16th October 2020

Nawazuddin Siddiqui: “As A Dark-skinned Economically Backward Individual I’ve Suffered Discrimination All My Life”

Nawazuddin Siddiqui who is one  of Indian cinema’s most celebrated actors startled  this writer  by  speaking forthrightly  about the discrimination and  oppression he  faced  in his  community  for being  dark-skinned, shirt  and a Muslim

And he continues to be discriminated  against, says Nawaz!  “Please name  me  one dark-skinned superstar in  Bollywood.”

You? I  suggest.

“Well, thank you  for saying that.  But there’s still a  truckload of  discrimination against  dark-skinned actors in Bollywood.Hollywood  has  gotten over that  prejudice.They  have black superstars  like Will Smith,  Idris Elba, Kevin Hart  and  the late Chadwick Boseman alongside  Tom Cruise  and  Chris  Hemsworth.In India   dark-skinned  actors  are  always  cast in a particular  kind of role.If you  see my career –graph  so far, I am always  playing  gangsters and  killers wearing shabby  clothes . The  tuxedo look and suave moves are  for  the gora fair-skinned stars. For  the dark skinned  darkness is the chosen  colour in  life as in cinema.Which is  why when I started  dressing up for Cannes and other international  film festivals it  was an  out-of-body experience  for me.”

Nawaz points out  the colour discrimination in Indian  society. “It is  specially applicable to women. If a  man has two daughters, one fair-skinned  and the  other dark  he  will  not stop singing the fair-skinned’s praise whereas  the dark one gets frowned at no matter how much she excels. I  faced this  prejudice in  my native  village Budhana in Uttar  Pradesh. I was  short  and dark  and therefore considered  a good-for-nothing. All the  other men in my family are  tall  not-dark and  handsome,”  laughs Nawaz.

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“I guess  I’ve taken after my grandmother who  was  short and dark. I had to hear taunts from my relatives  day-in and out. Also  , though we  were zamindars(landlords)  my family owned far less land  than  others in  our village. We were  always  shown  our place  at weddings and other gatherings  . We’d get invitations. But we would be subjected  to  a rigorous criticism  that left  many  like me scarred  for  life.  I  knew I had to escape  that life, just like my character in my  new webseries  Serious Men(directed by Sudhir Mishra). The character  I play  is a Dalit(a socially and economically  backward caste  in India). But he could have been  any oppressed individual in India  wanting  a  better  life  for his  son.And  a better life means,  good education. But  then, even if you escape the  oppression granted to  you by fate  and  your fraternity you don’t necessarily  get acknowledgement for your achievements.”

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Now  a major  actor in Bollywood,Nawaz  is  still the same  wastrel  to  some of his village  folk. “Nothing has changed in  their minds. How could it ?  If they  see  a man walk out of his oppressed  existence  onto the other  side  , they  turn a blind eye. The status quo  must not be changed. So  even now for a  part of my village fraternity I am  still the dark-skinned short ugly  Nawaz who can do nothing  with his life. When they  are  told  about my achievements they sneeringly dismiss them as  myths.  One  of  my cousins is  so rigidly  opposed to the  idea of me making anything  of my life that  he refused to believe  that was me on  screen. In the one rickety  theatre in  my village my  film Gangs  Of  Wasseypur(the  highly-acclaimed   Anurag Kashyap  directed crime drama which catapulted Nawazuddin  to  stardom)  was  screened. Almost  the entire  village  went to see it. My cousin also went. After the film he declared that the man  on the screen  was someone else, a lookalike. He  refuses  to accept that I have made something  of my life.”

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 How   does  Nawaz react to this kind of blind incurable  prejudice?  “I believe  what Nelson Mandela  once said, ‘Our world is  not divided by race, color, gender, or religion. Our world is divided   into wise people  and fools.And fools divide themselves by race, color, gender or religion.’  I’ve seen the kind  of  fame  and fortune that I’ve never dreamt  of. Today the same Nawaz  who  is considered short,  dark and ugly in his village  is  called handsome  in the international media. I supposed success changes the  perception  of beauty.When  you are a  success  everything about  you is  appreciated.But for those who wanted to make  sure I remain downtrodden I’ll  always be  down  there.”

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