When Naseeruddin Shah Said He “Tried And Failed” In Commercial Films: His Journey From Tridev To Bandish Bandits
There is nothing wrong if you remember Sparsh and Tridev in the same breath. It’s good if you’re a fan of the two versions of Naseeruddin Shah in these films, which are poles apart. Call it the versatility of the veteran actor that he could play a visually impaired man in a heartbreaking Sai Paranjpye film and a bandit in the mainstream Tridev masala. He’s given us enough performance (and count) to remain a benchmark in all genres, for years to come.
Naseeruddin Shah is a force to be reckoned with in Indian cinema, and talking about his work in one piece might be too limiting. The onscreen icon who approaches five decades in the industry and has inspired generations of actors with his groundbreaking films like Nishant, Aakrosh, Mirch Masala, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai, Junoon, Mandi, Ardh Satya , Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and several others.
Most of his films come with a “content driven” label. His commercial work has not been that extensive, so despite the offer of a mixed bag, a large majority of the audience still supports him for his alternative cinema. The recipient Padma Bhushan also accepts this to some extent. He has publicly stated that he has largely stayed away from the commercial space because he believes he has not been good enough at this kind of entertainment, even after several attempts.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been good at a commercial film, not that I haven’t tried it. I tried and I failed. I have to admit that I wanted to be a popular hero. Sometimes I tried too hard and other times I didn’t try at all. Frankly, you have to accept the reality of these movies and you have to have affection for them. Unfortunately, I do neither. And so, I really don’t think the roles I played were successful in any of those movies except Tridev ”, Naseeruddin Shah said in an interview with News18 in 2019.
Yes Tridev… And his number “Tirchi Topi Wale”. The movie was released in 1989 and Shah played a dacoit, who romanticized Sonam, in addition to shooting guns and catching the villainous Amrish Puri. The film became the third highest grossing of the year after Maine Pyar Kiya and Ram Lakhan.
Thinking back to his illustrious acting career, Shah has played interesting characters in the aforementioned “commercial movie” genre that boasts of everything Bollywood stands for – big budget, action, romance, loud drama, choreographed songs et al. So, let’s put aside his remarkable work in arthouse cinema, and talk more about his essays in the “masala” space.
“Aside from the immediate reward for doing a good job… So when Tridev arrived about 15 years later, no one was as amazed as I was. I never expected him to have that kind of success and I never expected to be accepted as I was in this part. And, I have since realized that success and failure are byproducts of your efforts, ”the veteran told India Today e-Conclave Inspiration last year.
Actor in theater, Shah’s first turn with this particular type of entertainment was films like Karma, Jalwa, Hero Hiralal and Maalamaal. In fact, with the exception of Ijazaat (1987), Shah explored the typical formula films of the late 1980s, which included dacoit dramas, revenge stories, investigative films, and romantic comedies.
In the 1990s, Shah turned to variations. Like playing a good ghost in Chamatkar, which was Shah Rukh Khan’s first film as a lead actor after Deewana. He again starred with SRK in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na, playing his confidant.
But Shah’s’ 90s are more of a villainous category, outside of the small but punchy roles. His ruthless drug lord Jindal in Mohra has become one of the most memorable villains of recent years. There was also Chaahat and China Gate.
The 1999 blockbuster Sarfarosh established Shah as the quintessential antagonist in Bollywood, as he was also strong and on par with lead actor Aamir Khan. Playing a Pakistani intelligence agent disguised as ghazal singer Gulfam Hassan, Shah not only gave us timeless songs in the film, but also an act to watch in this high octane thriller.
While Iqbal earned him his third national award, he played the scheming scientist in Hrithik Roshan’s superhero film Krrish, both in the late 2000s as well.
It would be wrong to say that Shah has stayed away from the commercial space. Maybe the count was less, the movies were definitely unforgettable. Take for example The Dirty Picture (2011), a perfect sample of what makes a hardcore Bollywood potboiler where he played an aging superstar in southern cinema. He romanticized Vidya’s Silk on “Ooh La La” and knew how to use his larger-than-life character to his advantage.
The actor, however, refrained from promoting his films. That’s because he believed, “The people I promoted flopped. So now I have a really good excuse to stop promoting films. I never promoted Dirty Picture, it was a success. I never promoted Ishqiya, it was a success. I promoted lots of others, all of which bombed. I never promoted Fanny, it was a success. So now it’s confirmed. No more promotions, ”he told Deccan Chronicle in 2014.
We can place A Wednesday, Welcome Back, Aiyaary and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in a similar space too. Even his turn as a patriarch in Bandits bandits last year made fans turn pale in front of his profession. No one can lip-sync like they did, can play riyaaz like they did and turn out to be the highlight of the music web series.
Shah had at one point claimed that his own expectations of a commercial film are different from the realistic cinema he is associated with. “I consider a film to be successful if it succeeds in doing what it sets out to do. I don’t expect social commentary from a David Dhawan film, ”he said. He added, however, that these films prolonged his career. “Tridev has extended my career by 10 years and I am grateful for that. Then Mohra came along and extended my career for 10 years. Likewise, Krrish did well, ”he said.
We wish the devotee a very happy birthday, and may Naseeruddin Shah continue to give us roles in every space – commercial included.
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