Film festivals are like oases in a desert full of commercial products: Adil Hussain

“Bangalore has a special place in my heart. I’ve done a lot of antics here in the streets of this town. I had an Enfield motorcycle that I rode around town with. Before, there was no traffic and it was much cooler than today. Back then Brigade Road was the busiest place in Bangalore, now it has spread all over the city…I love being here,” says Adil Hussain, who was in the city on Sunday to attend BIFFES.

The acclaimed film and theater actor was part of the panel – Actors on Acting’ – alongside film personalities Dattana, Anupama Prakash, Rahul Ramakrishna and Girish Kulkarni, among others, after which he sat down for a tete-a-tete, where he candidly explained the importance of attending film festivals, learning to act again, and why the future looks bright.

Excerpts from the conversation:

You are back in Bangalore after some time. What are some of your most treasured memories from here?

I have been connected to Bangalore since 1995. I lived in Hampi for three and a half years. A few theater actors from here had joined me in Hampi where we spent six to seven months acting. Also, I spent a lot of time with Mahesh Dattani. He had a performance space set up in his house and was very nice to young actors like me. He posted us at his place where we used to rehearse. He had recommended my name to a writer-director in England, who invited me to act in a British play in 2001. Many of those memories come back to me when I’m here.

You travel with your films to festivals around the world. Why is it important for you to be part of this space?

I call these festivals oases in a desert where you only find commercial films – those that don’t necessarily make a lot of money, but are made with the intention of making a lot of money. They are oases where art takes precedence over commerce. And in the south of the country, the BIFFES has the importance of being a space with people who are interested in the art of cinema, the art of telling stories that show the subtle aspects of life, which will help raise the moral conscience of society. So, festivals are those oases where people who are involved in these kinds of films come together, meet each other and feel empowered and inspired. These real interactions are important and this is the place for it. I travel around the world with my films. From Japan to Los Angeles to Mexico – everywhere, and the people we meet give us courage and make us feel good that there are filmmakers who still care about art and not just business. This is my first time at BIFFES. I was supposed to attend last year but couldn’t because of the pandemic.

DSC_0978 (1)

How has the pandemic changed your life, personally and professionally?

It was a great lesson in many ways. Some are very drastic and heartbreaking. I saw people on the streets returning to their villages, people I know died and I was disturbed by what was happening around the world. For me, it was evolutionary because I realized that so many things I thought were important aren’t. So many things that I engaged in with my time and energy seemed to be superficial and it fell away afterwards. I started to value things, people and situations more. I became a better cook, a baker, I started gardening but above all, it was a question of introspection, on how to use your resources wisely.

Artistically, the introspection has been about what I’ve done, how I can do better, and wondering if I’ll get bored if I keep doing the same thing. S,o I found a way to go further. I work on the job with my teacher in Pondicherry who has been training me since ’93. Over the video calls, we worked… on every word of every sentence. It took me three months to make a page. So, I’m learning to play again and to do it better.

Even after all these years, what makes you feel like you still need training?

I think it was stagnation that made me feel this way. There are times when I feel confident in the roles that come my way. Then there are roles that make me leave,
“Oh my God, what am I going to do? ». Because it’s not well written. I grew up playing plays written by the greatest writers in the world – Chekov, Gorky, Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Tolstoy, Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, etc. They are the greatest writers and they are dramatic literature. And suddenly you get a script from Bombay and you think,
“These lines are so badly written that they have no literary value or depth”. It’s like fast food and healthy food. If you continue to eat fast food, you are bound to get sick. So, in the name of art, if I’m given fast food every day, I’ll forget there’s a healthy eating option. These festivals remind you of these options and when you take them, your body tells you that it feels good.

So it’s important for me to deepen the craft so that I feel good when I play. I can’t fall in love with acting and for that I have to discover how beautiful it is every day. A child’s curiosity must be nurtured. Money can be earned through anything. I could open a gas pump in Assam for that. But I have to go home, and without drinks, drugs or medicine, I should be able to fall asleep happy. It’s a success for me. Did I succeed, you ask? I would say yes because I fall asleep in 10 minutes. And you can’t buy that.

In your presentation, you said that it is above all intuition that makes you say yes to a scenario. Are there other aspects that motivate your decision?

There is one. When my bank balance decreases (laughs). After the pandemic, I had to do the first project that came to mind. Of course, I wouldn’t have made a stupid film, I made a good film. I did Bell Bottom.

Your role in Bell Bottom put you on a list of outstanding actors in Hindi films… Does that matter to you?

Well, I’m not looking for it. When I act, I simply act. It was important because I was validated for a new technique that I tried when I played this role. My teacher had suggested an exercise that I could use for my role and I went back to my director and asked him to let me redo a scene. And his reaction was that there was no need. But I insisted and I came back and started again. And my manager was surprised how much better it turned out. So that brought me to the list. It wasn’t that I worked for the list. When a movie has Akshay Kumar in it, who is wonderful and has the meatiest role and a huge audience, it feels good to know that someone else who put in the work gets credited. It’s inspiring and that’s why it’s important.

When you play non-central characters like these, how do you make them stand out?

By acting sincerely. One way to stand out is to play the lead role. Sometimes, even if you’re the leader, if you do a bad job, you won’t stand out no matter how much screen time you have. Or how little screen time you have. Moreover, you should not stand out. I take this Japanese actor’s advice: if you set the scene for other actors to play, you’re doing a good job. So, through my role, I describe my truth. You should stay with this truth and focus on your co-actors. Don’t think about yourself, how you look, how you sound, etc. then it becomes wrong. Audiences will always be convinced when you play honestly. You don’t want to focus on standing out, but rather focus on the moment.

DSC_0992 (1)

In your session, you mentioned that you are still an actor, but not yet an artist. What does it take to get there?

I really do not know. Just because you do certain things doesn’t automatically make you an actor. Now, becoming an artist means that you have reached the pinnacle of your craft, of your intuitive spontaneity. When the same
raag is sung by Bhimsen Joshi and a novice, you could say the latter is good, but the former is amazing. That’s the difference. People with jeweler’s eyes can see the diamond in a rock without the microscope. We call them
Rasik in our field. They can tell if you are an artist or not. People throw around the word “artist” casually, but that’s not how it should be. If my teacher calls me an artist, that’s the day I’ll feel like I’ve done well.

You have completed almost three decades in the industry… Do you feel like you are entering a new phase?

I am entering a new phase that I started during confinement. I had reached a stage that made me think,
What did I do ? (Laughs). That’s when my teacher introduced me to a new approach to acting and I was blown away. The problem is that the approach is so slow that I’m still in the first stage of the new approach. It took me about seven months to get used to it. The process takes so long that after working for 30-40 minutes, I am so tired that I need a ten minute nap. It’s tiring but in a beautiful way. So, I’ve just started exploring this and I feel like I finally have something to look forward to.

What are some of your upcoming projects?

I finished a series, a brilliant story set in Kolkata; another series is a spy story set in the 60s, and then there’s a movie, Footprints on Water, which I’m really proud of. It’s about the misery of immigrants in the UK and I play the lead role. I was so touched after watching his final cut that I was surprised at how my own role can move me so much.

You are now part of several OTT projects… has this new medium bridged the gap between viewers and good content?

We are not there yet, but we are putting together pillars to build this bridge. This is the stage we are in now. It’s a good start. I think we have a bright future ahead of us. New directors, coming in, refusing to be sold on gloss and gloss. They make great content and they still refuse to be consumed by the paraphernalia of the movie world. Personally, I don’t approve of the star system, I think no individual can be greater than art. I advise myself, my friends and my students to try to remain a small entity in the big picture and to work hard to maintain humility. Because ego and arrogance are cancerous things, you don’t know you have it until the last stage. There are people I know who don’t even want to be named or credited for their work or take money for it. People who do their jobs just to make them happy and that’s their reward. People like that are still in the industry, a lot of people are inspired by them and that’s why the future is bright.

Would you be seen venturing into other areas of filmmaking in the future?

If only I could. I’ve been trying to write a story for 10 years. (laughs) That said, I want to take time and I will. But not because I want to become a writer. I have yet to find a writer who understands the vision I have. I’m sure there’s someone there, but I couldn’t find them. And I will direct this film. But again, not to become a director.

-Photos by Sunil Kumar K

Comments are closed.