Edited Excerpts from an interview •
“Yes, I was a science student and graduated in chemistry. After completing my graduation a thought cropped up in my mind after I watched a play. One of my friends asked me to company him. I watched the play for the first time. The chemistry that existed between the actor and audience had mesmerized me. From that day, I decided to become an actor. Initially, I had joined an amateur group, left the highly paid job of a chemist in Gujarat. I joined theatre and started doing small roles in plays. That’s in Baroda.
Someone suggested me to join the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi. After doing three years course in acting at NSD, I stayed there for four more years in Delhi. I did street plays. Later found these vocation non-paying. Therefore, I landed in the glittery world of glamour — Mumbai. I had thought that I would get some role in TV soaps. Then, I tried my luck on the big screen. Managed to get little success. After four painful years of struggle, I could grab a little screen presence.
On an unfortunate day, a caller asked me whether I would do one scene. Tired of the monotony, I told him I am not interested in one scene. I would rather be interested in doing at least two scenes. This continued till 2008. During this time Nandita Das’ Firaq was on the floor. I got a big role there. The film revolved around four odd stories. One of them was mine. It was the biggest break I got after a rollercoaster ride.
I got a chance to act in Peepli Live in 2010. In 2011, three odd films landed at my door — Gangs of Wassepur, Talaash and Kahaani. These films got released in 2012. Thereafter, I stopped looking back and started moving ahead with renewed zeal.
Manto’s character is of an outspoken, extrovert and fearless individual. He never compromises with the odds of life. How do you correlate yourself with the character?
Nowadays, it’s difficult to find character like Manto. I correlate myself a lot with the character. It’s not only me but many others too, in one way or the other, relate with his sense of humour, arrogance and sensibility, as well as his thoughts. Every one of us want to tell truth but there are certain social constraints and fear that one does not express openly. Society does not accept truth. People become judgmental and start casting aspersions. That’s why people dread to come out with truth. But those who overcome these social barriers and fearlessly express what they think is truth becomes Manto in allegorical sense. ‘Mantoiat’ is what we all have but we lack that courage and conviction. Therefore he was Manto, his ‘Mantoiat’ remains matchless.
How did you prepare yourself to step into his character?
The central part of the portrayal of his character in the movie moves round the truth. It’s basically the assimilation of truth in your character. Being honest and truthful with oneself was the very first requirement. Demand of the character was to be honest with yourself. Once you are honest with yourself, truthful with yourself, your presence and your body language automatically transforms into Manto.
Your movies depict truth in its pristine form. Does it still has the relevance?
If truth is gagged, nothing would be left and the people will be resigned to shudder with the very thought of this. But there are still some people who never desist to speak truth. They open their mouth to protect your rights and safeguard your freedom. This will continue.