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The role Nawazuddin was ashamed to play

In a forthcoming memoir, the actor recalls his struggling days when he fainted on the street from hunger and ‘slept’ onscreen

I decided to pack my bags and leave for Mumbai, certain that I would be given a red-carpet welcome because I was from NSD. Almost immediately, reality slapped its icy water on my starry-eyed face and cut my dreamy wings. Forget the red carpet, work seemed as scarce as drizzle in drought-prone lands.

Without money trickling in, affording rent, affording food, affording cigarettes, affording girlfriends, affording even transport to get to those auditions, becomes a series of battles. Cheap luxuries like bananas and dry roasted channa kept me going. Very soon, I had to give up on them as well. Then came the days when my friend and roommate, Vijay Raaz, and I went on a strict diet: we had Parle-G (glucose) biscuits and tea for breakfast; we had Parle-G biscuits and tea for lunch; we had Parle-G biscuits and tea for dinner…. Soon, even the Parle-G diet ended.

It was another of those afternoons in Mumbai that I spent roaming under the scorching sun. This time I was waiting below the building where my senior Manoj Mishra resided. He was working in television, so he would probably have some money. I was hoping he could give me an udhari of Rs 100 or so. When he came down and I asked him, he said, ‘Nawaz, I have only 100 rupees. I can give you 50.’

‘Okay. Theek hai. Pachas hee de de yaar! (All right, give me 50!)’ He had work but had not been paid. Just like I had not been paid for Shool in spite of multiple trips to the production offices, begging them for what was my due. (Finally, they had offered me a meal instead, which my starving belly had gratefully accepted.)
Manoj went to one of the shops around the corner to get change. When he returned with two 50-rupee notes and handed one of them to me, he asked, ‘When can you return the money, Nawaz? I have no more. This is all I have.’
I assured him, ‘As soon as I get money, I will return it to you.’
But Manoj knew that I was not getting any work. He was concerned.
‘Listen, Nawaz, go to your home town if you are not getting any work. It is okay. What can you do?’ he advised kindly.
Just then I struck the wall of his building and fainted, falling to the hot ground. He sprinkled cool water on my face. I regained consciousness.
‘What happened, Nawaz?’
‘Yaar! I don’t know. I have not eaten for three or four days,’ I told him.
And I burst into sobs. He began crying too. We were not crying out of starvation. Our tears were tears of despair. When would this torture end? Were we so manhoos (ill-fated) that we had no right to a silver lining?

There was a casting director called Jogibhai. During one of those especially desperate phases, I called him a dozen times. ‘Jogibhai, please give me some work. I am desperate. Any work will do. Small, big, anything at all. Please, Jogibhai!’ I pleaded. He relented on the final call.

‘All right, Nawaz. Go to Film City. There is an ad shoot happening there. Go and meet the chief AD (assistant director). I have spoken to him about you.’ ‘Thank you, Jogibhai! Thank you, Jogibhai!’ I exclaimed, more in relief than gratitude. ‘They need two guys. So get someone else too.’ He hung up. There is no dearth of struggling actors. I got someone quickly. Both of us walked from Four Bungalows in Andheri to Film City in Goregaon on foot for the 7 am shoot. The ad was for some brand of air-conditioned buses. The two of us were in the crowd, playing roles of junior artistes. All the actors looked engaged in activities, like passengers usually are. Some were playing cards. Somebody was reading a newspaper. Somebody was knitting a sweater. I had declared that I would sleep. It sounds simple, but it was actually a strategic move on my part. Kaam ka kaam and nobody would even notice that I was in this role since my face would be hidden. I was a bit ashamed to play this role since I was an actor and not a junior artiste or what they call an extra in the West. At the end of the shoot, the chief AD gave us a total of Rs 4000, Rs 2000 to the actor who accompanied me and Rs 2000 to me. Before the creases of our smiles could broaden, a man interrupted us. He was the coordinator of junior artistes. ‘Who are you guys?’ he asked in a stern voice. ‘We are artistes,’ we replied cautiously. ‘What artistes?’ he demanded. ‘We are junior artistes,’ we replied sheepishly.

‘Okay. Show me your cards,’ he said, stretching out his hand to take and inspect the cards we did not have. ‘We have no cards. We are actors.’ ‘If you are actors, then why are you here doing the work of junior artistes?’ he demanded.

‘We had no work, sir. So we did this. Please understand, sir,’ we pleaded. After a moment’s silence, he asked us, ‘Did you get paid?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘How much?’ ‘Two thousand per person.’ ‘All right. So you have two choices,’ he explained. ‘Either you give me 1000 rupees each or I send both of you to jail.’ We reluctantly handed over half of our payment to him and walked out of Film City that evening in silence. Right outside was a bar. I believe it was called Sudarshan Bar, but I am not sure. We still had 1000 rupees each. So we drank rum, Old Monk. And we ate Chinese food. Actually, we ordered everything we could: chicken chilli, shahi paneer, rotis, fried rice . . .
who knew when we could afford to eat again!

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