National Award winning actor Adil Hussain has an eclectic filmography. From someone who gathered immense critical acclaim as Rajiv in Mukti Bhawan, he has also ventured to star in multiple commercial films. As an indie film actor, he has found equilibrium over the years. If one were to enquire about his biggest fear as an actor, he would succinctly say that he fears being fake on screen. Having watched and rewatched multiple movies of his, it's safe to say that the sheer genuineness with which he portrays every character deeply resonates with the viewers. In his latest release, Pareeksha: The Final Test, he plays the role of Bucchi, a rickshaw puller who fights tooth and nail for his son to receive quality education, exposing the jarring reality of the capitalist setup we live in.
We’re in conversation with the actor extraordinaire about the kind of challenges that he faced while playing Bucchi, his experience working with Prakash Jha, his aspirations as an actor and what’s coming up next for him.
Why do you do what you do?
There are so many things involved. Depending upon what movie I’m working on — something that gives me a subtler understanding and takes me away from the binary explanation of the reality that surrounds the world, society, and personal interactions. This gives me another subtle outlook, another point of view and that gives me the strength and the ability to look at one truth from multiple perspectives.
Talking about Pareeksha: The Final Test, how challenging was it for you to prepare for such a role?
Every role comes with its own set of challenges because to be true, or to be truer than the last time is always challenging, especially how deep I’m digging into the truth of the situation of the character that I’m playing. Bucchi isn’t very far away from me, I grew up in a very humble house, however not as poverty stricken as Bucchi’s family. My next door neighbours were very poor and they had rented out this one little hut to a rickshaw puller and he would give me free rides quite often, and I still remember the smell of sweat from the banyan that he used to wear. We developed a friendship and I used to accompany him to the mechanic shop whenever he went to get his rickshaw fixed. I was very observant and possessed this curiosity about how things were done and I ended up playing a cycle mechanic in a film called Zed Plus. Such roles aren’t very far from me, I grew up in a household with four elder brothers and my father couldn’t afford milk, we always suffered from a shortage of resources.
What was it like working with Prakash Jha for Pareeksha: The Final Test? Do you consider yourself to be a director’s actor?
He’s a legendary filmmaker and I’ve grown up on his films, including Damul and many others. He’s someone who surprised me very pleasantly with the understanding he possesses for the craft of acting. He’s also an actor. I watched him in this film called Cycle and I was bowled over by his acting. He understood acting very well and he always wanted us actors to speak the line without acting it out while we read the script. This is also the way I personally prepare for roles, I never tend to fix how I’ll say my lines. He was actually the first director who insisted upon not acting it out while reading the script, he wanted the process to be open and free. He wanted us to come on set and absorb the atmosphere and our surroundings, and then deliver the dialogues depending on what we were feeling.
It was an absolute joy and pleasure to work with Prakash jee, he took great care of all the actors. I had to actually pull the rickshaw several times and I practiced this as well weeks before we started shooting. He hired a masseuse to take care of my legs and I’m extremely grateful to him for that. He’s quite often also behind the camera, he’s someone who knows exactly what he wants and someone like that is a treat to work with. I think I’m always a director’s actor.
You have worked on various different sets, be it nationally, internationally or regionally. What has the difference in experience been like?
I cannot generalise the differences but if I look at most of the films that I have worked for in India, I think they needed more pre-production preparation, unlike Pareeksha and quite a few other films, including Mukti Bhawan. I think there’s less preparation and planning in pre-production here — everything isn’t completely airtight. Most of the international productions that I have done have had very precise planning before they went on towards the shooting aspect. I had received the number of the driver who was going to pick me up and the precise minute he was scheduled to meet me two months in advance for Life of Pi. They plan everything to the T and start counting down hours before they even finish the filming — it may be three hours before planned or sometimes even a minute post what was scheduled. This is the kind of precision that I don’t usually find in India, but when it comes to talent, there are people here who are amazingly talented and there are people abroad who really aren’t. I don’t think I can generalise, it’ll be really unfair.
What does your post-filming process look like? Is it hard for you to distance yourself from the characters you play?
It used to be hard to distance myself from characters when I used to do theatre. Theatre involves a more lengthened process, there’s more engagement — from the day of the first sit down to when you start reading a script, and then very slowly from the two and half to three months of rehearsals, till when you finally do your first show. I’ve done Othello for ten years, it is difficult to come out of it after ten years, but in film, the process of rehearsals mostly isn’t there. If it’s there, it’ll probably only be a day or two, or at most one week. By the time you actually get into the role the shooting is wrapped up.
I have learned over the years how to get out of it at the drop of a hat because it was vital for me to learn the craft of getting out of it. I’ve seen actors around me suffering and I’ve read the autobiographies of several actors who have suffered because they stayed in that rut of playing a darker role, or even if they have played an enlightened character and coming back to their own selves. It’s actually a mystery though — what even is your own self? You’re constantly playing different roles in life as well, you’re playing a father, a citizen, a mother, a son, a brother or even a teacher. I’m getting a hang of it despite all the enigma that surrounds the situation.
You’ve won multiple awards including the National Award and esteemed international ones, and your movies have played at all these coveted film festivals. What are your aspirations as an actor now?
Frankly I don’t know. I would like to play the role of Krishna, it is something that I have been relentlessly preparing for since the last three months and I have just managed to work through one page of the script, which is actually the first page. It is going to take some time and that’s my biggest challenge right now, to be able to embody even an iota of Krishna while I act. I would love to be able to share that with people, it’s a theatre piece and a one man performance. I’ll be enacting the roles of both Krishna and Arjuna. There’s a dialogue going on between Krishna and Arjuna at the brink of war and it’s trying to encapsulate the essence of Gita. I’m really looking forward to it.
How have you been coping with the lockdown and what do you think the industry is going to look like moving forward?
The entire situation, in so many ways, has been absolutely disturbing, enlightening, enriching and even insightful. It was extremely frustrating when I saw people suffering in every possible way, be it economically or emotionally, people died and we weren’t prepared for this unprecedented catastrophe. At the same time, I did manage to gain certain insights — how little we truly need and what the essentials of life really are, especially what one values in terms of family. It’s vital, reflecting upon oneself and the way the mechanism of peace, quietude and happiness works within. As an actor it’s my job to find out how these instruments function.
In terms of the film industry, we humans as a whole, and especially those invested in creative fields, are extremely resilient and creative enough to find a way through this and continue with the work we’ve been doing. I think everyone now realises the importance of art during a crisis. Be it books, paintings or films — how art plays such an important role to keep one truly sane. It is usually said, and rightly so, that art is the psychiatrist of the soul — art is the doctor of your being, it helps us find that balance and tranquility to be able to continue with life and be able to maintain hope. I think the film industry might just come out with a lot of lessons about the kind of stories that we need to tell and why is it that we choose to tell a narrative on screen altogether. I hope we emerge stronger.
Lastly what’s coming up next?
I’m reading a few scripts right now. One will be the biggest film of my life in terms of budget, in terms of the role — it’ll be the lead role and it will be produced by two famous producers of a recent Oscar winning film, I can’t name them at the moment. I’m preparing for all that. I will soon need to leave the country for shooting a project as well, that’ll be the first time for me since the lockdown began.
Text Unnati Saini