Naseer sahab always speaks his mind. There is no pretence and I feel that’s a great quality to have. He treats everyone as equal and so the honesty.I learnt from him that you should never instruct your co-actor. You receive whatever they have to offer. That’s the real give and take.”
On Teacher’s day, the actress recounts her student days at the FTII and the impact of the legendary Naseer sahab on her as a teacher.
Naseer sahab was part of the visiting faculty when Rasika Dugal studied at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). While the world knows of his acting prowess, through some very interesting anecdotes, Rasika gives us an insight into Naseeruddin Shah, the teacher. In conversation with Bombay Times, she shares the valuable lessons of her famous teacher that she continues to cherish.
The actress remembered, “We were thrilled that Naseer sahab was able to take the time out and come teach us. It is rare for a working actor to make some time for teaching. What I found unique about him is the fact that he is as good a teacher as he is as an actor, which is rare. Usually it’s one or the other. Acting and teaching are two very different muscles but he is able to navigate them. A great actor and a very focussed teacher.”
The actress shared his teaching process and the impact it had on her as a student. She explained, “He has a set process that he would follow with us. We had several workshops with him that went on for 15 days each throughout the year. This pattern is what he had devised. You will not find this process in any book. We were in awe of him as many of us were in the institute because people like him, Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan are the alumni. Every student was nervous in front of him and we all wanted to maximise our time with him to grasp as much as we could.”
Citing examples, Rasika added, “The few things that I learnt from those sessions are fundamental to my craft. I hold them as golden rules. To give you an example, I learnt from him that you should never instruct your co-actor. You receive whatever they have to offer. Suppose a co-actor changes a line or says it differently, you don’t stop him and say, ‘hey, you’ve said the wrong line’. You accept what they give in that scene. It’s simple but extremely important. When someone throws something new at you and you adapt to it, that’s the actual give and take. And it’s not yours but a director’s job to control a scene. You just need to be alert and be there for your costar. It’s easy to say these things but he taught us to execute it.”
After a brief pause, she elaborated, “Naseer sahab once said in class, that if you want to truly listen to your costar in a scripted scene, then you must learn the other person’s lines also. At the time he gave this instruction I found it weird. But when I started working, I understood the meaning of it. I shot a short film called ‘The Miniaturist of Junagadh’ with him, which was my first professional interaction with him in Mumbai after the FTII. What happened on set was interesting. He asked me, “Tumko lines yaad hai, na?” I said, “Sir, aapki bhi yaad hai (smiles).” He laughed because he himself taught us that. He is enthusiastic about learning things and constantly updating his knowledge. He reads stuff in several languages and finds references that can lend meaning to lacklustre writing of a character he may enact, it’s very inspiring. This is what being detailed means.”
Beyond being a fine actor, Naseeruddin Shah is a socially aware artiste, who always speaks his mind. And that’s most inspiring about him believes the actress. Listing it as one of her life lessons, she says, “He always speaks his mind. There is no pretence and I feel that’s a great quality to have. The other person who has this quality is Nandita Das and I had the opportunity to work with her as well in Manto. They don’t believe in hierarchies. They treat everyone as equal and so the honesty.”