Manto is all set to release in theatres soon. It appears to be Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s finest performance but Mardaani star Tahir Raj Bhasin also promises to deliver some great, power-packed role as a superstar Sham. He could connect to his character the most, and was more than welcomed on the sets.
As he gets candid in an exclusive chat with Deccan Chronicle, here are the excerpts from it:
When you were offered Manto, what was your first reaction?
I was really excited to play a Bollywood superstar, that too in a vintage film. It was so great to be doing the part, and when I read about Sham, he was a charmer and brought out the best in Manto. For me it was this amazing combination of having a glamorous spot and acting with Nawaz at the same time so I jumped at it.
Seeing that a movie on Manto was directed by a female director Nandita Das, were you proud of her?
To be directed by someone who’s been an actor herself – that has brought an amazing dynamic. She’s very particular and well researched, who took 2-4 years to put Manto together. You could tell from the very start that one of her biggest accomplishments was the team which she managed to put together. We’ve got feedback from London, Cannes and all over the world that our movie is aesthetic, which makes me proud to be part of the film.
She herself has been part of path-breaking movies like Fire and Earth. So it’s expected that such a female director will do justice to the movie?
First of all I never saw her as a female director. For me she was just a director. We make a mistake in labelling people based on their gender. Never on set did you feel like her way of functioning is different from what a male director would’ve been.
Coming to expectations, when you read the script, you know it then that it will be challenging because we had to make period film look right. Till a film releases, there’s never a measure of certainty, although expectations are always there.
Did you also work for free?
I would like to get there, to be able to work for free, like my character Sham who started from nothing and then eventually rose to stardom.
Did you read Manto’s books?
Definitely. Not only Manto’s work, but as an actor, you also need to understand who these people were and where did Sham and Manto connect. From what I figured, they most connected when both were in debt. They were both rebels who didn’t like anything that curtailed freedom of expression for an artist.
How much do you connect to your character as a person?
There are a lot of aspects. Sham was this light-hearted charmer who loves the good life. He came to Mumbai (Bombay then) with dreams in his eyes. What was great was the chemistry I shared with Nawaz off screen too. He was so humble.
Did you expect that?
I met him socially before. I definitely knew he’s a humble person but he also makes a great co-actor. It’s like a sport – you’re only as good as your partner is, and when you’re opposite Nawaz, you have to bring your best game to the table. I hope the audience sees that there was a great camaraderie that she shared.
Manto’s books have spoken about women in a certain way. What is your opinion about the gender?
More than any time, in history we need to have equality at the moment in terms of everything – social norms, pay scale, respect and legal rights. The great thing about Manto is that he was writing about women when it was a taboo to do so. He wrote about sex workers, rape and a lot of subjects that people didn’t want to read about. For an intelligent audience, they will try to see the subtext about what he was trying to say – that a subject or a writer should not be censored, which is what we have even in today’s day.
Do you think he was actually ahead of his time?
Yeah, and when an artist is ahead of its time, usually society reacts the way they did to Manto – they don’t know how to deal with it. That’s a sign of him being a thinker far ahead of his time.
Apart from acting, did you contribute towards the music or something else?
No I didn’t, but I would hope to have contributions like that in the future.
Where do we see Tahir after Manto?
I’ve just signed a Nitesh Tiwari film which I’m very excited about. The film is produced by Sajid Nadiadwala, who together make an amazing combination. I look forward to working with them.