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Children should be allowed to read all religious texts: Actor Adil Hussain

Ariful Islam/Guwahati

A consummate theatre artiste, a faculty at the National School of Drama, and above all, one of the most loved character actors in Bollywood as well as Hollywood movies, Adil Hussain is a pride of Assam. Adil’s accolades include two National Film Awards, a Norwegian National Film Award, staging Shakespeare’s Othello: A Play in Black and White, and Goodbye Desdemona in the UK. He has starred in Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam, Norwegian, French, and mainstream Hollywood films like The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Life of Pi.

Born in an Assamese Muslim family in western Assam’s Goalpara district, Adil Hussain strongly believes in the traditional Indian values of universalism, Sarva Dharma Samabhava and Vasudeva Kuttumbakam. In an exclusive interview with Awaz-The Voice Assam, Adil Hussain opens up about his life, thoughts, and beliefs about religion, politics, corruption, films, and his dreams. Excerpts:

Interview of the Week

What is the difference between Adil Hussain of childhood and Adil Hussain of today?

Adil Hussain with A R Rehman

An individual grows up slowly, studies things, and eventually grows old. The same was with me. However, my parents and teachers inspired me to be subtle, sharp, and deep. I became more in-depth when I went to study at the National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi. At the NSD, the teachers taught me that in life there is always an attempt to make any event black and white. There are not only one or two sides to an event, but many more. I may not have understood many things in my childhood but today I understand a lot and my reaction or response to things are different from my childhood. In this world, there are 7.5 billion people. So, the way I see the same event, another person may have a different perspective on the same event. In the initial years of life, I used to understand only one or two perspectives on any event, but now I can look at or understand an event from all perspectives.

How challenging was your journey? Did your talent get recognized at the right time?

Everyone has their own unique talents. We have to see whether we can identify such talent in other people or ourselves. Now Ariful, you are in journalism because you have the talent required for this profession. If your father had forced you to study medicine, you would have perhaps become a very sad doctor. I think about 99 percent of the people in this world cannot do what they love to do. At the same time, I cannot blame the people for creating hindrances on my way to becoming an actor because it was not possible for them to think that Adil Hussain from a small place in Assam’s Goalpara district would become an actor someday. The people had the mentality that how could Adil, a person with a black complexion, become an actor?

Adil Hussain with Amitabh Bachchan

Even though the people’s perception and mentality have resulted in negative outcomes in some cases, I accepted the same as positive and challenging ones. If people or nature did not stop me, how would I have come to be known for how much I love acting? If I love acting, I will practice or prepare for what I love despite all the obstacles. I even did not allow my father to interfere in developing my talents.

Once when I was working with one of the top production houses in Mumbai, they wanted me to sign a contract that had a stamp paper on it. The agreement was that all the films I made in the next two years had to be done with their permission. Immediately I told the production house that I am a person who even did not listen to my father in developing my talent. Under such circumstances how could I work with a production house with such conditions? Then, I sent an email saying that I would only work with them if they lifted this condition. Later they lifted the condition.

You were a theatre actor in the beginning. What attracted you to the cinema?

Your question is not completely accurate. I grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, and Assamese movie heroes Biju da & Nipon da. So, I have always wanted to act in movies since I was a child. I have done many films and serials in Assamese before going to the NSD. It was only when I went to the NSD to learn acting that I fell in love with the stage. The stage pushed me to the final stage to showcase my talent. The NSD has nationally and internationally acclaimed directors who come to us with the plays of the best writers including Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw in the world. It is important to understand those plays, act in different characters, and present them on stage. The peace that I get in a year on stage by performing plays was missing in me during those 25 to 30 years time when I was engaged in acting in movies

In 2008, I was teaching at the NSD. I didn’t earn much money by teaching at NSD and thus a friend of mine wanted me to work in his film, which became very popular. The film was called Iskia The film stars Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan playing my wife. After a few days, I got married. Now, I needed a little more money, so I started acting more in films.

How do you choose a movie or character for the movie?

For 99% of movies, I read the summary first, and then I look at the “Character Brief”. Then I ask for my performance brief separately. I talk to the director only if I like it after reading everything. If the director is not familiar, I have to feel good after talking to him. I have to stay away from my wife or children for 30-40 days during my acting in a film. If I don’t like the association or attachment of the people, I can’t work with them. Also, when my bank account runs out of money and Akshay Kumar invites me to do a film, I watch the story and act.

Adil Hussain receiving the Assam Samman Award

You have worked less in Assamese films than in Bollywood and Hollywood. What is the reason for this?

When a script comes to me from Assam, I follow the same rules for all kinds of movies. I work the same way with all movies. I have never thought that the quality of Assamese cinema is low. If a movie with a quality story and strong character comes to me I do it. I consider Assamese films according to the same standards as I do in other films. I have made an Assamese film called Shringhal, it is a very beautiful film. Then I’ve done ‘Midnight Caterpillar’, ‘Kathanadi‘. I can’t think of earning huge money in Assamese films because there is very little money there. So, I do Assamese movies if the quality of the story and character is good. There is no need to ask for the same money in Assamese films as I do in foreign films or Mumbai. When a film is of high quality from an artistic standpoint, I do it and I think my time was well spent.

What do you think is the future of Assamese cinema given the recent success of some films like Raghupathi?

I have not seen any new Assamese film or Raghupathi yet. I did the film Dr. Bezbaruah because Nipon Dai did it. I say good days have come when a movie is artistically good. Rima Das’s Tara’s Husband is very good. That film is one of the best in the Assamese film industry.

How does Adil Hussain perceive religion?

I think religion is a very personal matter. I feel that one cannot become a Hindu even if one is born in a Hindu family and the same is the case with a Muslim. I would call a person a true Hindu only if he follows the very highest values of Hindutva. The same is true of Muslims. We all used to be Hindus. Our civilization in India is 10,000 years old. It is another matter that our ancestors converted to Islam. I think kids should be allowed to read all the religious scriptures in the same way they choose a subject in school. They must read the Qur’an, the Gita, and the Bible. Then choose which religion they will follow. No one has the right to speak to the relationship I create with my creator; neither my father, nor society, nor the government. No one has the right to say what religion I will follow.

Adil Hussain with Monisha Koirala

Assam has always been called the land of Shankar and Azan. Nowadays there are attempts and incidents between Hindus and Muslims where they get into conflicts. Have you ever witnessed such an incident?

I have not encountered such an incident anywhere. Usually, some people are used by some elements to commit such incidents. These people are less educated. Those who use them are extremely intelligent. Those who cause conflict based on religion do not know or follow the religion in the true sense of the term. But they are using religion for their vendetta. I rode my bike all over India for two years. I went to villages and never encountered such an incident. I have spent a beautiful time in places where there was not a single Muslim household.

Whenever I hear religious fighting, I think all these fights are about politics. Ariful, your name is not a Muslim name, your name is an Arabic name. Many Arabic speakers in the world are not Muslims. When people hear my name, Adil Hussain, they assume that I am a Muslim. Arabic is a language, and Islam is a religion. Language has nothing to do with religion. Now if the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was born in Norway, he would have been a Norwegian. Therefore, I think that all the religious conflicts that happen are caused by politics or power.

What is your definition of an Indian?

Adil Hussain with other Bollywood actors

I used to hear that India’s border was once extended to Afghanistan. Now I accept the current political border. Indians are those who live within the borders of old India and followed the Indian civilization and culture since ancient times and respect its philosophical scriptures. Azan Fakir has also come to this country, and Khawaja Moinuddin Sisti (Chishty) has also come. People of all religions go to these Sufi saints. The relationship I have with the creator is personal. It is important to respect that personal relationship. If someone does not respect he has not accepted Indian civilization which means he is not an Indian.

If you are invited to join politics because of your popularity, would you do it?

Adil Hussain with Sunny Deol

The invitation to join politics came to me in 2014. I then told them that I have been trying to bring perfection to my acting career for the last four decades and have not been able to do so. How do I suddenly become a politician overnight? I have not read politics, I have not read economics, I have not read international relations, I have not read social studies. How can I do justice to politics without studying the issues closely connected with such a career? You have to study a lot to do politics. To do politics, you must also tend to serve people. I call that Swadharma. When a singer is given a police job, how can he do justice to that job? You can only move forward if you do what you love to do or if you are fit.

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I have many actors and artist friends who are now policemen. How can they be good cops? It is bad to impose what does not come from your heart and soul. I think you have to study well to do politics. You not only have to become economically strong honestly but also mentally strong to become a good politician. I feel that most of the current politicians do politics for business.

Who are the actors and directors with whom you have a desire to work in the future?

I have a lot of desire to work with Amol Palekar in India. Overseas I want to work with Ben Kingsley, Robert De Niro, and Daniel Deluise. I have a huge desire to work with directors like Martin Scorsese and some other Japanese directors.

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