Nawazuddin Siddiqui: As dark-skinned economically backward individual I’ve suffered discrimination all my life

One of Bollywood’s most celebrated actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui opens up about how he has faced discrimination because of his dark skin and his social background

Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Photo Courtesy: social media)
Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Photo Courtesy: social media)

Subhash K Jha

Nawazuddin Siddiqui who is one of Indian cinema’s most celebrated actors startled  this writer by speaking forthrightly about the discrimination and  oppression he  faced  in his community for being dark-skinned and a Muslim

And he continues to be discriminated against, says Nawaz!  “Please name me one dark-skinned superstar in Bollywood.”

You? I  suggest.

“Well, thank you for saying that. But there’s still a truckload of discrimination against  dark-skinned actors in Bollywood. Hollywood  has gotten over that prejudice. They  have black superstars like Will Smith, Idris Elba, Kevin Hart and the late Chadwick Boseman alongside Tom Cruise and  Chris  Hemsworth. In India dark-skinned  actors  are always cast in a particular kind of role. If you  see my career –graph so far, I am always  playing  gangsters and  killers wearing shabby clothes . The tuxedo look and suave moves are  for  the gora fair-skinned stars. For the dark skinned  darkness is the chosen  colour in  life as in cinema. Which is why when I started dressing up for Cannes and other international film festivals it  was an out-of-body experience for me.”

Nawaz points out the colour discrimination in Indian  society. “It is  specially applicable to women. If a  man has two daughters, one fair-skinned  and the  other dark  he  will  not stop singing the fair-skinned’s praise whereas  the dark one gets frowned at no matter how much she excels. I faced this prejudice in  my native village Budhana in Uttar Pradesh. I was  short  and dark and therefore considered a good-for-nothing. All the  other men in my family are tall not-dark and handsome,”  laughs Nawaz.

“I guess  I’ve taken after my grandmother who was short and dark. I had to hear taunts from my relatives day-in and out. Also, though we were zamindars(landlords)  my family owned far less land than others in  our village. We were  always  shown  our place  at weddings and other gatherings. We’d get invitations. But we would be subjected  to  a rigorous criticism that left  many  like me scarred for life.  I knew I had to escape  that life, just like my character in my new web series Serious Men (directed by Sudhir Mishra). The character I play is a Dalit (a socially and economically backward caste  in India). But he could have been  any oppressed individual in India  wanting a  better  life  for his  son. And a better life means,  good education. But then, even if you escape the oppression granted to you by fate and  your fraternity you don’t necessarily get acknowledgement for your achievements.”

Now a major actor in Bollywood, Nawaz is  still the same wastrel to some of his village  folk. “Nothing has changed in their minds. How could it?  If they see a man walk out of his oppressed existence onto the other side, they turn a blind eye. The status quo  must not be changed. So even now for a  part of my village fraternity I am still the dark-skinned short ugly Nawaz who can do nothing  with his life. When they  are told  about my achievements they sneeringly dismiss them as myths.  One  of my cousins is  so rigidly opposed to the  idea of me making anything of my life that he refused to believe that was me on  screen. In the one rickety  theatre in my village my  film Gangs  Of Wasseypur (the  highly-acclaimed Anurag Kashyap  directed crime drama which catapulted Nawazuddin to stardom)  was screened. Almost  the entire village went to see it. My cousin also went. After the film he declared that the man on the screen  was someone else, a lookalike. He refuses  to accept that I have made something  of my life.”

How does  Nawaz react to this kind of blind incurable prejudice?  “I believe  what Nelson Mandela  once said, ‘Our world is  not divided by race, color, gender, or religion. Our world is divided into wise people and fools. And fools divide themselves by race, color, gender or religion.’ I’ve seen the kind  of  fame  and fortune that I’ve never dreamt  of. Today the same Nawaz  who  is considered short,  dark and ugly in his village  is  called handsome  in the international media. I supposed success changes the  perception  of beauty.When  you are a  success  everything about  you is  appreciated.But for those who wanted to make  sure I remain downtrodden I’ll  always be  down  there.”

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