You are like everybody else. These are five words no one likes to hear. Our need to be unique is indisputable. And though it may be unstated, suppressed or unfulfilled, it is undeniable.
You may wonder then why Nawazuddin Siddiqui takes offence at being called “unconventional”. He even terms it “racist”. “If you are using that word with reference to my looks, then it’s being racist,” the actor tells ForbesLife India.
But pause for a second to understand why he’s being sensitive. People grapple with labels but can’t do without them. So when an actor who doesn’t conform to the standards of ‘looks’ is successful, it upsets the norms and unnerves the rest. Siddiqui, 41, is a late bloomer in Bollywood; his acting, honed in theatre for years, has led to a high-profile career in recent times. And though he’s not yet playing the ‘lead’ in mainstream cinema, his secondary appearances are proving scene-stealers, says Kunal Purandare.
In a cookie-cutter world, Siddiqui isn’t, well, a cookie. He provides a sophisticated new flavour profile, which isn’t easily defined. People like him disrupt the monotone of sameness. And their lives seem to mirror the scripts they are asked to enact. Consider that Siddiqui’s journey took him from being chemist to watchman to the National School of Drama and, finally, to Mumbai and the movies.
Perhaps theatre—and the lack of restraint it allows—plays its part, too?
Because two veterans in the world of drama, actress Jalabala Vaidya, 79, and playwright husband Gopal Sharman, 80, have also lived such lives. Read their story and you’d be forgiven for assuming it was a work of fiction: Meeting a Beatle, riding in a Beetle and answering presidential calls—no, not fiction, all facts, reports Angad Singh Thakur after spending a day with them at their Akshara theatre in New Delhi.
It is difficult to read about their bohemian adventures and not feel a twinge of envy—even wistfulness. But there isn’t a handy guide or template to craft a similar existence. You have to make your own path.
Take the 12 theatre groups featured by contributor Chirantana Bhat. Hailing from different parts of the country, each troupe is trying to tell stories in newer ways, she writes. There is little that is gimmicky about their attempts to steer clear of convention.
Serendipitously, this issue takes you through Big Sur on the Pacific coast of the US, once the playground to that eccentric talent Jack Kerouac. Few understood the fear of the commonplace more acutely than this American writer, whose On the Road has long been the touchstone for generations of the lost and the restless. As he wrote: “...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...”
Exaggerated attempts to be “different” are all the rage, but not everyone can be a Kerouac. A natural inclination to subvert the normal is rare, and ought to be celebrated.
These men and women, all bound by their love for the stage, are the real deal.
They are not like everybody else.
Editor, ForbesLife India
Twitter id: @abbykhaitan
(This story appears in the Sept-Oct 2015 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)