And Then One Day – Naseeruddin Shah

There is something deeply fascinating about Naseeruddin Shah’s autobiography And Then One Day. The book has many dimensions but a thread runs through all of its 320 pages, and that is the thread of a man’s search for his vocation. At 15 years of age, already having experienced the magic of being a theatre actor, Shah has sex for the first time. After the act, emerging from the room, he says to himself, “It felt just like theatre!”. The anecdote reflects a certain flippancy about one’s own life, and about life in general, which also permeates the rest of the book. At the same time, almost in contradiction, it also reflects a strong passion for being an actor. We have seen this passion before the above incident, when, after acting in his first play, Shah tells himself, “This is what I was born to do”.

And Then One Day is a journey of Shah’s growth as an actor, starting as a boy who wanted to leave a mark on the audience that they would not forget, to the mature actor who explores, reflects on, and cultivates his art for the sheer joy of it rather than primarily for the effect it has on others. Through the journey, almost as scenery that passes by, one sees beautiful recollections of his first relationship with and marriage, at age 20, to a woman 14 years his senior. “For the first time in my life I felt that I meant something to someone, and someone meant something to me,” Shah writes. Then, we also read a painfully honest description of the falling apart of this relationship. The relationship falls apart but not before giving birth to Heeba, ‘a gift of God’, and again, Shah’s descriptions of the father-daughter relationship are touchingly honest. He describes his total ineptness as a 20 year old father, his later gnawing guilt at having failed to be present to his daughter and finally, his sincere efforts to establish a relationship with his daughter. One also learns of Shah’s frank opinions about popular Hindi cinema and its protagonists, as one does of his genuine respect and love for those who he feels actually strove to be artists and not mere stars or moneymakers, foremost among these being Om Puri and Shyam Benegal. In these parts, the book is also an insider’s view of the Indian art film movement and the makings of some of the most memorable pieces of cinema ever.

Curiously, throughout this story, we see Shah repeatedly moving away from his inner search towards the pursuit of fame and then, being disillusioned even when successful in that pursuit, returning to acting for the sheer joy of the realisation that he had as an adolescent – “this is what I was meant to do”. The two motivations – one, for a vocation and two, for fame – seem to be be deeply entangled with each other in the teenaged Shah, but by his early 30s, he seems to have realised a distinct preference for the first over the other. Never do a few pages go by without Shah admitting his own inadequacies – his self-absorption, his failures in relationships, his initial avoidance of hard work, and a perpetual feeling of being unloved that only a few people and being an actor could take away. The book is searingly honest and I suspect that such honesty can come only when one is secure at a deeper level in the conviction that one has found one’s distinctive place in the world.

The early 30s are also the age at which the memoir ends, which means we do not get to know about much of his work, including Mirza Ghalib, Ijaazat and his own somewhat disappointing directorial effort, Yun Hota to Kya Hota. However, in what it does contain, the book is fundamentally about a man searching for, creating and continually cultivating his vocation, knowing that life would not be worth living if he settled for anything lesser than this. Shah writes very passionately about his hero, the actor Geoffrey Kendal, “a Dronacharya to my Eklavya“. Kendal was one of the few people, he writes, who spent his last days not in regret but in the satisfaction of knowing that he did exactly what he needed to do with his life. Having witnessed the passion with which Shah has pursued his vocation, it may not be incorrect to assume that despite his undeniable emotional difficulties, that same contentment is also part of Naseeruddin Shah’s own life and will always remain so.

naseeruddin shah1

~ by tdcatss on September 25, 2014.

One Response to “And Then One Day – Naseeruddin Shah”

  1. The way Mr. N.Shah speaks can make you sit and listen to him for hours. Its not just the way he speaks it’s the content as well. I being his ardent fan since the time of Jane Bhi Do Yaaron of course can’t wait to get hold of the memoir in his own words. And after going through half through ATOD, I must say it’s a master piece by Khaluja yet again ! God bless !

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