Thursday, May 30, 2024

In Conversation with actor Zakir Hussain

Interviewed by – Robin Tyagi 

Written by – Nupur Jha

Edited by – Robin Bhuyan

Zakir Hussain is a prominent actor known for his versatile acting, predominantly in negative and comedic roles. His journey from a small town to becoming a well-known name in the Bollywood film industry is a testament to his dedication and talent.

Throughout his career, he has played important roles in many notable movies such as Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar, Sriram Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddaar, Rohit Shetty’s Singham Returns and more recently, he was seen in OTT platforms in shows like Zakir Khan’s Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare.

In an exclusive interview with Enigmatic Horizon, we recently had the opportunity to learn more about his insights on various topics, such as nepotism, his experience in working alongside Amitabh Bachchan as a newcomer, OTT, television, and career advice for those planning to join the industry.

How did you develop an interest in the realm of acting? Was there any movie or drama that inspired you to become an actor?

Actually, no specific movie or drama inspired me to pursue acting. My family was shifting to Delhi from Meerut. My father and brother were already working there, and the rest of our family migrated too. When I moved from my town to there, I was 15 or 16 years old. Until 7th or 8th grade I had studied in my town and later continued my studies in Delhi. Our home was located in Malvenagar, and at that time, we didn’t have a television at home. So, we used to stand in front of the local market to watch TV, as there was only one shop that had a television. Since I hadn’t seen a TV before, when I saw it for the first time, I was quite intrigued. I didn’t know when I started to take it seriously and when exactly it developed. But eventually, my passion for acting started to grow on its own.

How was your experience at the NSD (National School of Drama)?

Every generation has its own opportunities. Before NSD, people who wanted to pursue acting had difficulty entering the industry. There was hardly any television, which is why sources to show your talent were extremely limited or close to none. You may have struggled in films, with hardly anyone welcoming you in studios. It is definitely something tricky. People like Johnny Walker and Mahmood are from outside the industry. But they found their ways to crack it.

Later, when actors like Om Puri and Naseer Bhai, who were theatre artists, entered, they proved the efficiency of training in theatre, which is intensive, and something that they take very seriously.  It is something that one may not learn at the FTII. There are some limitations in the camera point of view. But in theatre, it is something entirely different.

In the film industry, they had set patterns that needed to be broken and changed. But who would give a chance to new actors? Anupam Kher sir, Naseer Bhai, and Om Bhai were given an opportunity, and they all managed to prove themselves. Slowly, people started to understand the importance of training to act.

You had your first role as Rashid in RGV’s Sarkar alongside Mr. Bachchan; how was your experience as a newcomer? How did you feel working with such a legendary actor like Big B?

Working with such a legend, whose movies we used to watch at a young age, and later whom we watched becoming the greatest actor of the century, was an honor. And while you stand in front of such an actor, performing is itself a challenge. Also, to have such a role so early in my career was not easy. It was a big challenge for RGV as well. But everything was okay; because RGV had faith in my talent.

It would be a lie if I said I was not scared at all. I was scared at first but eventually, the work was completed successfully. Everyone liked the performance as well, thankfully.

What was the most challenging role you did? Was it your role in Sarkar, or was there a more challenging role you did?

No, it’s not like that; all roles are challenging. But this was one of my earliest role, and if this had gone wrong, rest of my career might not have gone too well.  For me it was a matter of life and death, not just a matter of career. Later, some producers even asked RGV why would he give such a role to a newcomer. There were unsure if I would be able to pull it off. However, RGV had confidence in me and he recognized my talent. He is able to dig up the actors and shape them to his needs. I didn’t shy away from giving all my efforts either.

Did you think of asking them to consider someone else?

No, no… at that time, I thought this role was mine. I was confident that I was capable. Now, the question was to prove it in front of them. They gave you a chance; it’s on you to take it and show them. I was lucky to have such an opportunity to have a breakthrough.

You appeared in lots of web series and shows too. What difference do you feel exists between the web series and movie industries?

I feel the format is the only difference. When you shoot an ad film, it is of 60 seconds; when you shoot a film, it’s two hours long. So, you have limited time to develop the story and characters. Or if it’s a web series, it is around six hours long, but still, I would call it a film. As for television, the requirements and camera angles are different. It does have a difference. In web series, the actors, directors, and producers have time. But in movies, it’s more precise and time bound. Web series require being crisp, but the storytelling can be expanded. However, you can’t do it in films.

If we talk about newcomers, web series offer them more opportunities as compared to movies. From that perspective, what do you believe? Should they wait for films, or is the platform of web series a good choice?

Well, it depends on the person. In my time, I started with television, and then shifted to movies. Today, we have television, film, and OTT as options. But the requirements changed, and people do television and also receive opportunities from films. I did films, OTT, and television. Television has roles with a fixed and committed timeframe of 30 – 40 days.

What responsibility does cinema have towards society?

I feel cinema was actually made for social reformation. Slowly, it started to incorporate entertainment, which has its importance as well. It is the responsibility of cinema to showcase new stories, perspectives, and ideas through OTT, films, and television. Society and films are two sides of one coin; our stories are inspired by social events, and then again, our stories have an impact on society. As artists, filmmakers, or anything else, I strongly feel we are responsible for society and to bring positive change in the right direction.

More and more people are able to showcase their talent on social media. The internet empowers everyone to share their thoughts; while some negative aspects exist, there are benefits too. What’s your opinion?

I personally feel it depends on the individual. Considering the broader perspective, people should exercise a degree of control when using social media. Social media is a part of society, so a certain level of responsibility should be demonstrated. We should be mindful of what we say; while joking and laughter are acceptable, abusing and spreading hate should not be tolerated. As for talent, it is a fantastic platform to showcase it. In the past, we didn’t have a way to exhibit our talents, but social media provides everyone an opportunity. I believe social media can positively impact our nation, if used constructively.

We often engage in discussions about nepotism. Considering your journey from a small town to Mumbai, what are your thoughts on this? Do you believe nepotism exists? If someone is talented, will they eventually get a chance, or is it given mostly through connections?

When I entered the industry, I pondered, how would anyone know about my talent. Nobody had seen my work nor did they know me. No matter how well-trained an actor I was, others didn’t know about me or what I could do. So it takes time to prove oneself, to carve out a path.

As far as I know, people lack patience. They perform in two plays in the theatre and consider themselves ready. The industry won’t provide you training; you have to be prepared before entering. You should know what you bring, how you can shine, and what will stand out in such a crowded place. It’s essential to understand the depth of the water you’re standing in. As for nepotism, it doesn’t concern me at all.

You have played various characters, some negative, some neutral. How do you prepare for these roles?

The most crucial factor is the director’s vision. I don’t prepare to make my character look good; I always prioritize the director’s vision, his story, and his perception regarding me. He cast me for a reason, and I have to deliver what he is looking for. Through readings and rehearsals, I gradually understand the requirements. I fit my thoughts and ideas into this framework. I listen to my director and continue to nurture my character.

Do you have a dream project that you want to work on?

No, I haven’t thought about anything specific, nor do I dwell on what has already happened. If I were to consider a dream project, it would be something more significant than what I have worked on. But I don’t focus on what roles or films have already been done.

Can we hope to see Zakir Hussain as a director in the future?

I have never envisioned myself as a director; it involves a different subject and a different level of responsibility. A director’s role is more substantial; they have to answer for everything and take control. However, I don’t foresee myself becoming a director anytime soon.

As an actor with a long history in the industry, what advice would you give to newcomers?

You should be aware of your talent. Patience is crucial, and you should be willing to put in hard work. There’s no magic wand; opportunities will come, and even a small role can bring significant recognition. Take everything seriously because you never know who might be watching you.

It was a pleasure talking to you; the insights you’ve shared will undoubtedly benefit many newcomers and young aspirants.

Thank you!



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