The reporter Kritika Dua interviewed actor Adil Hussain. He spoke about his acting process, his attachment towards theatre and cinema and major difference between Indian film production and its American and European counterparts
Adil Hussain is one of the few actors in the industry who can morph into any character convincingly and breathe life into it. From being a zookeeper in Life of Pi to the disdainful husband in English Vinglish To a mystic lover in Parched to a middle-aged son accompanying his aging father to Benares in Mukti Bhawan for which he was conferred a special jury award at National Awards, he has done it all.
Adil dreamt of being an actor solely by watching stand-up comedy in Assam but what changed his view of character actors was a movie. “There are three kinds of actors, character actors, personality actors and demonstrative actors (mime actors). The personality actors doesn’t change their characteristics according to a role and mould the role according to their personality. Most of the actors in this industry are like that but I wanted to act to become a character actor and this shift in my thought process took place while watching Papillon starring Steve Mcqueen and Dustin Hoffman.”
The Life of Pi actor worked in Assam’s mobile theatre company called Hingul Theater before moving to Delhi where he began his stage career. Adil recalled, “There are around 10-20 mobile theatre companies in Assam which travel from one village to the other. They perform every evening (sometimes two shows a night) for seven months. I was part of that because I needed money to work with my acting teacher, Khalid Tyabji, who wanted me to buy a bike and travel with him for two years in India. Hingul Theater was commercial theatre and we did plays based on Titanic, Jurrasic Park or even Shakespeare in our own way to make it accessible to the audience. These plays are acceptable and people do love them but they can be way better than what they are. I worked with them for more than seven months, earned Rs 1,60,000, bought a bike and sustained myself for a year.”
Talking about his acting process, Adil said, “I used to be a method actor until 2012, the fundamentals of method acting are in my system but I don’t use them consciously anymore. What I use consciously is the Indian system which means that one surrenders. Of course, I read the script several times and then let things happen which is a very Indian way of doing things. The efficiency is even more if one truly surrenders as one can’t hesitate to jump from the cliff unless there is a harness. In this case, I jumped from the cliff without any harness, if I hesitate I will fall and die, if I don’t I fly. That’s the method I use now if it can be called one.” He incorporated this process first in Sunrise and then followed it up in other films where he tried not to be good but true.
He has been a part of several international projects including The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Life of Pi and What Will People Say. On the major difference between Indian film production and European and American films, he said, “The fundamental difference is in planning. The European films which I did are way more planned and it makes life easier to be in one of them. It makes one feel relaxed as we are being looked after. Of course, one is looked after in Indian films also but here one is constantly in an unpredictable situation — kal shooting hogi? vo aa payenge? vo cheez hogi ya ni? gaadi samay pe aaegi? Is the script ready? Will the set be ready on time? — all these small things sometimes can be a big bother. From these small things, a huge number of goofups can happen. But there are efficient directors too. In Mukti Bhawan we completed the shoot in 29 days flat, things happened on time every day even when there were a lot of unpredictable situations.”
The actor was in the city recently as a brand ambassador of Pickurflick, a video on demand platform where his friends Utpal Borpujari and Sanjay Sarma are advisors. “They came to me with this idea of a video on demand platform for indie films. All these amazing films, say from Northeast India don’t get good viewership. I was one of the jury members at Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival and Utpal was also there and I saw some very beautiful short films and wondered how could I show it to somebody else? There is no platform as most video on demand platforms cater to mainstream films. I found this concept fantastic. We might not be able to cover the vast gamut of films which are being made through this platform. People are even shooting films and editing them on phones. There could be gems hidden and geniuses ready to be explored towards becoming great filmmakers.” He feels that platforms like this are really necessary and a much-needed initiative in India especially. Adil shared that when his friends asked him to be the brand ambassador, he jokingly said that he was not aware if he had any brand value. “They said that I would attract the kind of audience they wanted.”
Adil has worked in Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam movies, so how does he overcome the language barrier? He replied, “I can speak Assamese, Bengali English, Hindi and Bhojpuri, functional Dutch and Oriya. I can’t speak Malayalam but if I learn for the specific script, I manage to pull it off and Tamil as well. But, I will be identified as a non-Tamilian speaking Tamil so they dub it. In the Marathi film I did, Sunrise I only had to speak 20 Marathi words in the entire film so I managed it easily. Most of the films I opt for are independent and provide me with time to prepare.” The critically acclaimed actor even learnt Norwegian and French for certain projects.
The actor tries to maintain a balance between independent and commercial cinema with films like Parched, Mukti Bhawan and Force 2, Dobaara: See Your Evil respectively. He divulged details behind his process of selection of scripts, “I choose from scripts that come to me and if it is way out of line, I don’t do it. Aiyaary was an interesting subject, it was about corruption in the military, they wanted me for four days and I said yes to it. The Rajinikanth-starrer 2.0 was an eight days assignment and they gave me enough money and I can subsidise my engagement in artistic films like Mukti Bhawan and theatre with that money. That’s how I choose the scripts.”
Adil feels that middle-of-the-road films are not being made often. “Though films like Paan Singh Tomar and English Vinglish have given amazing accessibility to the audience and a wide range of people have been invited into these films but those are the projects which are the most difficult to make. One can make an arthouse film but it’s very difficult to make an artistic film which will be inclusive as well as it needs the hardest of work to include people. We are very good at exclusion but it would be nice if we could incorporate more people, still make sense and that is universality,” he said while quoting the example of Charlie Chaplin who he feels was good at it. Many of his films like The Great Dictator, City Lights and The Gold Rush were inclusive. “Even if one is unable to understand his films intellectually, the audience would still enjoy it and laugh. Something goes into your subconscious that he is talking about important issues which one might not be able to analyse in detail or even understand the significance of the film in the society now. These are the most difficult movies to make and yet they entertain people,” he said.
With a busy schedule, he doesn’t get as much time for theatre as he wants. That’s why he thinks that it is important for him to take breaks. “I am trying to look for projects which are good enough and yet give me a lot of money so that I can invest more time in theatre.”
Adil also feels that the evolution of theatre has taken place at a slow pace since the time he started. “It hasn’t evolved much actually but there are certain exceptions like one group from Assam directed by Sukracharjya Rabha which is doing amazing work in theatre. I have seen some wonderful performances by NSD students, exquisite theatre work by Dilip Shankar but these are the rare ones and there are not many like them. I would say that theatre has deteriorated; they have started playing to the gallery which they don’t need to unless they are desperate for money. It shouldn’t be the case as theatre actors are paid decently; there are reputed companies not only in Delhi but in other parts of the country as well. Big productions like Mughal-E-Azam have done really well from what I hear. Even in big theatre productions, one could still do good work that is also a possibility — one doesn’t have to be cheap in order to invite a lot of people.”
In an earlier interview, the 54-year-old actor said that going to a gym is hard work but working on the craft is tougher. Young actors pay more attention to building muscles rather than working on their craft. “Having a good physique is amazing but to be an actor one doesn’t need to have a muscular body unless they want to become a product in a typical Bollywood film. An amazing actor can be there inside the muscular body as well but if you need to package it with muscles it means that you are packaging your talent as a product for a commercial film. They might be spending more time at the gym than working on their craft, so one should distribute the time equally if they strive for both. The actors with muscular bodies are successful monetarily and are more glamorous. So young actors think that is what acting is all about. That is a disservice and it wouldn’t help them to evolve.”
He will next be seen in Bioscopewala directed by Deb Medhekar which is scheduled to release on May 25. “It’s a modern take on Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala and is set in contemporary India. The lead role of Kabuliwala which is Bioscopewala in our film is played by Danny Denzongpa. Geetanjali Thapa plays the daughter Minnie who has a beautiful friendship with Danny’s character and I play Minnie’s father in it.” The actor is all set to morph into yet another character.
Writer: Kritikia Dua
Courtesy: The Pioneer