Here’s an interesting anecdote from Naseeruddin Shah’s autobiography And Then One Day about the time Shah wrote a letter to Gulzar saab convincing him he was ideal for the role of Mirza Ghalib, a film that never eventually happened.
“While I was studying at FTII, the news that Mr Gulzar was planning a film on the life of Mirza Ghalib had created a buzz and Mr Sanjeev Kumar, one of Gulzar Bhai’s favourite actors, had been asked to play the part. Sanjeev Kumar, after a modest beginning in stunt movies, was now highly acclaimed actor and a major star. After delivering some outstanding performances he seemed to have now developed a rather self-congratulatory way of performing and was thoroughly comfortable with the mannered acting habits typical of all stars.
Even without having read more than a couplet of Ghalib’s poetry, I felt sure Gulzar bhai was making a mistake. Sanjeev Kumar was wrong for the part. Then one day I read that he had been hospitalised and the shooting of the film delayed so with Vikram Mehrotra’s assistance I got hold of Gulzar bhai‘s address and wrote him a letter informing him I was the man he was looking for.
I enumerated my qualifications: I belong to Meerut (true), a place Ghalib had connections with; I’d lived in Old Delhi’s Gali Qasim Jaan where Ghalib had lived (false, I had only visited it); I spoke wrote and read Urdu fluently (one-third true, I only spoke it) and I had studied the great man’s work (totally false).
I assured him he would not regret choosing me and that I was already a very good actor. I hadn’t really expected a reply and didn’t get one; I’d no idea what affect my letter may have had but at that stage there was nothing to lose by trying; surely my missive would have some impact — even if it had only irritated him he would remember it and then perhaps he had seen Nishant by now. I secured an appointment, was warmly received by him at his Pali Hill office and complimented on my work in the film but no mention was made about the possibility of my working for him.
Asking him about my letter later began to seem terribly presumptuous and neither of us made any mention of it nor of the Mirza Ghalib project. It was only much later when I was actually playing Ghalib in his TV series that I mustered up the courage to tell him the letter story — turned out he never received it.”
This excerpt is from the book And Then One Day: A Memoir by Naseeruddin Shah.