Intelligence, commitment, passion, versatility, good looks: he has them all. What tightly cements these qualities to build his tall tower of accomplishments is modesty, that admirable virtue that sometimes ceases to exist in an individual reaching his level of success. But he is different from the rest, for this powerhouse of talent is humility personified. I am talking about none other than the immensely gifted actor, Adil Hussain, who started his journey from the by-lanes of Goalpara, a small town in Assam to make an impressive mark on the global platform.
A die-hard fan of Adil Hussain, I had nurtured for a very long time a desire to meet him in person. My wish was fulfilled when I got the opportunity to host him for an evening during his stay in Atlanta while shooting for an upcoming Hollywood production.
Adil is a National Award winner who in 2017 achieved the Special Jury Award for his work in Mukti Bhawan (in Hindi) and Maj Rati Keteki (in Assamese). It is indeed a daunting task for me as I venture into a territory to write about this great artist who has been interviewed a countless number of times by well-known journalists and media persons. This is just my humble attempt to share moments from a lovely evening together. To read on the Net and see a television interview is one thing; to listen to one’s experiences, sitting face to face, in an informal environment is another!
We spoke a great deal about his experiences in the acting world. Adil Hussain has worked in films made in Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, and Malayalam. He has also had the marvelous experience of working in French and Norwegian films. The roster is long, and to summarize his career is a rather Herculean task to which I would not be able to do justice. So I am throwing light on those aspects that instantly come to my mind.
Core values in life are ingrained in us by our parents. Adil grew up in a household where the love for culture and literature was naturally instilled in him. He mentions how he had seen his father, an ardent devotee of Rabindranath Tagore, immersing himself in the works of celebrated playwrights like Lakshminath Bezbaruah. As Adil puts it, his father was a voracious reader, exhausted almost the entire collection of books in the local library, and would go there to ask for more to read.
The passion for acting runs in every vein of his blood. As a child, he participated in school plays. After high school, he moved to Guwahati where he did mimicry; joined Bhaiya Mama, a famous standup comedian group that did political satire; and also acted in local movies.
The turning point came in 1990 when he joined the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi and stayed there till 1993. Adil spoke about how NSD chiseled him into a serious actor and how privileged he was to be taught by the great actor Naseeruddin Shah. Next, his longing to learn naturalistic acting took him to Drama Studio London on the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship. After his return from England, he trained in theater under the able mentorship of Khalid Tyabji. Now it is almost like a rebirth for him as he comes for a second innings to his alma mater NSD; this time as a teacher to train fresh talents in the field of acting.
Prior to Adil Hussain’s Bollywood debut, it was the theater personality that loomed large and took theater lovers by storm. Directed by Roysten Abel, Adil in 1999 essayed the role of Othello in Indian Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed production “Othello: A Play in Black and White.” It was during this time that he met Kristen Jain who played the role of Desdemona. With a keen sense of humor which is an inherent trait in him, he joked about how contrary to the dramatic climax of Othello killing Desdemona, he fell in love with this lovely lady who he married a few years down the lane.
However minor, the roles that Adil Hussain plays always leave a mark on the audience. Versatility is his forte. Be it meaningful serious cinema or a commercial Bollywood flick, he plays his role with equal finesse. Maj Rati Keteki sees him as a sober, soft-spoken writer revisiting old memories in his hometown while Agent Vinod sees him as a cold-blooded terrorist seeking to annihilate New Delhi with a nuclear bomb.
It was Ishqiya (2010) where he was first noticed as an actor with tremendous potential, but the gust of fresh breeze that swept him to newer and greater heights brought in the projects that followed. He was highly acclaimed for his role in English Vinglish (2012) where he starred opposite veteran actress Sridevi as her husband. It did not stop there because close on the heels came the release of two international films. In Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, his performance earned rave reviews from the critics, and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, where he played Pi’s father, fetched the film 4 Oscars. Adil also had the opportunity to work with another Oscar-winning filmmaker Danis Tanovic while shooting for the film Tigers.
Adil Hussain names Mukti Bhawan as one of the films where he has had the chance to demonstrate his finest acting skills. He has bagged the Best Actor award for this movie in the Washington D.C. South Asian Film Festival. The story centers around Daya, a father who takes his son Rajiv (played by Hussain) to the ghats of Varanasi to attain salvation. The crux of the problem is about Rajiv facing a dilemma while juggling his responsibilities between his home and his father who finds a new sense of meaning in his life. He happily shares how the film has been released in almost 37 countries and has been the first Indian film to run over 170 days in Japan.
Another feather donned Adil’s cap when he created history by being the first Indian actor to have won the Best Actor award in a leading role at the 2018 Norwegian National Awards for his role in the film What Will People Say. In this family drama, Adil plays the role of a loving but strict Pakistani father who faces a crisis when his daughter has an affair with a local Norwegian boy.
There is a big stream of projects lining up Adil Hussain’s way that, among others, include Prakash Jha’s Pareeksha, Goutam Ghosh’s Raahgir, and Vijay Jayapal’s Nirvana Inn.
Be it in acting or in life, truth is what holds special importance for Adil Hussain. He says that whether it is melodrama or any form of acting, it is the truth that springs from the actor’s performance to move the audience. To quote him, the actor’s challenge lies in “succeeding to quench the unknown thirst of the audience”.
What did I see as I moved away from the reel to the real world? I saw Adil Hussain as a man who always loves to go back to his roots. Despite being offered a permanent faculty position after his three-year teaching stint in the Drama School in Amsterdam, he felt that he belonged to India and came back to his country. On receiving the prestigious Amanda Norwegian National Film Award, he dedicated it to the people of Goalpara from where he hails and to all those who believe that art can break all boundaries. He believes that going back to one’s roots gives a reality check.
Beyond the actor who mesmerizes the audiences with his flawless performances lies a well read person, a man with a liberal mind set, one who talks about celebrating and embracing cultural diversity. He chooses to follow spirituality over organized religion and firmly believes that the fundamental philosophy of any religion is that we cannot have hatred towards anybody. What came as a surprise to me was the philosophical side of Adil Hussain as he analyzed a scene from the Bhagawad Geeta: the dialogue that took place between Krishna and Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He is eagerly looking forward to playing both these roles in his next stage project, which is a one-man act narrating the gist of the Bhagawad Gita.
Another interesting dimension of Adil Hussain is that the talented actor is also a passionate chef. It was a fun moment when Adil talked about his love for cooking. His range is diverse, for he enjoys cooking Kashmiri, South Indian, North Indian, Assamese, and Bengali dishes to name a few. Over tea and samosas against the greenery of our backyard, he shared a recipe of Kashmiri Pandit mutton, cooked sans garlic and onions.
The evening passed away fast. All of us who gathered at my place to meet him just remained spellbound. Taking the time off his busy schedule, he spent those hours with us, patiently answering the almost rapid-fire questions sprung on him.
It was a dream come true to meet this brilliant actor, so soaked in simplicity and humility. Adil Hussain’s cinematic journey is itself a story of determination, persistence, and hard work. “You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it,” runs a quote from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Adil is that human being who has made the very best use of his God-gifted talents. He is a self-made man, who by starting from scratch with absolutely no family influence in this immensely huge film industry, has walked the miles to carve for himself a niche. As Adil moves forward with his upcoming projects, we wish him success at every step in the expedition ahead!