As 'Article 15' is getting some brilliant reviews, the excitement in Nishad's voice can be heard quite evidently. Nishad, a character in Article 15 played by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, stays for long in your mind after watching the film. Anubhav Sinha's Article 15 is a powerful film, which touches upon the sensitive issue of casteism. The film stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Sayani Gupta and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub in pivotal roles.
Debuting with 'No One Killed Jessica' in 2011, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub left an impact with each of his characters, whether it is Murari (Ranjhanaa), Chintu (Tanu Weds Manu Returns), Sadiq (Raees) or Nishad (Article 15). Even in small roles, he has managed to make his presence felt.
With the release of Article 15, the actor took a short break and is vacationing in Australia. But he was kind enough to take some time out for a conversation with us. In an exclusive interview with Filmibeat, the actor shared his thoughts on Bollywood, casteism, his first film and theatrical days.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Article 15 is in the theaters now. What kind of reactions you are getting for this film and particularly for your character?
A. There are some great response and reviews to the film. Frankly, I did not expect such a reaction for my role. My role in the film is not such elaborated. But yes, the flavor of politics in the film comes only because of Nishad. Perhaps that's why people are giving importance to him. Although I had the idea that the film is going well. People will love the film.
Q. Your character in the film has got limited screen timing. How were you convinced to play this part?
A. When Anubhav Sir gave me the script, at that time he was considering me for some other role. But when we discussed the script, he gave me the opportunity to choose one of the roles. Then I chose Nishad's character. I felt a connection to this character. Frankly, I became a fan of the script as soon as I read it. I told them that there is a treasure in your hand that people will love.
Q. Have you experienced any change in your thoughts and ideas about caste system after doing this film?
A. I have always been interested in politics, due to which many a time even got trolled for my opinion. Yes, this film has definitely compelled me to think more about this subject. The idea on which the film is made is obviously not new. For centuries, people have been facing this in our society, but the manner in which Anubhav Sinha and Gaurav Solanki presented the issue is courageous. Instead of misrepresenting one caste or community, truth has been shown.
Q. Personally, what do you think can be done to cure society from this illness of casteism?
A. The day we decide to treat people equal around us, the day we stop thinking that we will have to become bigger than anyone else for the sake of progress, this issue will end. Caste system is deeply rooted in our society that sometimes we don't even notice things. For example, when PV Sindhu won the Olympics, the second most searched thing on Google was her caste. Just by saying that there is no such discrimination in our society, we cannot hide in the sand like an ostrich.
I also think that, first of all, these matrimonial sites should be closed. If you want to know how many complexions (colour) are there, then read these sites. You will know the definition of an ideal girl or boy in our country. As long as all these things are there, issues will be there.
Q. It is very brave of director Anubhav Sinha to make a film on this sensitive but important issue. Do you agree?
A. To think of making a film on this subject, making it and releasing it. It's a big deal in itself. I give full marks to Anubhav Sinha. This is not an easy task. I want to give full credit for this film to Anubhav Sir and Gaurav Solanki. These people were quite clear about this topic, which I was very happy to see.
Q. Once in an interview, you mentioned that you want to do 'author-backed roles'. Is 'Nishad' in Article 15 that role?
A. Yes, of course. In this type of character, you have more scope to do something different. As an artist you find something different in yourself, you can delve deep into the character. In writing such characters, writers and directors also invest themselves. My character in Article 15 is only for a while, but his presence can be felt in the entire film.
Q. Even after audience loved your work always, do you think you are underrated as an actor?
A. I do not feel myself underrated as an actor as I am getting respect for my work. Here I am not talking about the characters and role. As an actor I have been always respected for my work. Films flopped but people liked my work. People probably feel that I have the ability inside and I can do something different. But yes, sometimes I wonder that can I do just the kind of characters coming to me? I feel sometimes that can I do just those? I hope that things will change after Article 15. People must understand that an actor cannot do the same kind of work.
Q. So, you are still struggling in Bollywood?
A. Yes, of course. I never considered the length of the character, but there should be a depth in the character. I also want to get such a role which is brilliantly written. In Article 15, there is a dialogue- ''Kabhi hum harijan ho jaate hain to kabhi bahujan ho jaate hain, bas jan nahi ban pa rahe ki Jan Gan Man mein hamari bhi ginti ho jaaye.'' This dialogue is so good that there is an excitement while saying it. These things encourage an artist.
Q. Somewhere I read that while giving audition for your first film, you gave the character (Manu Sharma- No One Killed Jessica) a twist and showed him a little vulnerable. And it was appreciated by the director. Do you still improvise your scenes?
A. Indeed, there are a few directors who give you that space and dimension. Director Rajkumar Gupta gave me the space at that time and showed faith, so I also tried my best. Anubhav Sinha has also given me that space in Article 15. When you know that there is someone backing you, you work harder for the character, you want to do something different.
Q. Are you very selective while choosing scripts? Is it difficult for a director to impress you?
A. Yes, maybe this is wrong, but this is true. It is a bit difficult for a director to impress me. I do the role where I see some potential. Many times, I also see the team, people with whom I have to work for the next three-four months. Well yes, I'm somewhat choosy. Some people also say that I work less. But I give 100 percent to every character.
Q. 2011 to 2019, are you satisfied with the kind of roles you have got and are now getting?
A. No, I am not satisfied. I have no complaints with anyone. But I am not satisfied with the characters I am getting. For now, Article 15 and Turram Khan, only these two such scripts came to me, which I was excited to read. But I hope that some good characters will start coming now.
Q. One film or role that inspired you a lot in the starting days?
A. I think it's Ramgopal Varma's Satya. That was not just a gangster drama. The way in which he had brought the characters in front, people started to talk about acting in movies. Camera work, story, character, everything in that movie was excellent.
Q. While you were doing theatre and planning to enter Bollywood, what were your expectations then?
A. Actually, I do not think much about the future. Yes, there was an appetite even at that time to do better work.
Talking about your films, do you agree that Anand L Rai's Raanjhnaa took you to the wider audiences? People still remember the way Murari said- ''Tumhara Pyaar Na ho Gya UPSC ka exam ho gya....''
Raanjhna is the film which changed people's perception about me. One film because of which I am speaking to you now, the success which I am enjoying is because of that. It was only after Ranjhanaa that people started approaching me for different roles. I cannot take this credit from Anand L. Rai.
Q. Article 15 is getting some great reviews. But do you think issue-oriented films bring a change in the society?
A. Definitely. Not much, but yes it brings a change. It does not happen that a movie comes and everything changes. A movie just inspires, raises questions in some people's mind, forces some to think and gives some answers. After watching Article 15, even if one person brings a change in his own thinking, it's an achievement for the film. We cannot hope for any sudden revolution, but the change comes.
Q. You are getting much appreciation for Article 15. What are your next projects?
A. I am really looking forward to Turram Khan. It's a Hansal Mehta film also starring Rajkummar Rao and Nushrat Bharucha. Recently, we completed shooting for this movie. And now, I am on a time-out.