By Utpal Borpujari
In the early 1980s, a young college student in Guwahati would take the stage between acts of biting political satire performed a group of stand-up comedians who called themselves the Bhaya Mama Group. The college student mimicked popular Bollywood actors as he and his group members prepared for the next act. Back then, no one could have imagined that decades later the same young man from Goalpara (a small town in Assam) would end up acting in an Ang Lee film. But as destiny would have it, Adil Hussain who for long resolutely shunned the big screen in favour of his preferred mode of acting on stage in front of a live audience – suddenly finds himself in the cusp of the kind of fame that only cinema can bring.
They say cinema is a dream factory but never had Hussain imagined that he would one day share a frame with legendary French actor Gerard Depardieu. In Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Hussain’s very first shot is with the acclaimed Frenchman. “I am shaking inside, ” Hussain told TOI-Crest a day before he left for Taiwan, where Lee is shooting a major portion of the film. “The first shot I have to give is with Depardieu. In the scene, I am required to have to have an argument with him. And that too in French, a language I don’t know, ” he added. The film stars Delhi boy Suraj Sharma in the title role of Pi Patel, Irrfan Khan as the grown up Pi, and Hussain and Tabu as Pi’s parents.
If he could have decided his own destiny, Hussain would have been happy carrying on with his first love – teaching students at the National School of Drama and, occasionally, taking to the stage himself. In fact, till about two years ago, his only big screen appearances were bit roles in a few Assamese films and the lead in Bengali film Iti Srikanto, opposite debutante Soha Ali Khan. Things took a turn after the actor accepted an offer to do a cameo in Abhishek Choubey’s Ishqiya last year. While the publicity machinery and the media focused on Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi – rightly so – Hussain managed to attract attention of both viewers and filmmakers in the few frames he appeared in. (Before Ishqiya, he did a blink-and-you-miss role in Choubey’s mentor Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey. ) Almost simultaneously, he appeared in debutante Sona Jain’s English film For Real, but it was Ishqiya that led a string of filmmakers to his doorstep in south Delhi’s GK-1. These ranged from Italian director Italo Spinelli (in whose Gangor Hussain wowed Western critics), to Sriram Raghavan (in whose Agent Vinod he is playing the antagonist opposite Saif Ali Khan).
Hussain, who has virtually been shunning the film world all these years, suddenly found himself busy selecting a few – and rejecting many – offers to appear in the movies. And as excited as he is to be in Ang Lee’s next, the theatre actor at heart is also quite concerned about what will happen to his stage career. “That’s the part which is bothering me a little bit. It’s bothering me because for the last ten years, I have been thinking of preparing a solo performance with the subject being the craft of acting itself. The idea’s been brewing inside me but now that I’ve taken on films, I might just focus on them for the next few years, ” he said.
Hussain first met Lee at the bidding of the film’s casting director, Dilip Shankar. Detailing how the Taiwanese-American director held him by the shoulders to look deep into his eyes, the actor is all awe for the maker. “He gives you complete space as an actor, without once letting you feel what a great filmmaker he is, ” Hussain recalls. “In fact, when I was on my way to meet him, I distinctly remember thinking that even if I didn’t get the part, I’d have at least met Ang Lee. And at least he considered me. ” As it turned out, it was a very beautiful – and fruitful – meeting. “Lee has an amazing energy around him that instantly puts you at ease. He received me with a smile at the door of his room in a Mumbai hotel and waited for me to ask the first question. I asked why he was making this particular movie. Ang Lee answered meticulously, ending with ‘after all, I’m a storyteller’. For me, that was a defining moment, ” said Hussain.
While Hussain does not have any scenes with Irrfan Khan, his senior from NSD, who will play his son in the film, he is very keen to share screen space with Tabu. “I have seen her in Cheeni Kum and The Namesake, and I think she is a very fine actor. It is always very inspiring to act with a good actor, ” he said. Hussain has signed quite a few interesting projects recently, including Lessons in Forgetting, based on an Anita Nair novel;Partho Sen-Gupta’s Arunoday, a comedy directed by newcomer Gurdeep Kumar, and a Telugu potboiler starring Chiranjeevi’s son Ram Charan Teja. Of course, there’s also a guest role in an Assamese political thriller called Samiran Baruah Ahi Ase (Samiran Baruah is Coming).
So when is he moving to Mumbai? Hussain says he plans to stay in New Delhi for the sake of his friendship with Dilip Shankar, who he puts in the same league as his theatre gurus Anamika Haksar, Naseeruddin Shah, Robin Das and Khalid Tyabji. “If at all I move, it will be to a town smaller than Mumbai, as I would like my son (who will be a year old in March) to have an upbringing that I believe in. A smaller town has more intimacy among the people. Work wise, I don’t think it will be a problem at all. I once auditioned for Hollywood film Fair Game while sitting in my hometown Goalpara. I completely believe that all roles meant for me will find me.”
(Published in The Times of India Crest edition; http://www.timescrest.com, 30-01-2011)