Adil Hussain on the response to Delhi Crime, power of streaming, and why he isn't a reactionary anymore
Adil Hussain says there is a new-found respect for independent art as we are grooming and educating a different set of audience with streaming platforms.
Adil Hussain finds his newfound golden patch in mainstream cinema amusing. He actually laughs out loud. Perhaps it’s the changed perspective of an actor’s value in present day Hindi cinema and streaming based content, at 55, Adil Hussain has found his place in the sun. “I am loving it (working in Hindi films). There are two reasons that make me want to work in mainstream films. Filmmakers seek credibility in their actors today so parts come your way. Second, it helps me subsidise my participation in independent cinema. People get to see an actor familiar from Hindi films in content driven, independent films and that helps. I get time to be with my nine-year-old son, cook for my family and focus on them."
Hussain’s plate is full with coveted parts for critically acclaimed filmmakers, new age independent directors and mainstream filmmakers. He is slated to start shooting for Jahnu Barua’s next with Manisha Koirala this month. He began yet another project in the USA in April. “I leave end of this month for Geeta Mallick’s India Sweet and Spicy. Ivanhoe Pictures (of Crazy Rich Asians fame) will produce this film. We shoot across Atlanta,” he says.
He has enjoyed working in a Dharma Productions film thoroughly. In fact, his recent experience of shooting for Good News, set to release this December, validates positives of mainstream movies. “I had a gala time. Working with Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kiara Advani and Diljit Dosanjh was an absolute pleasure. My co-actor, Tisca Chopra is a delight to work with. Akshay Kumar is very punctual, and he wanders around sets, milling about and speaking to everyone. They (Dharma) take good care of actors and the crew."
Bridging the mainstream and content-oriented cinema is Hussain’s next Hindi feature as leading man, Prakash Jha’s Pareeksha. A return to roots for the gritty filmmaker, Pareeksha is the story of an auto-rickshaw driver, and his aspirations for his son. “The film draws from a true story, and it’s a beautiful story. Priyanka Bose, Sanjay Suri co-stars in the film, and Shubham Jha, the young actor that plays our son stands out. Prakash Jha has written and directed the film and has had it in mind for years. It’s a heartwarming tale centered on education, a universally relevant topic.” Having quietly released a first look poster, Jha’s film will release during the summer.
A theatre veteran and star from his days at the National School of Drama, and a stint on the London stage, Hussain’s recall amongst millennial audiences has grown hugely, thanks to his prominent presence on alternate content on streaming platforms. “We are grooming and educating a different set of audience with streaming platforms, which I hope will seep over to larger, common viewers. You see the rates at which 4G and now 5G are being offered to Indians, and with huge access everywhere, there is huge amount of appreciation for fresh, undiscovered content and films. Content led series are bigger draws today. We are sitting here in Assam and watching Narcos. This wouldn’t have been possible a few years back. And this is a fantastic situation for actors,” he says.
Hussain’s Norwegian film, What Will People Say, is an Oscar-nominated Foreign Language film and fairly popular on Netflix. He is also in the festival favourites Un-Freedom, Maaj Rati Keteki (Assamese), Arunodoy Sunrise among other films. But the quantum leap in audience recall is his turn in Delhi Crime, the Netflix series. As original content from India, this series has reached audiences worldwide effectively and fits the format of police procedural, a universally popular form of series. “Richie Mehta and I have known each other for 5-6 years and have been discussing a project with a Hollywood production company for some time now. When he offered Delhi Crime, I was already shooting in Delhi for a film. Since the role involved just a couple of days’ shoot, I agreed. I met Mr Neeraj Kumar, former Police Commissioner, Delhi Police, a meeting that Richie facilitated. While I didn’t mimic him, I did imbibe elements of his persona in creating the character. Richie has a fantastic sensibility when it comes to acting, which is realistic. I had an excellent collaboration with Shefali Shah and Rajesh Tailang, my classmate from NSD days. We’ve done plenty of plays together, so shooting for Delhi Crime, and the response to the series, has been gratifying. Streaming is not limiting, it means the show was accessible on 190 countries worldwide. I have been getting praise and compliments from all over, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, America.”
Hussain’s stint with international cinema follows up on a stellar career in theatre here in India and in London, where he fine-tuned his education in the field. But with Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya and Lootera by Vikramaditya Motwane, he began work in mainstream Hindi films, coinciding with the beginning of the current new wave. His leading role in Hindi cinema was opposite Sri Devi in English Vinglish, as her husband who tended to downsize her ability. The freedom to interpret his role, as he understood it, clinched his decision to work in this Gauri Shinde film. “I didn’t see the husband as a villain. I told Gauri that I wanted to play him as a male chauvinist who simply didn’t believe his wife was capable of some things. I had seen men like that, all my life, including my father. They weren’t mean or nasty but just chauvinistic naturally. When the film released, compliments poured in especially from women, who could relate to the husband’s behaviour.” A consummate performer, he credits his new focus on films to the evolving Indian filmmaker at home and abroad, a brood that is open to ideas and keen to experiment. He traverses multilingual cinema regularly. Coming up is Gautam Ghose’s Raahgir, an international film titled The Illegal and Jahnu Barua’s next.
As our conversation draws to a close, a question in the current polarised political climate becomes essential - why has Hussain, an outspoken man when it comes to intolerance in the past, chosen to stay away from taking a political stance with fellow artistes? “I used to be fairly reactive in the past, often voicing my opinion against certain situations here at home and across the globe. Then for quite some time I grappled with the question- as actor, what is my Swadharma? What is my role in society? I can’t be a partial activist yet I have an urge to protest and to express. It was both emotionally upsetting and disturbing for me so I spoke to my acting teacher, my guru who lives in Puducherry. What he said to me made complete sense. He said that as an artiste, our role is to build empathy with those that we hate. We might have totally contrarian points of view, but our role is to bring society together. Art is glue that brings people together. I see my role as that one who can even build empathy for Hitler amongst people. Rather than be a reactionary, I would like to focus on this.”
Politics aside, Adil Hussain’s growth as a performer in cinema in his fifties sets a new standard for the changing norms of acting in present day India. It also paves a path of hope for those who come from the remotest places but have a gift and tenacity to see their passion through.
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