By Divya Unny Feb. 17, 2022
In Gehraiyaan, Naseeruddin Shah plays yet another version of the fatherly figure that has endeared him to a generation of viewers. His ability to embody both flaws and vulnerability, are traits that made me look for my own paa in him.
At one point in the recently released Prime Video’s Gehraiyaan, we see the back shot of a grey-haired gentleman with droopy shoulders, sluggishly crossing the road towards his daughter’s home. In the film, this is a father who literally is at a crossroads with his daughter, attempting to make amends. Though I knew it was Naseeruddin Shah who was walking that path, I watched closely to see a glimpse of my own dad in there. When he extends his shoulder for her to cry on, or when he pats her wrist to remind her that she’ll get through this, when he asks her to stay a day longer without meeting her eyes, or just the sight of him sleeping with his knees close to his chest- there are countless such moments in the film where Naseeruddin Shah displays his daddy-ness with such efficacy, that it makes you want to pick up the phone and say hi to your own paa.
Shah is a master of his craft, and by his own admission, he’s done almost ‘everything’ as an actor in his 45-year-long career.
Shah is a master of his craft, and by his own admission, he’s done almost ‘everything’ as an actor in his 45-year-long career. But for me, the kind of unstudied, open-hearted approach with which he plays the father, tops them all. The last decade has seen Shah mirror every kind of aging dad who yearns for a few good moments with his kids. The dad who carries a mountain of memories on his chest, but won’t burden his children with them. The dad whose eyes reek of unfinished conversations and unresolved conflicts, but smiles through it all. And it honestly breaks your heart, because Shah shows you exactly how your parent might be feeling, when you haven’t responded to a text, or even called in days.
Countless moments in Gehraiyaan where Naseeruddin Shah displays his daddy-ness with such efficacy makes you want to pick up the phone and say hi to your own paa.
It all began with Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom in 1983 where I couldn’t help but fall in love with DK, the father. He was a perfect dad to his little girls, and the most imperfect one to his illegitimate son. He was guilty of both missing his son’s early years, and cheating on his own family. Torn between two worlds, and desperate to express his love to his boy, it was among Shah’s most nuanced performances; unafraid, vulnerable, exposing a side of his personality that most ‘heroes’ or male actors in that era chose to shun away from.
I often re-watch DK’s final goodbye scene with his son Rahul, where he breaks down without shedding a single tear. It reminds me of super rainy schooldays when my dad would wait outside kindergarten, soaking wet, just to see me turn around and wave him one last goodbye. Plain, simple, pure parental affection, without an ounce of pretence. Effortless genius!
Shah shows you exactly how your parent might be feeling, when you haven’t responded to a text, or even called in days.
In his memoir And then One day, Shah talks about his own unfinished bond with his father, and how it was too late to turn back time when he wished to rekindle that bond. Shah had a complicated relationship with his dad “When I had my children, I realised how much I missed out on with dad,” I remember him mentioning in an interview few years back. Maybe it’s an outpouring of that experience, combined with technique, that makes it all so natural for him.
The only other person I think can evoke similar feelings of fatherhood and seem so relatable in today’s day and age is Robert De Niro (read Intern/Silver Linings Playbook.) The goofy-faced father, who’ll mess up and look the other way- that’s De Niro for you. Which is why I really wished they’d cast Shah in the Hindi remake of The Intern, and not Amitabh Bachchan- AB just doesn’t break out of his mightiness as well as Naseer does. It’s more of a personality thing, than performance, I think.
I could go on and on, and yet there won’t be enough ink to describe the many faces of Shah and how he paints the parent on-screen.
To be so flexible that you disappear within a part, that’s Shah for you. RememberKabhi Haan Kabhi Naa? Shah played father to all humankind in that film. Father Briganza who always wanted something fixed, but was also ever-ready to fix the leaks in your life. When he convinces Sunil to confess about his mark sheet, or even when he hands Sunil that flute as a symbol of a new beginning, you really wish every kid had someone that cool to look up to. Someone who wouldn’t judge you for your wrongs, and celebrates your rights. Someone who is not just a father, but also a friend. Someone who is unafraid to tell you that he messed up, even if he’s the older guy.
In Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara Shah again played a flawed but ultimately earnest father. So much so I’m tempted to not pedestalize my own parent to the point that I leave him no room for error. We do that so many times, treat them like they can do no wrong. That’s too much pressure and it’s unnatural. Shah has over the years taught me otherwise.
I don’t want to think of the day he will stop performing, because I’ll kind of feel like I lost an onscreen dad.
The father figure in Iqbal, the intimidating stalwart father in Bandish Bandits, the lost father in That Girl in Yellow Boots, and so many more. I could go on and on, and yet there won’t be enough ink to describe the many faces of Shah and how he paints the parent on-screen. He embodies the feeling of being a dad with all his body and mind. It’s anything but perfect, and so real that he often lives with you like a member of your own home, even when the film is done. I don’t want to think of the day he will stop performing, because I’ll kind of feel like I lost an onscreen dad. I hope that day never comes.