindal
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one thing that gives this film the status of a classic, however it goes without saying that Shah is very much a vital contribution to the success of it. With many 90s action films including snippets of romance and comedy, the thriller aspect has to go to Shah. Despite being no stranger to villainous roles by then, it was Mr Jindal that is embedded in many people’s memories as an ultimate villain. Here Shah was bringing out multiple characteristics, setting an example of how to play such a character, where his every on-screen appearance would set heart rates racing in anticipation and fear of what he’s about to do. Over the years, cinema-goers would see many different versions of Shah’s performance in other actor’s playing similar roles, however not many of whom would set the mark just as well.
‘Sarfarosh’ (1999) – Gulfam Hussain
Seeing as much success in playing negative characters as well as a protagonist hero, John Matthew Matthan’s ‘Sarfarosh’ came as a surprise to many. Though this was yet another battle between good and evil, Shah depicted the role as the ever so cunning Gulfam Hussan, a ghazal singer greatly admired by the protagonist, played by Aamir Khan, who turns out to be the real mastermind of the atrocities faced by the country. Again Shah applies his experience in playing such a complex role with ease, where the discovery of his characters true persona gives the film a totally unique turning point, where audiences feel personally betrayed themselves at a character they felt was an ally. To have such an effect on viewers, especially as a villain, was not something many actors could or even can do now. Shah had won huge acclaim for his role, where despite having had a longer list of projects behind him than some of his peers, he proved he still had a lot to show.
‘Iqbal’ (2005) – Mohit
By the time Nagesh Kukunoor’s ‘Iqbal’ graced the silver screens, audience members and critics alike already expected to see magic when it came to watching Shah. And though by now his extensive filmography gave the impression that he had done all he could with his acting skills, his performance as Mohit was one that proved this otherwise. As the village drunk who ends up mentoring the hearing and speaking impaired Iqbal (Shreyas Talpade) in fulfilling his dreams of becoming a professional cricketer, Shah’s passion for his craft is experienced in a way that makes his viewers feel they are watching the film through his own eyes. By enable the viewers to be engrossed into his own space, Shah allows them all to mirror his emotions as though they are the ones who are his character guiding the protagonist to reach his goals. In doing so, Shah takes them on his journey from viewing his character as one who should do better, to actually resonating with him in vouching for dreams to be met.
‘A Wednesday!’ (2008) – The Common Man
If anyone can play a character who makes his audiences question their own thought process and what they believe in, it is Shah. An unnamed character who proceeds to act on his belief that terrorists deserve worse than jail, Shah is electrifying in Neeraj Pandey’s ‘A Wednesday!’. He personifies everything he has shown his audiences through this very performance. Already able to get into the mind set of his audience, he plays on the questions that affect everyone, when it comes to their own safety. His act, alongside Anupam Kher, only elevates the thrill of watching such a performance, where Shah makes his viewers think about actions that conflict their own beliefs. Though his characters actions may be controversial, Shah’s performance sparks conversations on how to show up for society and also how not to. Though the film had many acclaimed talents, it was Shah’s character that audiences resonated the most with.
‘The Dirty Picture’ (2011) – Suryakanth
Milan Luthria’s ‘The Dirty Picture’ sparked up a lot of controversy for many reasons. And though there was huge backlash regarding the sensationalisation of some of the scenes, nobody could deny that Shah’s depiction of Suryakanth was more than just noteworthy. Playing a character from the film business, Shah played a role that viewers would love to hate, and not one that many other would in fact be comfortable to take on. Playing a veteran hero who plays on the power structure of being a male in such an industry, Shah performs it in a very transparent way. More than just a villain, Suryakanth is what many would feel to be the root of all evil when it comes to society even today, where Shah allows his audience to be enraged by his character as much as they want. He also performs this character as a way of almost making the statement that this kind of charter isn’t all that made up. Through this his character’s sentiments on this subject can even be accepted as a way of sparking further conversation. Another great example of Shah’s brilliance is noticed where his presence is still felt even when he isn’t on screen, and being alongside an actress as fresh as Vidya Balan, he is still able to spark magic.
Through the years it is clear to see Shah’s commitment to his craft. From being a part of big mainstream money-makers to small independent projects, he has always been a part of interesting stories. Coming from the stages of theatre, Shah continues to elevate his skills as is still able to show a completely different side of himself. With the development of story-telling, picture viewing and audience growing world, it will be interesting to see how much more Shah will continue to push his own boundaries as an actor. Here is wishing the legend a wonderful 70th birthday.