Actor Adil Hussain hopes Rajinikanth will retain his integrity in politics too
From a small town Assamese boy, who regarded women as “second-class citizens” to a versatile actor and a loving husband, it has been a long, uphill journey for the 54-year-old thespian and film actor
From a small town Assamese boy, who regarded women as “second-class citizens” to a versatile actor and a loving husband, it has been a long, uphill journey for the 54-year-old thespian and film actor, Adil Hussain. Seen in films such as Life of Pi, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Parched, Ishqiya, Lootera, and more recently Aiyaary, Hussain is better known for playing Sridevi’s husband in her comeback money spinner English Vinglish. An alumnus of National School of Drama, Hussain has worked in mainstream and Indie cinema with equal ease, both in India and abroad and is a doting father to his eight-year-old son, Kabir.
In Kolkata recently for the trailer launch of an upcoming Bengali movie Mati -- the second lead role in 14 years – Hussain, smartly clad in blue cotton shirt and chinos, opened up about life, work, politics and Rajinikanth from the depths of a turquoise armchair in a city hotel room.
Some excerpts from the no-holds-barred chat.
Despite being a versatile actor what’s keeping you away from meatier and diverse roles in Bollywood? You are mostly typecast as the bad husband or in a negative character.
I think typecasting is a disease in any film industry that arises out of lack of imagination on part of the casting directors. I have seen that happening with so many other actors, too. It’s a pity that if we convincingly portray a kind of role, we are considered for similar roles only. But of late, I played a suave arms dealer in Aiyaary, a down market insurance clerk in Mukti Bhawan and a farmer in Love Sonia. So, comparatively I am luckier, but the spectrum needs to grow.
Why is it still so difficult for actors such as you or the likes of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao to get lead roles?
I think it’s got to do more with the mindset of the producers, and directors have very little say when it comes to casting. Consequently, stories and scripts, too, are written keeping that in mind. But things are slowly beginning to change. We see Rajkummar being cast as the lead, too, and movies such as Sairat making money.
How different are things abroad?
There’s a vast cultural difference. My last film abroad was a Norwegian Film, What People Will Say. It’s a mainstream movie that released last October and ran for more than six months across Europe. In Europe the story and acting matter, not the star cast. In fact, I got the award for best-supporting actor in Norway for that film. Here we have a feudal mentality and tend to put heroes and politicians in a pedestal and follow them in life. Actors are just normal people, don’t treat us like God.
Is the overwhelming love for cinema also one of the reasons for theatre not doing well?
To a great extent, yes. Also, theatre, unlike movies, is a very personal experience and hence the outreach is limited. I did Othello for 10 years across the globe but still the play couldn’t reach a large number of people. So, theatre needs a shot in the arm from the government. Sadly, governments do not understand the value arts add to society. In that sense our ancestors were much ahead of us, especially in areas of education and arts. We still have that in our scriptures.
In ancient times there was a guru shishya parampara, where a student chose a guru (teacher) according to what he wanted to learn. For example now, when the chief minister of Tripura says there was Internet in the times of Mahabharata, probably what the poor fellow meant was that we had the telepathic system just like ancient practice of Shamanism in South America and among tribes of Kalahari Desert. They still don’t need any aid to meet at a certain point of time or date because of their astonishing intuition.
(But he laughed out loudly when pointed out the Tripura chief minister’s comment that former Miss World Diana Hayden does not represent the true Indian beauty.)
You have been planning a drama, Karmanistha, based on dialogues between Arjun and Krishna from Bhagwad Gita for a long time now? When do we get to see that?
Well, I am still at the sixteenth verse of Gita with two more chapters left. The script is ready and hopefully, by the end of this year, we will be able to stage it if I get respite from films and promotions.
How was your experience working with Rajinikanth in 2.0? How is he as a person?
I feel Rajini is the only superstar in India. My first encounter with him took place when I was sitting in my make up van and an assistant director came and said Mr Kanth was coming to meet me I was totally confused since Rajinikanth was not supposed to shoot with me in the first schedule. I hurriedly put on a shirt and rushed out to meet him. As a person he is amazingly generous. As a co-actor, he was the first one to clap after I shot a scene. I had heard that 20-25 years ago he turned down an offer to endorse a fizzy drink for which he was offered Rs 30 crore. I checked with him and he told me it was true. “If I endorse a drink, entire Tamil Nadu would drink that and I was not sure of its health benefits,” he said. I could identify with this man, since I, too, have turned down many such offers on the ground that if I cannot offer the product to my child, I won’t promote it.
What do you think of Rajinikanth joining politics?
Well, it’s his personal decision, and he is free to do what he wants. But I hope he retains his integrity as a person. I welcome it if he uses his integrity to serve the people. But if he gives in to the political forces that we are accustomed to, it would be a great disappointment.
You have played a transvestite in French director Eric Gavel’s movie Crash Test Aglae? How was it?
Earlier also I had played a transgender in an English drama. Preparing for such roles has made me extremely empathetic towards women.
How have you changed as a person?
I hail from Goalpara, a small district in Assam, where I grew up among men who considered women to be second class citizens. Acting and theatre enlightened me and gave me a wider perspective. The misogynist in me changed when I met certain people and read certain books, thanks to my profession. The way my father, otherwise an enlightened person and a Tagore fan, used to treat my mother, irritated me a lot. I even confronted him two years before his death.
But the change in me was a really painful process since it constantly assaults your ego. When I saw my wife, Kristen, give birth to our son, I felt inadequate as a man. How I wished I had at least one breast, if not the womb, so that I could feed the tiny little baby and feel the warmth.
How different is Adil as a husband from Satish in English Vinglish?
Well, I cook every day for my son and wife, I make the bed and prepare breakfast at 5.45 in the morning and I consider Kristen way more evolved than me, which is true. (Grins)
Do you still work in Assamese films? What’s ailing the Assamese film industry?
I try at least acting in one film a year. Lack of expertise and cinema halls have affected Assamese cinema. There are only about 40 movie theatres across the state. Even if a regional film is doing well it is taken off after a week to give way to bigger Hindi releases.
It took you 14 years to make a comeback in Bengali cinema in a lead role.
The Bengali producers and directors never called me, as simple as that. (Laughs)
How interesting has it been to shoot Mati? What are your other forthcoming movies?
In comparison to other scripts from Bengal, Mati stands out since it talks about reconciliation and human values, two nations and two people coming together, forgiving each other. It’s about unspoken grudges harboured for long and this makes the film worthy to be a part of.
Besides Mati, I am acting in another Bengali film, Ahare Mon. Also, I will be seen in Love Sonia, a film on human trafficking, which will release at the end of the year.
Are you satisfied as an actor?
Till now I have acted in 61 films including the short ones, but I would recommend only three or four out of them. Until I do a hundred good movies that I can recommend to my son, I would not be satisfied.
Favourite movie: Steve McQueen’s Papillon
Favourite colour: Blue
Favourite song: Shey amar kemon pagol, baul song
Comfort food: Bhaat e alu and daal (boiled rice, potato and pulses)
Fear most: Falling from grace
Hate most: False promises
Favourite actor: Thomas Richard (Afro-Carribean theatre actor)