Celebrating Nawazuddin Siddiqui : A force of nature

By Prerana Panja

Today is versatile actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s birthday and his life story has many versions of it on the internet. His official Wikipedia page will tell you that he comes from a zamindari Muslim family of Lambardars.

For the uninitiated, Lambardar is a title in India which applies to the most powerful families of zamindars of the village revenue estate. It is a state privilege status and is hereditary. It comes with a wide range of governmental powers, majorly, revenue collection and a share in it. Ordinarily these families have a lot of wealth or at the least are enough well to do.

Other information on the internet would paint him as having a poor upbringing and as a rags to riches story.

Was he rich growing up or was he poor? We don’t know for sure. But all controversies aside, we can’t deny that the man has struggled to make his name in the industry and deserves all the praise that he gets. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui

On the occasion of his birthday, let’s take you through the life story of the man as narrated by Nawazuddin Siddiqui himself in interviews.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui was born to a Muslim farming family in Uttar Pradesh. He grew up with eight siblings, six brothers and two sisters, him being the oldest.

On his childhood he said-

Nawazuddin Siddiqui said in an interview that as the oldest child, the onus fell on him to take care of the rest. He was strict with his siblings, he would make sure they stuck to their time table and did their homework. He would also scold them if they were mischievous, albeit he admitted, in reality he was the naughtiest.

Nawazuddin with his brothers.

He recalled a moment when he and his friends stole diyas on diwali. He said “I come from a family of farm workers; all in all we were 11 – my parents and my 9 brothers and sisters. I was the oldest, so naturally it fell upon me to take care of the rest. I was strict – I made sure all of them followed a time table and did their homework. If they were involved in any mischief I would shout at them–of course, in reality, I was the naughtiest! In fact during Diwali, my friends and I would steal diyas!”

On his blossoming love for acting at an early age, he noted –

He and his family used to watch Ramleela plays together and that was his first brush with acting.

He saw one of his friends play Ram and seeing him on stage left him in awe. He dreamt of playing Ram himself one day.

On actualising his dreams of being an actor –

After Nawazuddin completed his college education with a BSc degree in chemistry, he moved to Vadodara to pursue his career as a chemist. He later moved to Delhi in search of better job opportunities. Having watched a few plays back in Vadodara, he was drawn to the theatre culture in Delhi as well. He enrolled himself into the esteemed National School of Drama, New Delhi. Now that he had a relevant degree, he moved to where every aspiring actor moves, the city of dreams, Mumbai.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui during his NSD days, third from the right.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui at NSD
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a play at NSD.

He wouldn’t be anything without his parents support –

He said in an interview that his parents were supportive of him through the period of struggle and told him that he could achieve anything as long as he worked hard.

This faith however would falter at times, perhaps due to the “log kya kahenge” mentality.

He once shared in an interview with Cinestaan that his father was briefly disappointed with him doing small roles and that it was embarrassing for him in front of the neighbours. He said “My father used to get upset when I did small roles. He used to say, ‘why do you do these small roles where you get bashed up. Please don’t come here, it’s embarrassing for the family. Neighbours say that your son is getting hammered” But it seems like this was nothing but normal fatherly concern. Nawazuddin said, “He felt I was beaten for real, but he was fine upon learning that it’s only drama. He asked me to stop doing such roles.”

After landing the lead role in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, he said to his father “why don’t you watch my film now?”

He however has never been disapproving of his son’s career choice.

He said in an interview that his mother who didn’t have a phone back in the day would write letters to him and the letters got him through some really tough times. She’d write to him, telling him not to worry. She told him that he is only human and is doing his best.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui with his mother.

How he struggled to make ends meet in Mumbai-

The Bombay life scared him. Initially he didn’t feel like he’d be able to keep up with the fast pace but slowly he settled in and joined the rat race!

Jobs were still few to nil and money ran short. He recalls living in a flat with four people. He would borrow money from friends and say that he’ll return in 2 days and 2 days later he would borrow from someone else to pay the first person back.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in his struggling days.

He did odd jobs like selling coriander and working as a watchman to survive while he went for auditions to pursue his dream.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in his Hindi film industry debut Sarfarosh (1999)

His long struggle for a breakthrough role-

He said he’d go to a 100 auditions a day and take each one he got, regardless of how small of a role it was. Despite this, it took him nearly 12 years to land his breakthrough role. He said “I must have gone for a 100 auditions and took up every single role that came my way, no matter how small it was. It took 12 years before I got a ‘breakthrough’. It wasn’t easy – the struggle was not beautiful, it was just that; a struggle,”

It was the role of a journalist in Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live (2010) that got him wide recognition in the industry.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a still from Peepli Live.

How he went from being a watchman to the versatile actor he is today –

Though his success was not overnight even after the release of Peepli Live, things definitely picked up for Nawazuddin Siddiqui. 2012 was a phenomenal year for the actor with two big hits Kahaani and Gangs of Wasseypur where the world got to see the real potential of the actor. From there onwards, there was no stopping the force that is known as Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He has since went on to act in big films like Talaash, Lunchbox, Badlapur, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Raees, Manto and also the Oscar nominated film Lion.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a still from Sacred Games

His presence in the OTT scene of India also can’t be overlooked. His performance in the widely recognised Sacred Games has been applauded nationwide and internationally.

He is a living breathing example of what all you can achieve only if you set your heart to it.

Talking about not giving up on his dreams, he said in an interview “So many times I felt I was wasting my time because things were just not working out. But I couldn’t even go back. What would I do there? Spent all my life acting and I don’t know any other work. Also, I was afraid my friends would tease me. Arrey hero banne gaya tha, wapas laut aaya (he had gone to become an actor and has returned with nothing)”

He said that it’s an immense sense of pride when his relatives and friends applaud his success now. He said “It’s a sense of satisfaction because I proved all of them wrong. All of them said ‘kya hero banega (how will he become a hero)’ when I set out. When I go back now they say ‘isne toh karke dikhaya (he has done it)’. I made it possible.”

From struggling to make ends meet as a watchman to being the megastar he is today, his journey is truly inspiring. We wish you a Happy Birthday, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. God doesn’t make many people like you. In your own words, we agree with you when you said “Kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun ho bhagwan hai” you definitely are a god among men when it comes to delivering jaw dropping performances on screen.

Shine on Nawazuddin Sir! Here’s wishing you a very Happy Birthday!

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