‘Nandita knew what she wanted from her actors’

Debarati Palit Singh
Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Actor Tahir Bhasin on understanding the relationship his character Sundar Shyam Chadha had with Manto, the journalist, author and Indian film screenwriter, and more

It’s hard to explain in words the experience we had at Cannes International Film Festival — it was such a proud moment to be part of this project,” says Tahir Bhasin, who, along with director-actor Nandita Das, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Duggal and Divya Dutta, was present for the world premiere of their film Manto at the fest in Un Certain Regard category. 

The actor says that it rarely happens that an actor gets a chance so early in his career, to follow his passion (acting) and also get a patriotic feeling. 

“When you get to combine both and take your film to a world platform, it’s an amazing feeling. Very few people in India know that the Un Certain Regard category is a prestigious one. Around 5000 films apply and only 10-12 films are selected. It was a patriotic moment, representing the country,” he adds. 

The actor says that most of the audience was European, French and South American. “We got a standing ovation for the film from the audience,” he beams with pride. Tahir says that the subject of Manto is relevant even today because of the current political environment. “If you look at Saadat Hasan Manto in the contemporary context, he was a rebel, he believed in creative freedom and freedom of speech,” he says, adding, “This has a universal significance.”  

The actor plays the role of Sundar Shyam Chadha, a Hindi film actor from the 50s and a close aide of Manto. This character is quite opposite of what he has portrayed in his past two films — Mardaani and Force 2. How did he approach the role? 

Tahir replies, “Firstly, I was told that this character is very loud and charming. He had many girlfriends. Manto and Sundar used to discuss many issues from their life — from not getting work, to their debts and so on. They used to stay together before Manto moved to Pakistan. I was given quite a few details. Plus, I read and watched his films.” 

Tahir believes that when there is friendship between two well-known people, it is usually at the human level. “I had to understand Manto as a human, his weaknesses etc,” he adds.   

Therefore, the first thing he felt he had to do was build a relationship with Nawazuddin who plays Manto’s character. “Till you build an off-screen relationship, you cannot show it on screen. Thankfully, Nandita had done a detailed research. We were put through a one and half month workshop. When we attended the workshop, Nawaz and I used to speak a lot, even though I am quite junior to him. I developed a strong personal bond with him and that gave me confidence to work with such an acclaimed actor. Matching steps with an actor of his calibre is not an easy job,” Tahir says.

Playing characters which are not contemporary can be quite challenging for actors, agrees Tahir. “Sundar is not only a character, he was a real person. He has got a family who will watch the film and judge if I have done justice to him or not. So I had conversations with the family. The costume and look also helped me,” he says. 

Getting the language and mannerism was also a task, he adds. “There are certain words that we use, movements that we make. I had to be careful about all these habits. I watched films from my grandparents’ generation and spoke to them to get into that mode,” Tahir recalls. 

Apart from the following notes, Tahir says he researched on his own. “We had studied about Manto in college. We were told many stories about him. Manto had written a book titled — Stars from Another Sky which had a chapter about his relationship with Shyam. It was an interesting chapter and was more like a diary entry. After reading that chapter, I got a fair idea about their relationship,” he explains. 

Nandita is not just a talented director but an equally well-known actor which, Tahir says, helped a lot. “She knew what she wanted from her actors. When someone is so particular — she knew where to punctuate, take breath during a sentence — it becomes a joy for an actor because there is nothing left to chance. Everything is rehearsed and that’s why the film is being appreciated internationally. When you make something beautiful, regardless of the language, people will appreciate it,” says the actor before signing off.

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