Train to Fame

Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui reminisces his eventful reel journey and how trains have either done a cameo or enjoyed a full-length role in his films.

Trains and actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui go a long way, quite literally. “Trains are an inseparable part of my being, both in reel and real life. I have always preferred trains over other modes of transport in real life till five years back and in reel life, they have an inevitable presence in almost all my films,” he says.

His five-minute role in Munnabhai M.B.B.S. as a lanky young man, who tries to pickpocket Hari Prasad Sharma (Sunil Dutt) as soon as he alights from the train, may have gone unnoticed by many. But it reflected the sincerity with which Siddiqui, a pass-out of the National School of Drama (NSD) acted in a dozen-odd blink-and-miss roles till he rose on the cinematic horizon with Anurag Kashyap’s two-part epic gang war saga, Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW). He immortalised the role of a weed-smoking, gun-toting, lovelorn gangster Faizal Khan in GoW 2 who swears to avenge the murders of his family members. His power-packed performance in the ensemble cast made him the toast of the town, without blinking an eye.

Huma Quraishi & Nawazuddin Siddiqui


During late nineties, it was at the Andheri station in Mumbai that Siddiqui first met writer Kashyap, who had come to persuade a disheartened Rajpal Yadav not to give up on his dreams, stay back in the city and keep trying his luck in Hindi films. It was this acquaintance that worked in Siddiqui’s favour when he landed a small role as a waiter in Kashyap-penned Shool and then in his directorial venture Black Friday as Asgar Mukaddam before bagging a full-length role as Faizal Khan GoW. This film was also the first time that Siddiqui got to romance onscreen and the famous dialogue with his lady love Mohsina (Huma Quraishi) Pehle Permission Leni Chahiye Na was borrowed from a real life incident in Siddiqui’s days in Delhi. An important sequence and song (I am a hunter) were also shot on a train. In Kashyap’s Dev.D, Siddiqui’s Elvis Presley act had made cinegoers groove to the tune of Emosanal Atyachar. “The length of the characters never mattered to me. The roles that I have enacted have been unique in one way or the other. They are milestones in my journey and have contributed immensely to my learning and growth,” he informs.


For the uninitiated, Siddiqui who hails from a family of zamindars in a small town, Budhana, in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, was born as Numberdar Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He is the eldest of nine siblings, seven brothers and two sisters. “We grew up in an age when TV wasn’t a common household item. The only source of entertainment used to be the village fairs and folk performances. I was in awe of the performers. The fascination for stage and performances stayed on with me,” recalls Siddiqui. He moved out of the village to pursue his undergrad degree in science from Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar, and from there to MS University, Baroda, for his Masters in Microbiology. He left his course mid-way, worked for a while as a chief chemist and as he was restless and discontent, he took the first train to Delhi for good.


Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, he arrived in Delhi. “I wanted to explore myself. I saw a play, and that was a big pull. I joined an amateur theatre group and went on to specialise in acting from NSD. I used to perform in street plays as it meant quick money but that wasn’t enough.” To fend for self in a big city, he was constantly on the lookout for a better paying job that could take away his financial worries and let him focus on acting. As luck would have it, it was in a public toilet at a railway station in Delhi that he saw a recruitment advertisement for security guards in a toy factory in Noida. He got the job but had to mortgage his mother’s jewellery to furnish the security money, which he eventually lost as he was fired from the job after a year and a half.


His early days in the tinsel town were fraught with troubles as he wasn’t gifted with the traditional looks, a prerequisite to bag roles in the first place. “I was rejected because of my physical appearance. But I had become used to it. I was a trained actor, alumni of NSD, but my talent was largely underestimated, and that was more frustrating.” He struggled for more than a decade to stay afloat in Hindi cinema before making a splash with GoW in 2012. Amid critical acclaim and box-office success, Siddiqui had finally arrived in Mumbai with this role. “It was a make or break situation for me. I gave this role all that I had, my frustration, aspiration, perspiration, dedication, determination, everything.”


In the same year, his major outings that included Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaani, Miss Lovely, Chittagong, Talaash, Lateef and The Owner created the right noise in the cinema circle. By then, Siddiqui’s acting prowess had caught the fancy of filmmakers, and he had started landing plum roles and also brand endorsements. “The role of lame Tehmur in Talaash was a memorable one as I was sharing screen space with Aamir Khan for the second time; the first was the unforgettable one in Sarfarosh.” The chase sequence that starts at Churchgate and Charni Gate railway station in Mumbai and even inside a local train showed a limping Tehmur travelling on the rooftop, climbing railings, rolling on the wheel board,swapping bag with his beloved on the platform before getting caught by the goons while running out of the station.

Nawazuddin in Gangs of Wasseypur


Among other releases that followed included Kick with Salman Khan in 2014 and Bajrangi Bhaijaan in 2015. In the latter, Siddiqui as Chand Nawab makes his onscreen entry with a hilarious piece to camera at a railway station. The next film that released same year was Badlapur with Varun Dhawan. In the movie, the scene where his character Liak meets Raghav (Varun) at a railway platform shows the seething anger and desperation for revenge in Raghav and the discomfort and unease of Liak, played against the backdrop of chaos commuter rush and moving trains at the station. In Manjhi: The Mountain Man, his character Dashrath Manjhi keeps on toiling hard till he succeeds in breaking the mountain and carving a road out of it. And not surprisingly, in this film too there is a train sequence where Manjhi is first mocked at by the TTE when he says that he is going to meet the Prime Minister and then thrown out of a moving train for being a ticketless traveller.

“Trains and platforms have an important role to play in my film career. They go hand in hand,” he says in a lighter vein, adding that his another release, Babumoshai


His debut production Miyan Kal Aana directed by his brother, Shamas Siddiqui, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The 17.5 minutes long film is a humorous take on the controversial Halala law and how it affects women. According to the law, if a Muslim man wants to remarry the woman he divorced, she has to marry another man first, who must then divorce her.


His films often end up doing the rounds of international film circuits, leaving the audience across the globe mesmerised with his command over the craft of acting, and winning awards too. In 2016, Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 was Siddiqui’s eighth film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in four years. Based in Mumbai, the crime thriller narrated the story of a serial killer, who went on a murder spree in Mumbai in the 1960s. The role of psychotic killer also won him the best actor award at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2016 and a special mention in the best performance award by an actor at the 10th Asia Pacific Screen Awards. “Asia Pacific Screen Awards is Asia’s Oscar, and it feels great to be acknowledged at such a platform,” he says.

Written By : Shillpi A Singh

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