Birthday Special: Nawazuddin Siddiqui's 5 best unseen performances!
Subhash K. Jha celebrates Siddiqui's birthday with a look at five movies that never made it to a mainstream theatre screen near you
In a career spanning 22 years, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s brilliance has been acknowledged unambiguously in films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Manjhi—the Mountain Man, Raman Raghav 2.0, Manto, Thackeray and The Lunchbox. What about the ones you have missed? Some are available to OTT audiences now.
1. Dekh Indian Circus: It began in 2011 during the year of fame via Wasseypur and Kahaani, when Siddiqui put in a stellar performance as an impoverished rural Rajasthani father struggling to find the money to send his two children to the circus in Mangesh Hadawale’s Dekh Indian Circus. This is an absolutely delightful slice-of-life tale about an impoverished family in the deserts of Rajasthan that craves a visit to the circus. While Siddiqui and Tannistha Chatterjee are brilliant as the parents, it is their children, played by Virendra Singh Rathod and Suhani Oza, who take centre stage. With no acting experience behind them, the two kids deliver utterly natural performances under the direction of Mangesh Hadawale. Undoubtedly, it is Siddiqui’s career best performance too.
2. Patang—The Kite : The following year in 2012, Siddiqui played the lead in Prashant Bhargava’s internationally acclaimed Patang. In spite of winning laurels at several international film festivals, this too was never released. Giving the film his maximum rating of 4 stars, legendary critic Roger Ebert wrote, “This film is joyous, but more than that: It's lovely in its construction." The director, Prashant Bhargava, born and raised on Chicago's South Side, knows what his basic storyline is but reveals it subtly. The story in outline would be simple enough for a made-for-TV movie. Patang is now available for paid viewing on Youtube. But there is nothing simple about Patang. Nawaz once told me his two favourite performances are in Dekh Indian Circus and Patang. And then there's Liar’s Dice.
3. Liar’s Dice: Long before her Malayali masterpiece, Moothon director Geetu Mohandas’s Liar’s Dice, a haunting road film, won its leading actor Geetanjali Thapa a national award for best actress. Siddiqui deserved a national award too. Such glorious acclaim did nothing to endear the film to distributors however. Liar’s Dice also remains unreleased in theatres. It is a lyrical story of moving (Siddiqui and his co-star are mostly travelling) of a woman with a little daughter accompanied by a helpful man (Siddiqui) travelling from the Indo–China border to Delhi to find her missing husband. I wonder why Netflix or Amazon has not lapped up this laptop-ready gem! If you're based outside of India, you can catch Liar's Dice on Vudu.
4. Monsoon Shootout: This neglected film is a curious case of a potentially routine cops-and-killer sanguinary saga, given a certain fresh twist of ambivalence by writing skills that know their Dirty Harry as closely as they know Ardh Satya. There is a tadka of circumstantial ambiguity, a twist of fate, if you will, whereby a rookie cop’s rookie-rookie si zindagi (life full of obstacles) gets more unscheduled excitement on his first assignment than he had bargained for.
A serial killer is on the prowl. It was with a hammer in hand in Raman Raghav; it's an axe here. The slayings are staged stylishly in the slippery monsoon of Mumbai, when it’s easy for the elusive to give the pursuer the slip. This is exactly what the narrative does to us as well. Like Siddiqui’s character Shiva, the story repeatedly gives us the slip, leaving us with unanswered questions just when cop Adi (Vijay Verma, impressively callow and intense) corners the killer at gunpoint.
Repeatedly, and with an incessant pounding at the plot’s epicentre, the narrative takes on a what-if tangent, creating a cat-and-mouse game of its own between the camera and the audience. It is an impressive effort, staged to seduce and please us, not always hitting the bull’s eye but never losing sight of its target. There are energetic sexual encounters involving a migrant sex worker (Sreejita De) that convey the desperation of a city on the edge and a populace on the prowl. Monsoon Shootout succeeds in gripping us by our collective jowls in spite of a certain staleness in the plot and a stiffness in the joints of the narrative. The camera, manned by Rajeev Ravi, prowls through Mumbai’s crowded monsoonal mayhem with emphatic energy. Monsoon Shootout is available to watch on Hotstar.
5. Miss Lovely: This film takes a not-so-lovely look at the squalid world of the horror film industry of the 1980s.The film tells the story of two brothers played with cheesy brilliance by the neglected Anil George and Siddiqui. Though swooping down on a sleazy world, debutant director Ashim Ahluwalia’s film never falls prey to the malaise of murkiness.
To get your creative feet in the mud without dirtying your vision is no small achievement. To aesthetically capture the scummy on screen, in all its naked glory, is not an easy task. Ahluwalia has achieved a stirring and disturbing synthesis of a documentary-style narrative on the not-quite-defunct world of horror porn from the 1980s, and a conventional Hindi film love triangle (two brothers, one girl, tension...).
The storytelling is not just unique, it is also extremely disturbing. The characters do not follow the redemptive path from sleaze to atonement. They remain till the end damned, doomed and despicable in their greed to capture female flesh in lascivious close-ups. The lure of the leer is laid out with a brutal directness. The tale is a trap for the compromised. But it's not a morality tale.
The camera space between the characters and the audience is next to non-existent in Ahluwalia’s narrative. And that's the highest compliment one can pay the film’s cinematographer K.U. Mohanan and co-editors Paresh Kamdar and Ahluwalia who have done their jobs so well, they seem non-existent in the scheme of Ahluwalia’s scathing sting operation on human depravity and uncontrollable sexual appetites. There is an unevenness about the narration, which perfectly matches the smoky, seedy mood of the story. Barring Niharika Singh’s character, which epitomises beauty in the sleazy cesspool. all the actors are captured in grotesque, flabby close-ups.
Singh looks aloof and detached from the sleaze. She seems to be playing the title role. But then, deception is the name of grime. There is nothing pretty about this version of Miss Lovely. Delving into the horrifically immoral world of horror porn films in the 1980s, Ahluwalia expends no shame in exposing the characters—the low-life money spinners desperate to make a fast buck by shooting a fast f--k in hazy, garish light.
Siddiqui’s Sonu Duggal is a curiously untarnished soul trapped in a world of unmitigated debauchery. His romance with the wannabe starlet Pinky (Niharika Singh) comes to an expectantly sticky tragic end. The bitter rage with which Siddiqui confronts the betrayal of his innocent love for the girl is more Shakespearean than you’d expect a film of this nature to be. The blend of Ramsay and Shakespeare, of the perversely potent and spiritually impotent is unparalleled. Loath it or love it—but you’ve never seen anything like Miss Lovely. It builds a world of vicious vices with a raw stock of gritty stark visuals and elemental emotions. This film is available for paid viewing on YouTube and Google Play Movies.