There was a time, says actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, when he was head over heels in love with a woman for four years. But he never gathered the courage to tell her. “I was totally smitten,” he says. “It was one-sided, of course. I had built up this fantastical world with her, and she did not have a clue. That is the way to love. One needs to have that spark, and a certain passion for true romance. If you are a lover-boy off screen, you will be able to portray it well on-screen too.” Recently, Siddiqui, 49, got mercilessly trolled for romancing an actor half his age (Avneet Kaur) in his latest film, Tiku Weds Sheru―a Kangana Ranaut production which just released on Amazon Prime Video. Defending himself, the actor says he is “far better at love and romance than all the millennials put together, who are glued to their phones and could, at best, get involved with AI bots”.
Dressed in a pista green suit and holding a mug of black coffee, Siddiqui is sitting in a Mumbai studio with Kaur, 21. He says in a way, this film is a dream come true, something he has been waiting for ever since he started his career in 1999. It is not just a mainstream commercial film, but it is also a role far removed from his brooding, gun-wielding, gangster characters. He is neither playing second fiddle like in films like Kick (2014) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) nor is he part of an ensemble cast, like in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012).
Surprisingly, Siddiqui says he has always had an affinity for lighter, romantic roles. When he graduated from the National School of Drama with friend and co-actor Rajpal Yadav, both had decided that they would pursue lighter roles, but while Yadav did veer towards comedy, Siddiqui was handed dark and intense scripts. “That might have to do with my dark skin and the intense look on my face,” he jokes, turning to Kaur and asking whether his face gives an impression of seriousness. She dismisses it with a grin. “I don’t know why, but despite becoming popular doing comic plays in school, when Rajpal and I were leaving school, my teacher pleaded with me not to do comedy when I went to Mumbai,” says Siddiqui. “It got me to introspect. But back then, as long as I was getting work, I was okay. Then, at some point, I felt life was turning out to be quite dark, dull and bleak. It was time to pep it up with a splash of colour. It was time to try romance and add some chutzpah to life.”
A few films like Freaky Ali (2016) and Manto (2018) have been exceptions. But Tiku Weds Sheru, he says, is a consummation of all his hopes. “Earlier, too, I had done romantic roles, but it is for the first time that I am doing such a full-fledged and quirky romance,” he says.
However, his tryst as a lover-boy does not seem to have gone down well with the audience. Tiku Weds Sheru turns out to be a disappointing and direction-less hotchpotch. Despite the slice-of-life film being based on Siddiqui’s own life experiences and struggles as a junior artiste in Bollywood, his delivery seems caricaturish, and the chemistry between him and Kaur is almost non-existent.
Co-written and directed by Sai Kabir, who made Revolver Rani, Tiku Weds Sheru tells the story of Sheru (Siddiqui), a Mumbaikar from Bhopal who plays bit roles in bad films and makes his living, reluctantly, as a pimp. His bride, Tiku (Kaur) comes with a fat dowry and a fatter dream―to be a film star. She uses him to get a ticket to tinseltown.
After films like Kabir Khan’s New York (2009) and Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (2013), Siddiqui seems to have lost the plot with his recent choices. His last, Jogira Sara Ra Ra (2023), turned out to be a slice-of-life comedy with no novelty. “Yes, I want to experiment with lighter roles, because that is what I think comes naturally to me,” he says. “I will not say no to intense roles, either. But I will not do anything just for the heck of it. I have really felt for the films I have worked in, and I believe I can connect with the audience with my comic timing.”
He added that even in something as dark as Gangs of Wasseypur, there was always a line or two that would make people laugh. “The humour is always present in my dialogues in some way or the other, and I will stick to that,” he says. “Films may work or not. My assessment of my talent is that, I am very much capable of comedy and romance.”
However much he is capable of on-screen romance, his love life off screen has been a mess, with estranged wife Aaliya accusing him of domestic abuse. Siddiqui maintains a stoic silence. “I would not want to talk about it, please,” he says. “I want to keep the personal and professional separate, and I am able to do it only because of my passion for my work.”