Naseer’s Autobiography…

thanks to An Jo…
Naseeruddin Shah sets the gold standard as a master memoirist.

In the West, there is a long and rich tradition of actors and movie stars telling their stories, most captivatingly, in their own words.

This is as it should be: who but these great alchemists of the stage and screen can interpret the magical power of words in performance — or carry us deep into the recesses of the human mind?

There are numerous instances of thespians becoming literary stars, giving their stellar careers a second wind, from the luminous perception of Alec Guinness’ memoirs and diaries (Blessings in Disguise; My Name Escapes Me) to Rupert Everett’s recent chart-busting “chronicles of celebrity hell” (Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins; Vanished Years).

When the Hollywood siren Lauren Bacall wrote her autobiography, she knowingly called it By Myself: whatever the world thought of her, she implied, this was what her world was really like.

It’s an account so disarmingly candid that it needs no enabling ghost writer’s crutch.

By comparison, Indian actors can’t hack it.

Their collective writings should be labelled “Varnished Years”: Dev Anand’s autobiography, Romancing with Life, is as clunky as its title; Dilip Kumar’s recent memoir comes sanitised with Flush Clean.

The late and great Zohra Segal, as you’d expect, was somewhere up to the mark in Stages. But now it’s time to hit the “pause” button.

This week, Naseeruddin Shah sets the gold standard as a master memoirist. And Then One Day (Penguin; Rs 699) is a tour de force of storytelling as well being the unexpurgated account of a chronic dope head’s life and brilliant career till the age of 32.

Or how the third son of a provincial civil servant in north India, “an unremarkable, unattractive, unintelligent, unfriendly type… [found] great solace in pretending to be other people.”

Central to an actor’s story is a conundrum: is his life really about the lives of others?

“I have been grappling for years with the question of whether experiencing difficulty in dealing with real life is what drives people to become actors,” asks Shah.

He attacks the question with zest, wit and dollops of self-doubt; packing in acute observation, telling anecdote and portraiture in an enthralling narrative of exceptional writing. And his complex answer is this: there can be no serious examining of other lives without unrelenting self-scrutiny.

Theatre and film aficionados of the 1970s will find much entertainment and understanding here of the halcyon days of the National School of Drama under E Alkazi, the Film and Television Institute of India under Girish Karnad and the pioneering early films of Shyam Benegal; there is also a probationary account of his life as a self-deluding runaway from college to work as a starving extra in Bombay (now Mumbai)’s film trash.

What elevates Shah’s voice from the herd are his opinions.

He is not so much opinion maker or opinionated as an audacious “opinionist”.

Ever the misfit in mainstream cinema, he “found most of the acting in Indian movies so unbearably false”. (“Even the ugly character has to be handsome ugly,” pointed out Subhash Ghai.)

His adolescent public school adoration was for Geoffrey Kendal of Shakespeareana, and later for Laurence Olivier, Toshiro Mifune, Dustin Hoffman and Marlon Brando. He is as shrewdly assessing about his gurus and co-stars.

“Satyadev Dubey, like Alkazi, had an inbuilt shit-detector and no patience at all with ‘fancy concepts like exploring’.” His long-standing co-star, Shabana Azmi, is doused with praise before being judged for the “smug reverence she has for her own acting and her tendency to perform with background music playing in her head…”.

Pran, the Hindi film villain, is described as “the world’s best bad actor”.

Till date, he has not seen one of his most popular movies, Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom (1983), because of his pathological loathing of glutinous child stars: “They could give you diabetes.”

He is unsparing about the most troubled passages of his personal life. His fraught relationship with his father remains unresolved till the sad end.

A close association with a fellow actor from their drug-fuelled drama-school days becomes damaging and violent. His abandoned daughter from his first teenage marriage comes to live with him after 14 years.

In the end, what does an actor’s life add up to? “I am still often mistaken for Om Puri or Girish Karnad or Nana Patekar… who they get mistaken for, I don’t know.”

Quixotic, remorseless, powerful — And Then One Day is a rare, unforgettable performance by Naseeruddin Shah.


24 Responses to “Naseer’s Autobiography…”

  1. Looking forward to this..


  2. He looks a bit like Marquez in this shot.


  3. What a timing..been watching and discovering a rare actor, great communicator since couple of days on ndtv ( and on youtube

    Thanks for putting this article here.


    • Yes it is a joy. I saw this interview and was waiting for this to crop up on youtube so that I could post it here. But didn’t find it there.

      This is a must-watch interview.

      Glad Naseer dismissed the concerns of ‘liberals’ like the great ‘activist’ Shabana Azmi in the end as ‘siege’ mentality & didn’t give it an unnecessary fanning.

      LOL at his comment on Amitabh’s choices. ” If these are the films he accepts, imagine what he rejects!! ” Wonderful! Amitabh really deserved a big thwack even during his peak & more than that now on MANY of his choices of films. It is only his SHEER unmatchable talent that has lifted him & his films and kept his luminescence alive..


  4. The Anupam Kher Show – Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri – Episode No: 5 – 3rd August 2014(HD)


  5. Haven’t seen this link but in general naseers interviews are gems.
    Infact to be honest
    I prefer his interviews to even his roles
    Naseer is a brilliant actor but he does have these patheirc roles like in fanny
    Frankly it was a droll and shameful role in fanny -I hate such creatures he was portraying

    His best role (that I’ve witnessed) remains Masoom imo

    But his interviews remain crisp honest malicious and a bit like yours truly …
    Ps haven’t seen this link or video or book yet


  6. Must Watch !!!

    Watch crackling and one of best intvws of Naseerudin on his book with Barkha Dud ( Though I dislike her most but have to admit its her best performance)


    • I have never been a fan of Naseer’s interviews due to outrageous attention seeking statements in the past but here he seems genuine, subdued and real. I could sympathize somewhat with his responses this time around. The ending of the clip esp. that question with shayari on movies made on market demands was absolutely fantastic.


  7. It is indeed must watch Bliss..and that’s why I’ve already put this link in my previous post..”must watch and still hasn’t noticed by U or satyam!! it’s pity..



    There is a new wave of cinema today with films like Finding Fanny.

    I haven’t been offered such films.

    As an actor you look out for something challenging and something you haven’t done before, something that pushes you to explore aspects of yourself or your craft.

    The lack of that is a bit depressing, but at the same time, theatre has provided great sustenance for my mind and my ability as an actor.

    They can barely write a good part for Deepika Padukone, so how are they going to write a good part for me?

    Poor girl, she has been around for several years now and she just got one decent part, something that is really going to stand the test of time.

    India is getting educated and it is changing in a big way. When this bunch of kids grows up and they look back at the kind of films that were made, they will find it ridiculous.

    I was watching a documentary the other day about world cinema called The Story of Film. They talked about cinema from all over the world including places like Iran, Korea and Burkina Faso.

    I tell you, even the film from Burkina Faso was more interesting than what we have to offer. All we had to offer was Satyajit Ray, who was somewhat tolerable; you didn’t have to hang your head in shame.

    And then the next thing on offer was Sholay. They showed the song between Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan.

    I was thinking, if I were a French person watching this, what would I make of two grown men behaving in this manner? It was deeply embarrassing.

    I thought back on Sholay. It’s a series of stereotypes and borrowed ideas from films from all over the world, mainly American, of course. And we are still singing praises of that film. What kind of self analysis are we doing as a filmmaking nation?

    This is our hundred years as a film producing nation and today supposing a bomb drops on the world and supposing all that is left is Sholay, what will that say about the way Indians behave towards each other? What would it say about our civilisation?


  9. Rangan on Naseer’s book..

    How did an actor with such attitude put himself through the paces of mainstream cinema? At least the likes of Jalwa and Hero Hiralal we can assume were projects he took on because of the directors (Pankaj Parashar, Ketan Mehta) with whom he shared a sensibility. But Tridev? Mohra? And, yes, Karma? At times, Shah seems to say that he didn’t mind the commercial stuff all that much, and that his vitriol was really sour grapes. “My attitude to Hindi cinema turned even more condescending, possibly because I couldn’t see myself fitting in in it. I was resentful in advance of being cast in roles it would hurt my ego to play… Though I have to say the thought that I was not qualified to be the lead in popular movies pinched greatly, so this reaction was very possibly my defence mechanism working in advance to counter the rejection I anticipated…” Later, he admits that “the only two who could make the schmaltzy Hindi film dialogue and ersatz situations believable were Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan and I was nowhere in their league.”


  10. Anil Dharkar and Shyam Benegal were present at the launch of Naseeruddin Shah’s autobiography And Then One Day: A Memoir book in Mumbai. Naseeruddin spoke about his life’s journey, shared some of his film shooting experiences and why he felt ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ was the torturous film. Others spotted at the event were Satish Shah and Ratna Pathak.


  11. Part 2 –


    • Is there any proof needed of these joker’s inadequacies? Their only hope of garnering attention is taking potshots at AB!
      Sure, there are some equally pathetic souls lap it up.
      There can never be any doubts about Naseer’s talent. He is immensely gifted but in interviews comes across as petty and bitter. Sure, it makes good trading for other petty people hat boring similar bitterness
      And disappointments in their life.


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