(Updated: July 20, 2020) In a career spanning four decades and 140 films, Naseeruddin Shah has earned the reputation of a remarkable, inimitable actor, who has continually raised the bar with every subsequent performance. He brings an unerring earnestness and subtlety to every part. The three National Film Awards, three Filmfares, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan are all but a testament to the incredible acting talent of Naseeruddin Shah.
As the actor turns 70 today, we bring you some of the finest performances of the veteran:
1. A Wednesday (2008)
“I am just a stupid common man wanting to clean his house.”
Not taking away from the other actors, Naseeruddin Shah effortlessly wins out in this Neeraj Pandey-thriller. He deftly defined the anger of the common man, the anger of the masses and the suppressed rage brewing within. Such a delicate balance was achieved between the roles of a villain and an anti-hero that to this day, after severe deliberation, the situation would stand up as a debate instead of a definite solution. Such was the power of his performance that led us to not only enjoy the film but also empathise with his character, one that stays with you long after you’ve finished watching the film.
2. Masoom (1983)
Unanimously counted among the best films of Shah, Masoom shows the veteran actor during his early years in the role of a loving husband and a caring father. How he molds himself into the part might appear simple but his ability to portray the complexities of the character is noteworthy. The plot of the film develops Shah’s character into a desperate man trying to save his family from falling apart while trying to appease his innocent illegitimate son and take responsibility for him. He impeccably portrays the desperation coupled with the fear of loss without going overboard (which is easy to slip into for such roles).
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3. Sarfarosh (1999)
“Kuch hosh nahi rehta, kuch dhyan nahi rehta; insaan mohabbat mein insaan nahi rehta.”
In this solid thriller, Shah plays the dual role of a poet and a terrorist. He builds a character of mystery, charm and malice all blended together to encapsulate a complex persona with multiple dimensions; one that perhaps does not deserve sympathy but gets it nonetheless because of the finesse with which he weaves the character who has defined motivations. He perfectly treads the very thin line between intrigue and dread. Aamir Khan may have played the lead, but equal credits to Shah who gives as much to the film. He plays the perfect villain driven by a cause.
4. Waiting (2015)
A finespun concoction of a variety of elements – love, relationships, life, Waiting makes you ponder over the fragility of relationships despite the connected worlds we live in. It explores the ever widening generation gap through its sixty and twenty somethings Shiv and Tara. And blends all these elements into a heartening, un-preachy, sometimes sad, sometimes funny film. Waiting is a beautiful film that rides elegantly on the wonderful performances by its leads. Kalki Koechlin displays angst and impatience with an equally admirable mad intensity as the calm composure she dons while learning to cope with her reality. There’s an understated ease with which Shah portrays Shiv. I wonder if Naseeruddin ever needs to give a retake.
5. The Coffin Maker (2013)
A very powerful film, The Coffin Maker allows Naseeruddin Shah to flex his acting muscles to the extreme as he plays a skilled carpenter turned coffin maker. Unhappy with his job and his dysfunctional family life, Shah embodies the grief he suffers from his fall and the frustration with an incredible realism. The philosophical questions on death and the meaning of life are handled with such expertise by Shah that his journey almost resonates truer and closer to life.
6. Ishqiya Duology (2010, 2014)
The two Ishqiya films have given us Naseeruddin Shah in a very different light than what we are used to seeing him in. But here too, he excels in his portrayal of a criminal anti-hero as he becomes the character he is given to play, encompassing all the shades of the character’s psychology and personality. The subtle accent change can easily go unnoticed and that is what is brilliant about this portrayal – the things he does deliberately also ring a certain naturalness.
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7. Interior Cafe Night (2016)
Interior Cafe Night is a story of unfulfilled love, extremely well narrated and brilliantly acted. Over a span of 12 minutes, this short film made me feel things that 2-hour long films, often fail to achieve. And Shah is a delight to watch. Here again, he blends so perfectly in the role taking you through a farrago of emotions with an unmatched ease.
8. Sparsh (1980)
Sparsh is storytelling at its finest, hinged strongly on a great script and powerful performances from Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi. It takes us into the world of the physically challenged without caricaturizing disability or using it as a tool to melodramatize the goings on. That’s where it stands out. Sai Parajpye’s debut feature won three National Awards.
9. Aakrosh (1980)
Shah plays the role of an advocate in Shyam Benegal’s socio-legal thriller. The conviction with which he fights his cases feels sincere and honest. And his portrayal of the knowledge of the dismal condition of the scheduled tribes in the country upon knowing their misfortunes and the concerns that he emanates all stand as exemplary acting. The defence of a man who has been arrested for killing his own wife is quite morally taxing on the character and it shows with the subtle facial changes of the actor. His skill is marvellous as can be seen through the reactions of both critics and audiences alike towards this movie.
10. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983)
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron wasn’t meant for its time. And it’s no fault of the film. In an era like the 1980s, filled with masala, romance and campy tear-jerkers, as well as the inability to get out of the disco fad, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was a satire on all this. And the versatile Naseeruddin Shah wowed us with his ultra comical and hilarious performance, something that would make you woe the fact why we didn’t see him do something similar later in his career.
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11. Nishant (1975)
This was Shah’s debut wherein he plays an innocent brother and son to a powerful, corrupt, evil, law-bending family. His innocent man portrayal stands in stark contrast with the other characters in the film as his docile demeanour gives us a canvas to etch upon the wrongdoings of the rest of his family. He depicts his helplessness with deft ease.
12. Bazaar (1982)
This movie portrays Naseeruddin Shah as a man in love. His portrayal of romance is closer to real life than Bollywood’s starry-eyed idea of it. The drama is encapsulated beautifully in the movie in the quest for true love as Shah and the rest of the cast beautifully portray real, tangible emotions. It is with great empathy that Shah and the others deliver their performances concerning the societal roles that forbid the many acts of love that should be innocent and allowed but are not. Shah’s portrayal adds an extra layer to this seemingly simple film.
By Deepjyoti Roy