Stalwart Naseeruddin Shah turned 71 on July 20. He likes to keep his birthdays a little low on celebration - just like he has managed to keep himself low-key through all these years. Subhash K Jha spoke to the living legend about how he feels about turning a year older, and Indian cinema.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: You turned 71 on July 20. How did you ring in your birthday? And what does the birthday mean to you?
A: Each birthday now mainly means the tolling of the bell! I was shooting in the day and in the evening my children and a few close friends gathered to celebrate while I sat around as sober as a judge and watched indulgently!
Q: What are your childhood recollections of your birthday? Cakes, balloons, songs?
A: During childhood, we never celebrated our birthdays as we'd be in school, at the most a card and an extra rupee for pocket money would arrive from home.
Q: Sir, we are living through uncertain times. You recently went through a health scare. As the future remains uncertain, what are your thoughts on mortality and immortality through one's art?
A: Thoughts of mortality have been in my head since I turned fifty. Each new decade introduces one to newer bodily frailties. And I want to get more work done before my time is up. The thought of death doesn't scare me but the possibility of becoming an invalid does.
Q: You are without doubt one of the five greatest actors of Indian cinema. Which are your favourite performances? Mine are Sparsh, Albert Pinto , Masoom, Paar and Pestonjee, I don't like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron at all.
A: George Bernard Shaw, when asked to name the three greatest writers of all time, began his answer with "The other two are...."! Not saying that, though my favourites are Nishant, Sparsh, Masoom, Mandi and Bombay Boys.
Q: Sir, we saw you in two brief roles - Mee Raqsam and Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi. Actually one of them was a grief role since your character was dead at the start… in the past year. When do we see you again in a solid author-backed part?
A: Probably never! However, I've had more than my share of great parts and am perfectly happy now to participate in projects which I enjoy doing.
Q: Theatre has always been more fascinating to you than cinema? Why? And are you looking at another play soon?
A: Theatre, like a tree, is a living thing which continues to organically evolve, unlike films where once it's done it's done. Also in theatre one can engage with the greatest texts in the world whereas in our cinema we have to mostly make do with the work of hacks and plagiarists. There are a couple of things that I have in mind for future theatre productions but everything now depends on Shri Covid ji Maharaj!
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