For Adil Hussain, acting choices have always been about balancing the demands of his dil with his bills. Just a few weeks ago we saw him in a tiny role in Commando 2 where he plays a man trying to crack down on money laundering in India. But Hussain only makes fleeting appearances on screen wearing sharply tailored suits. It’s safe to assume that this one was for the bills.
This Friday, we see him in debutante director Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation) which was awarded the Prix Enrico Fulchignoni at the Venice film festival. Hussain plays Rajiv, a middle-aged accountant who is forced to take his 77-year-old father to Varanasi after he gets a premonition about his death. Rajiv loves his father but also has to impatiently wait for his death because his job back home is on the line. Hussain’s portrayal of this unique conflict is layered and moving.
Such roles come few and far between to the actor. “I feel I hardly get to act in scripts which are meaningful,” says Hussain, who’s also a teacher at the National School of Drama.
Here, he tells us about life lessons he’s learnt the hard way (he’s finally hired a PR team) and what he does when he falls out of love with acting.
INVESTIGATE THE 5 Ws
It is important for any actor to investigate the 5Ws. How am I doing it? Why am I doing it? This understanding comes from Stanis Lewinsky’s school of acting. He emphasized on breathing. Modern life doesn’t allow you to breathe well. An actor must prepare spiritually. You need to have the experience and understanding of your spirit. Ask yourself ‘Why is my spirit down today?’
One tiny shift in the body posture can change the entire expression & emotion portrayed. If you observe dogs you will realize that there will be no expression on their faces but it is their body which speaks.
QUEST TO BECOME A GOOD ACTOR CAN MAKE YOU A TERRIBLE PERSON
Few years ago I went to visit my father in our small village in Assam. My 87-year-old dad walked out to receive me in tears. It was an emotional moment. But instead of responding to that emotion I found myself observing my dad and thinking, ‘Oh! So this is how an old man looks when he cries.’ What I was doing in quest of a character and trying to be a method actor was terrible.
STARDOM MAY NEVER COME
Initially I became an actor because I liked the attention from girls and my peers. But soon those things begin to fade away. How many times will you want to give an autograph for God’s sake?
I realized that I needed to enjoy the act of acting first and find intrinsic joy while doing it. The stardom may or may not come with it. If it does come, that’s an added dessert but I must enjoy the meal while I’m eating it.
THERE ARE NO MEANINGFUL SCRIPTS
I come from a very vigorous acting world where nothing else exists other than acting. After doing pieces of work from great writers like Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Kalidas, I feel I hardly get to act in scripts which are meaningful. I’m used to roles that challenge me to the point where they give me sleepless nights and even nightmares.
The truth is I don’t have enough star power to make writers write a script for me. I’m dependent on those that come to me. Some I choose for my dil and some in order to pay the bill.
There is amazing talent in the country- for example, scripts like Masaan, Court and Mukti Bhawan.
But the market has been created in such a way that those scripts are not being welcomed. I feel we deprive ourselves – actors, producers and directors of doing good work. We have the talent and the technical know how. Why is it that India features no where in the artistic ranking globally?
YOU CAN’T RUN FROM PR
I always believed it was my job only to act. The task of promoting a film and getting the word out was that of the marketing team and the media. But now I have finally hired a PR company for myself. The intention isn’t to become famous but to make my market price go up a bit! I need to do lesser work in films and earn a little more money so that I can subsidize my theatre work.
After doing pieces of work from great writers like Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Kalidas, I feel I hardly get to act in scripts which are meaningful. I’m used to roles that challenge me to the point where they give me sleepless nights and even nightmares
FIND A WAY TO FALL IN LOVE WITH ACTING
I often tell my students at the National School of Drama to find time to practice their craft. You can act anywhere. Why are you waiting for someone to cast you? Instead of spending all your time meeting casting directors and auditioning, take a piece of writing that challenges you, practice it for a while, and when you think you are ready, invite a few friends over and perform in front of them. How else will you make an impression at an audition?
It is not easy to be face rejection constantly. But when you work on your acting it’s almost like magic happens. When you go to auditions that energy will travel because of the good vibration that surround you. Find a way to fall in love with acting, the rest will fall into place.
THERE WILL BE TIMES WHEN YOU FALL OUT OF LOVE
Back in 2001, a television show I was doing called Jasoos Vijay was paying me Rs 3 lakh a month. That was a lot of money. In return, I found myself mouthing dialogues like ‘Doodh ka doodh and pani ka paani ho jayega’. I would look at my assistant director and say, ‘Yaar kuch toh sharam karo? How may times do I say the same dialogue?’ To detox myself from this role I took a sabbatical and stopped acting for three and a half years.
DON’T LET PRAISE GET TO YOUR HEAD
When people praise me for being a good actor I often feel like laughing out loud. In my head I’m thinking, ‘Baby, you’ve seen nothing!’ Thankfully I have and I’m humbled. I feel ashamed of myself in front of some of the acting greats. It is very difficult to manage your ego as an actor but your reference point cannot be the worst actors in the business. Indian actors almost stand no where in the artistic ranking of the world. We may be popular merely because of the sheer population of our country but that accounts to nothing when it comes to the craft of acting. Unless you are very vigilant the praise you get as an actor can often go to your head.