“Everyone is trying very hard to adjust to the changes”
Actor Zakir Hussain talks about his upcoming projects and more
Versatile Indian actor Zakir Hussain, an alumnus of National School of Drama (NSD), is best known for playing baddies in films like Sarkar, Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar, Singham Returns. He will next be seen in the sequels of Milap Zaveri’s Satyamev Jayate, S. Shankar’s Indian as well as the second season of the Amazon Prime Video series Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare.
In this interview, he talks about the characters he is essaying in Satyamev Jayate 2 and Indian 2, his collaboration with Sriram Raghavan, training at NSD, and the changes that he has been witnessing on the sets post-lockdown.
Tell us about your association with Satyamev Jayate 2. What can we expect from you this time?
Working with Milap Zaveri on Satyamev Jayate 2 has been a very nice experience. Its script presents everything that you can expect from a commercial Bollywood offering. Also the fact that John Abraham plays a triple role in the film makes it exciting enough for the fans.
Now, I play a character with a negative shade in the film. My part is that of a corrupt politician. While some people enter politics with the aim of serving the nation and the society, there are others who just want to abuse power. For me the preparation always begins with the script. The premise, context, subtext, co-actors — they help me interpret the character better. After that what’s left for me is to fine tune the part at an individual level. I feel observing the world around oneself is very important. You never know if the next person you meet might serve an inspiration for one of your characters.
What can you tell us about your role in Indian 2? How are the cast and crew coping with the tragic accident that happened on the sets last year? When can we expect the film to be out?
Well, to be very frank, there is still some uncertainty regarding the same. I still have a few days of shooting left and so I have been waiting to hear from them. The project has seen a few impediments. Initially, Kamal Haasan Sahab developed an allergic reaction from the heavy make-up his character requires which stalled the shooting for 15-20 days. Then there were further delays because of the elections. After that once the shooting resumed there was a tragic crane accident on the sets.
Now, as far as the film’s premise is concerned it is pretty much on the same lines as the original film. But the scale is certainly bigger. The corruption levels have certainly witnessed an exponential increase and so the stakes are much higher now. It’s in a very interesting space but I really have no idea when it will finally be ready for release.
Regarding my part, I play a corrupt businessman hailing from Gujarat. So the regional touch gives the character a slightly different texture. Now, we all have Gujarati friends and so Gujarati isn’t an alien language to any of us. But it did require some work with the dialect coaches present on the set. So it was a nice experience to try my hands at something new.
What can we expect from the second season of Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare? How different is it going to be from the first season?
The second season is basically going to be a continuation of the first. The focus now will be on the protagonist’s journey in politics. How he wants to serve the people and bring about a change. The characters are more or less the same. Almost everything in the second season is the same as the first season. If anything, it’s the characters’ outlook that’s changed. When there is no political legacy in the family there is bound to be some apprehension regarding joining politics. But once you taste some success, the outlook of those around you, including your family, begins to change pretty quickly. So the second season will explore all that and more.
Tell us about your early days at NSD. How important is training according to you?
While I got started at a very young age there wasn’t really any plan in place. My studies were going on simultaneously. But I used to regularly visit Mandi House in order to do theatre. It was only later on that the idea struck that acting can be pursued as a profession as well. So I did an acting course from Shri Ram Centre and subsequently got associated with its repertory. After that I got into NSD. At NSD it was all about hard work, day in and day out. Otherwise what’s the point of taking the admission? There has to be constant learning and you learn from all those you interact with. You learn from your teachers, your peers, your seniors as well as juniors. That’s how you get better at your craft.
Now, training is certainly very important if you want to take up acting at a professional level. But, the way I see it, it isn’t necessary that you need to take training at any institute only. You can train yourself even by regularly going to the theatre. We have ample examples of such actors who have proved their mettle even though they never enrolled in any institute. So training is certainly very important but it’s up to the individual how he/she wants to get trained.
Each time you work with Sriram Raghav it results in something very new. What makes your collaboration with Sriram work so well?
Well, our collaboration started with Ek Haseena Thi. It was the first film for the both of us. Our bond got stronger with Johnny Gaddaar. Now our association is such that every time Sriram is doing something new he always invites me to be a part of it. Somewhere he and his team have the confidence that I won’t disappoint them. So owing to the trust they just let me go free and allow me to prepare the character on my own. Of course they give me certain pointers but I have the complete freedom while working with Sriram and fortunately that has resulted in some very interesting characters over the years. Take, for example, the case of my character ‘Shardul’ in Johnny Gaddaar. Now, he is someone who is always dressed in branded suits. And, he is always so confident about the way he is dressed. Now whether they look good on him is an entirely different matter. Also, he is always talking in terms of money. I personally have come across such people in my life and so that’s how I developed Shardul. Then there is ‘Dr. Krishna Swami’ in Andhadhun. There is a sense of ease about the way he speaks even when he is saying some very unsettling things. He operates in the dark world of organ trade and is a remorseless criminal but every time he opens his mouth there is an air of casualness about him. He sounds very reassuring but it’s the words that he speaks that can be most unsettling. So this contradiction makes Dr. Smami very creepy. Interestingly, I picked up some of his mannerisms from a banker friend who of course has absolutely nothing to do with organ trade (chuckles).
After the long break owing to Covid-19, you are back on the sets. Tell us about the changes that you have been witnessing ever since the shooting resumed.
Everyone is trying very hard to adjust to the changes. Stringent guidelines are in place and rightly so. Whether maintaining social distancing or wearing masks or regularly washing hands each and every cast and crew member isn’t leaving any stone unturned. Also, every time we travel outside we have to undergo the tests to rule out any positive cases of Covid-19. Then I myself would have undergone at least 7-8 tests by now. So all this does lead to a few delays, but I think everyone’s safety and health always comes first.
Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic