Naseeruddin Shah made his Hindi cinema debut with Shyam Benegal’s Nishant and went on to act in several Benegal films—Manthan, Bhumika, Junoon, Mandi. Appearing on Farooq Shaikh’s talk show, Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai,Shah once recalled watching Benegal’s debut film, Ankur, in a theatre in Kanpur and feeling encouraged by the idea that the film industry was moving away from casting conventionally good-looking people, like Shaikh himself.
From FTII in Pune, Shah landed at Benegal’s Tardeo office on hearing that post-Ankur, the director was looking to cast his next movie, Nishant. He was anxious and tense and waited patiently at Benegal’s office, oblivious to the fact that the director was watching him throughout. After a few minutes, Benegal walked up to Shah and said that he had the role.
“The most difficult thing for an actor to do is be withdrawn and yet be noticeable,” Benegal would later recall. “He had that quality.” Ever since his debut, Shah’s career has grown with India’s parallel cinema movement of the 70s and the early 80s, with the actor being part of era-defining films such as Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom, Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh, Saeed Mirza’s Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai, Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Gulzar’s Ijaazat, to pick a few from an enviable list of films.
Over the past few years, along with delivering stellar performances in films both good and bad, Shah has been a vocal critic of the present dispensation and often finds himself in the middle of a maelstrom. In an interview to The Wire earlier this year, Shah said, “I suppose people who don’t know what it’s like to be a student or people who’ve never had any intellectual pursuits would consider students and intellectuals to be pests. It is not surprising that the prime minister has no empathy or any compassion for the students, he’s never been a...