In Nawaz We Trust

Pop Culture

In Nawaz We Trust

Illustration: Akshita Monga

 

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f late, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the actor single-handedly responsible for giving a face to a small-town everyman of varying degrees of ruthlessness, has been frequently filling in a void experienced by commercial films. These are high-budget star vehicles with very little actual acting quotient, in desperate need of salvaging. And Nawaz is their knight in shining armour. It’s a skill that the actor has mastered in effortless Siddiqui fashion, and has now become a failsafe tactic for mainstream filmmakers.

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In his latest film, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, a gory comic-crime thriller set in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh, Siddiqui plays the eponymous Babu, a contract killer, whose perfect track record has rendered him a sort of celebrity in the hitman circle. All’s going well for him, until he faces competition in the form of rival upstart hitman Banke (Jatin Goswami), who, as fate would have it, is also his biggest fan. Both the men have been hired to bump off three men. The duo strike a bet; whoever succeeds in murdering the three men first, wins and gets to collect the money for the job. The loser, on the other hand, has to bow out of the profession. Unfortunately for Babu, the stakes in the bet are higher than what he’d imagined, which sets off a series of plot twists that only weaken the film’s overarching intent.

Despite being overpowered by traces of Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, this lawless gangster saga that makes a comment on the futility of violence, rides on an engaging premise, firing solely from the able shoulders of Siddiqui, who turns in yet another assured performance that elevates the film a generous few notches higher. It’s a challenge he tackles head on and convincingly wins through his portrayal of a contract killer who kills with pure abandon, even as he shifts personae like a chameleon.

Babu is seen blending in his avatar at several different points, and there are a few scenes that are enlivened by his little actorly touches.

Image Credit / Movies By The Mob KNKSPL, YouTube

Siddiqui captures the everyman flavour of his nomadic hitman right from the opening sequence of the film. In the scene, Babu is seen blending in among a sea of blue-collar workers at a construction site, sauntering into an office next to the site, and coolly shooting a man. He replicates this avatar at several different points, and there are a few scenes that are enlivened by his little actorly touches.

This is also not the first time this year that Siddiqui has had to rescue an uneven script, or overshadow mediocre performances.

In a quietly hilarious scene at the beginning of the film, Babu lays his eyes on Phulwa (Bidita Bag) for the first time. She, a cobbler, is dedicatedly fixing a sandal, and Babu, who by then has already been taken by her, is determined to damage his sandals so that he gets an opportunity to make her notice him. The dialogue-less scene lasts for a few minutes, and sees Siddiqui first using his feet and then swinging across a grill clumsily, to break his almost-new footwear before ending up lying on the road to retrieve his sandal after having dropped it in a drain. As he succeeds in his mission, this one ordinary scene, so out-of-character for a ruthless killer, achieves a kind of endearing poignancy that only a gifted actor like Siddiqui can bring to the table.

This is also not the first time this year that Siddiqui has had to rescue an uneven script, or overshadow mediocre performances; Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is in fact the fourth instance of him doing so. In Rahul Dholakia’s Raees that released in January this year, Siddiqui’s earnest turn as JA Majumdar, the honest police officer committed to end the illegal liquor trade, was powerful enough to take the limelight away from none other than King Khan, who was playing a larger-than-life Gujarati bootlegger. In the film, Siddiqui’s incorruptible cop is the antithesis to SRK’s Raees, who is a criminal with a heart of gold, and it is him who shines the most. The actor’s dry, wry punchlines, and his calculated acting have a sort of credence that SRK faltered in bringing out, despite being the leading man. It’s no surprise then, that Siddiqui’s entry scene in the film comprises as much style as SRK’s himself.

With Siddiqui in the picture, there is almost always a tendency to engage a bit further with the film, rather than dismissing it outright.

Image Credit / Movies By The Mob KNKSPL, YouTube

Then there was Sridevi’s comeback film, MOM, which drew mixed reviews. In the rape-revenge saga, the actor underwent a complete physical transformation to play DK, a private investigator who seeks out and aids a vengeful mother in exacting justice for her daughter’s brutal rape. The amalgamation of his sinister look that would metamorphose into an innocent smirk within the batting of an eyelash, aided by unforgettably distinct dialogue delivery guaranteed that MOM was extricated from its tired tropes and basked in the slight afterglow of Siddiqui’s gravitas.

With Siddiqui in the picture, there is almost always a tendency to engage a bit further with the film, rather than dismissing it outright, a fate that met the Tiger Shroff-starrer Munna Michael. It’s almost as if the new crop of filmmakers are acutely aware of the trust that audiences have in Siddiqui’s performances. Having a Nawazuddin Siddiqui in your film is the intellectual equivalent of the mainstream formula of adding an item song to the mix. It’s essentially a trend that was started two years ago by the sneakily smart Kabir Khan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, where Siddiqui first displayed this quality of rescuing a film from drowning in a sea of mediocrity with his entertaining portrayal of Chand Nawab, the viral Pakistani news anchor.

But, the question remains, will the burden of being every other film’s salvage man end up being the actor’s own undoing? Will it make him complacent, or stereotype him to a template? Or will it be yet another test that he passes with flying colours? If Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is any indication, Nawazuddin Siddiqui has still got it.

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