Naseeruddin Shah

  • Actor, Director, Voice

Jul 20, 1950  in Uttar Pradesh, India

Also Known as: Nasiruddin Shah, Naseeruddin

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Known to have revolutionized Indian parallel cinema, Naseeruddin Shah is a veteran film and theater actor and director. He began his acting career with Shyam Benegal’s drama film Nishant and went on to star in path-breaking films like Umrao Jaan (1981), Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), Ardh Satya (198), Sarfarosh (1999), Monsoon Wedding (2001), Being Cyrus (2006), and A Wednesday (2008). The actor, in 2006, turned director with the drama film Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota. For his immense contribution to Indian cinema, this multiple National Film Award winning actor was felicitated with the coveted Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan, in 1987 and 2003, respectively.

In 2014, Naseeruddin Shah chronicled his life in the book titled-And then one day: A Memoir. The seasoned actor’s autobiography is a tour de force, which takes one through all major passages of his life.

Early Life
Born to Aley Mohammed Shah and his wife Farrukh Sultan in Uttar Pradesh, India, Naseeruddin Shah did his schooling from St. Anselm's Ajmer and St Joseph's College, Nainital. As a kid, Naseer, as he is fondly called, was never interested in studies. He would sneak out of the house, away from the prying eyes of his father, to watch films with his friends.

In 1971, he graduated in Arts from the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University, after which he joined the National School of Drama in Delhi. Post honing his craft in this mecca for stage actors, Naseeruddin Shah joined FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), Pune, back then known as Pune Film Institute. There he made friends like Tom Alter, and Om Puri, with whom, his passion for acting saw new heights, broadening his perspective and nurturing the artist in him.

Personal Life
At an early age of 20, Naseeruddin Shah fell in love with Manara Sikri, who was 36 years old at that time and a divorcee. Both tied the knot and their daughter Heeba Shah was born roughly one year after the marriage. Cracks between the couple started seeping in and the frequent fights led to their separation, when Heeba was merely one-year-old. The divorce, however, happened 12 years after that, because in the nikahnama (marriage contract), Shah had promised her lump sum alimony, which he couldn’t afford at the time of separation. Amidst the proceedings of the divorce, he fell in love with the stage and film actress Ratna Pathak, daughter of Dina Pathak and sister of Supriya Pathak, who is married to the celebrated actor Pankaj Kapoor. Both Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak, after a long live-in relationship, finally married in 1982. They have two sons from their nuptial- Imaad and Vivaan, who are also actors in the Hindi film industry.

Heeba Shah, who shifted to Iran with her mother, when she was a kid, contacted her father after growing up. She then shifted to Mumbai and started living with his family. Her mother, Manara died in Iran in the 1990s. Heeba is now a popular and well-respected face amongst the theater circuit.

Movie Career
As an Actor
Naseeruddin Shah made his feature film debut, in 1975, with the legendary director Shyam Benegal’s drama film Nishant. Co-starring an ensemble of arthouse actors like Smita Patil, Amrish Puri, Girish Karnad, and Shabana Azmi, the movie is considered to be a milestone in Indian parallel cinema. Shah reunited with Shyam Benegal in his next directorial venture Bhumika, where he again starred with his Nishant co-stars, Smita Patil and Amrish Puri. The movie went on to receive two National Film Awards and widespread critical acclaim, giving Naseeruddin Shah an image of a ‘serious’ actor.

The year, 1980 proved to be a landmark one for Shah, as he starred alongside Shabana Azmi in the feature film Sparsh. Directed by Sai Paranjpye, the movie received several accolades, including a National Film Award for Best Actor for him. He soon came to be recognized as the face of non-commercial cinema in India and this image was further cemented with films like Chakra (1981), Umrao Jaan (1981), Bazaar (1982), Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), Masoom (1983), and Ardh Satya (1983).

Another feather in his cap was added with Goutam Ghose’s drama film Paar. Based on the rural exploitation by landlords in Bihar, India, the movie along with Naseeruddin Shah starred Shabana Azmi and Om Puri in the lead roles. Essaying the role of a laborer, Naseeruddin Shah won his second National Film Award for Best Actor. Breaking away from his image of a parallel cinema actor, Shah, in the following years, experimented with commercially successful films like Karma (1986), Tridev (1989), Chamatkar (1992), and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1993). In 1994, he played the negative role of Mr. Jindal in the blockbuster film, Mohra. Co-starring Raveena Tandon, Sunil Shetty and Akshay Kumar in the lead roles, the film went on to become the second highest grossing movie of 1994 and Naseeruddin Shah made a successful foray into the other side of the industry, bagging the Filmfare Best Villain Award.

In 1999, he played the antagonist in another crime thriller Sarfarosh. Directed by John Matthew Matthan, the movie followed the story of a young medical student who quits his studies to join the Indian Police Service to wipe out the terrorists, who murdered his brother. Naseeruddin Shah won nationwide critical acclaim for essaying the role of Muhajir and again took home Filmfare Award for Best Villain. The actor, subsequently made his Hollywood debut with Stephen Norrington’s adventure film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In spite of being a commercial success, the movie was a huge failure, critically.

In 2006 came his third National Film Award for portraying Guruji in the coming-of-age sports drama film Iqbal. Directed by Nagesh Kukunoor, the movie stars Shreyas Talpade in the titular role and follows the tale of a young boy from a remote Indian village, whose passion for cricket, makes him overcome all his hardships. Iqbal was a huge hit both critically and commercially, receiving the National Film Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues.

The year 2007 saw Naseeruddin Shah, venture into Pakistani cinema with the drama film Khuda Kay Liye. Starring Shaan, Fawad Khan and Iman Ali in the lead roles, the movie was screened at numerous international film festivals, winning praises all over. He further starred in Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday, Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live, Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya, Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots and Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture.

In 2016, he paired with Kalki Koechlin for Anu Menon’s drama comedy Waiting. Screened at the London Asian Film Festival, the movie opened to positive reviews by the critics, with performances of both the protagonists being particularly praised. His 2017 releases include Shaad Ali’s romantic drama film OK Jaanu, starring Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor in the lead; and Aparnaa Singh and Nishant Tripathi drama film Irada, co-starring an ensemble of actors like Arshad Warsi, Divya Dutta, Sharad Kelkar, and Sagarika Ghatge in lead roles.

As a Director
Naseeruddin Shah’s maiden directorial venture was the movie Yun Hota toh Kya Hota, starring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ayesha Takia, Jimmy Shergill, Paresh Rawal, Boman Irani, Saroj Khan and Irrfan Khan in important roles. Based on the 9/11 attacks, the movie opened to mixed reviews.

Television Career
As an Actor
In 1988, he acted in the eponymous television series based on the life and times of Mirza Ghalib, directed by Gulzar and telecast on DD National. In the same year, he portrayed the Maratha King Shivaji in another TV series Bharat Ek Khoj, based on Jawaharlal Nehru's book The Discovery of India, helmed by celebrated filmmaker Shyam Benegal.

Stage Career
As an Actor
Even after the success he has got as a Hindi film actor, Naseeruddin Shah still calls performing on stage, his first and eternal love. He has been a part of acclaimed plays like Waiting for Godot, Dear Liar, Ismat Apa Ke Naam, A Walk In The Woods and Einstein.

As a Director
Naseeruddin Shah has directed several plays, written byHasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai, and Lavender Kumar, under his theater company.