It’s 2023, 38 years since Nassar’s debut in the film industry, and the actor who is all set to be seen in the Hindi SonyLIV series The Jengaburu Curse (releasing on Aug 9) still enjoys a packed year and career. While he was part of many films that hit the screens this year — Bagheera, Rudhran, Ponniyin Selvan, Waltair Veerayya and others — he also plays important roles in Dhanush’s Captain Miller and Ram Charan’s Game Changer. This comes as no surprise for an actor who has acted in over 700 films across languages in close to four decades, a pan-Indian actor in his own right.
In all of these films, Nassar reveals that he has never been taken over by the emotions of his characters. He says, “Technically and logically, I believe an actor is not supposed to go to that extent. They should exercise certain control over those things. Even though I agree that the character’s mood does affect our mood during the process, I have never had those kinds of transcendental experiences.”
However, going through personal difficulties while shooting for films happens at times, the actor points out. “I had to do it that way for Uttama Villain (2015). My son was hospitalised while we were working on the ‘Theyyam’ sequences. It was a painful experience but I had to continue shooting because in certain cases, your responsibility becomes more important than any personal needs.”
Nassar wrote, directed and acted as an aspiring actor in Avatharam (1995), a film that is compared to the likes of Rishab Shetty’s Kantara (2022) as they both also focus on the local culture and see a dramatic turn of events in the protagonist’s life. Grateful for such comparisons, Nassar says he cannot compare such films because they share a gap of 25 years. “According to me, Kantara is rooted in fantasy whereas my film had no such rituals in it. The film was about an actor’s process, how they prepare and perform their job.” In the film, the hero is a timid person but once he starts acting, he transforms into whatever character he wants to play. For instance, he once plays the mighty Narasimha and starts behaving like a god. Nassar says, “Something in him triggers that change. Such instances happen to many actors in real life. For example, MR Radha became very weak in his later years and needed people to carry him onto the stage. But the moment he was on stage and the director yelled “action”, he would beam with energy and perform like a young person. He would no longer be physically weak. So there is some sort of a split personality in all actors and I wanted to explore that in Avatharam.”
Nassar also notes that credit to a particular character largely lies with its writer and director who help the artist by explaining their ideas. “Sometimes I get a one-line narration that my role is a rich father who opposes his daughter’s love,” the actor says. If he further insists on giving more information, they’d tell him that with his experience, he knows everything and can pull off the role. “When they say that, I instantly feel I am naked. I can’t act on my own unless I am a director or writer. In some other person’s story, I can’t create my own character. I always believe I need information from the author, at least two-dimensional details.” He tries to ask specific questions to understand the character arc and gives his best based on whatever the crew wants. “But I may not be able to put out my entire best and give the real process because they may not want it. I’ll wait like a hungry dog and when someone approaches with a proper script and give proper time for my characterisation, I’ll give them that. I can’t give the same to every film because there is no justification.”
But even if the actor can’t give his best process, he still commits to films and does what the director requires. “I know great actors like Nana Patekar who refuse to do some films. But I don’t have the mental strength to say no. Somewhere, I am stuck in situations that require money most of the time. That’s when I decided that this is a profession and I’ll give what they want.”