Naseeruddin Shah was born 20 July 1950, is an Indian film superstar and stage actor and director, and a prominent figure in Indian parallel cinema. Shah was born into a Muslim family in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh state of India. He is a descendant of a 19th-century Afghan warlord Jan-Fishan Khan who participated in the First Anglo-Afghan War and helped the British in the subsequent Indian Rebellion of 1857. Shah did his schooling at St. Anselm’s Ajmer and St Joseph’s College, Nainital. He graduated in arts from Aligarh Muslim University in 1971 and attended National School of Drama in Delhi. His elder brother, Lt. General Zameerud-din Shah (Retd.) PVSM, SM, VSM, is current Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. His nephew (cousin’s son) Salim Shah is also a TV and film actor.
In 1977, he, Tom Alter and Benjamin Gilani formed a theatre group called Motley Productions. Their first play was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which was staged at the Prithvi Theatre on 29 July 1979. In 1988, he acted in the eponymous television series based on the life and times of Mirza Ghalib, directed by Gulzar and telecast on DD National. In 1989, he acted as the Maratha King Shivaji in another eponymous television series Bharat Ek Khoj based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s book The Discovery of India. In 1999, he acted as a special agent in the TV series Tarkash on Zee TV. Naseeruddin Shah played the role of a retired agent haunted by nightmares who is re-inducted as he apparently knows something about a dreaded terrorist somehow connected with his past.
Shah married Manara Sikri (actress Surekha Sikri’s sister) when he was 20 years old, and they had a daughter, Heeba Shah, who is now an actress. The couple however separated, and Manara Sikri and Heeba moved to Iran. He married actress Ratna Pathak in 1982 after the death of his first wife. He has two sons from his second marriage, actors Imaad and Vivaan. He co-starred with Ratna in films like Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, Mirch Masala and The Perfect Murder. In 1998, he played the role of Mahatma Gandhi in the play Mahatma Vs. Gandhi, (which looked at the Mahatma’s relation with Harilal Gandhi, his first son). With this, he achieved his objective of portraying Mahatma Gandhi, a role he had auditioned for in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. In 2000, he again portrayed the Mahatma, this time on film, Hey Ram. He played the villain with the dual identity of a ghazal singer and a Pakistani spy who supports terrorism in India in Sarfarosh starring Aamir Khan (1999). He played the role of Mohit, a drunken coach, in the critically acclaimed Iqbal. The role was specially written keeping him in mind by Vipul K Rawal, the writer of the film. It was recently voted as one of ten Hindi films that is considered ideal training and motivational material.
Naseeruddin Shah has been giving performances with his theatre troupe at places such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Lahore. He has directed plays written by Lavender Kumar, Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto. His directorial debut in movies, Yun Hota To Kya Hota, was released in 2006. It stars several established actors such as Konkona Sen Sharma, Paresh Rawal, Irfan Khan, newcomer Ayesha Takia, his son Imaad Shah and his old friend Ravi Baswani.
Naseeruddin Shah has acted in movies such as Nishant, Aakrosh, Sparsh, Mirch Masala, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai, Trikal, Bhavni Bhavai, Junoon, Mandi, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!, Ardh Satya, Katha, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, etc. In the very early stages of his career he acted in the film Dil Aakhir Dil Hai directed by noted director Ismail Shroff, with Rakhi where she played the character of Naseer’s elder girlfriend Kusumji whom he was forced to marry unwillingly because he is quite younger than her (in the film). One of his most important films, Masoom (1983) was shot at St Joseph’s College, Nainital. He became active in mainstream Bollywood cinema with the 1980 film Hum Paanch. His next major success in mainstream films was the 1986 multi-starrer film Karma where he acted alongside veteran Dilip Kumar. Starring roles for films such as Ijaazat (1987), Jalwa (1988) and Hero Hiralal (1988) followed. In 1988 he played opposite his wife Ratna Pathak as Inspector Ghote, the fictional detective of H. R. F. Keating’s novels in the Merchant-Ivory English language film The Perfect Murder.
He has acted in several multi-starrer Bollywood films as well, such as Ghulami (1985), Tridev (1989) and Vishwatma (1992). In 1994, he acted as the villain in Mohra, his 100th film as an actor. He forayed into Malayalam cinema the same year, through T. V. Chandran’s critically well acclaimed drama Ponthan Mada. The film portrayed the irrational bonding of a feudal serf (played by Mammootty) and a colonial landlord (played by Shah). Naseeruddin Shah strongly believed that the distinction between art and commercial films had largely reduced, especially with the directors of the former also making commercial films. In 2000 his dream of playing Mahatma Gandhi was realised when he played Gandhi in Kamal Hassan’s critically acclaimed Hey Ram which focused on the assassination of Gandhi from the assailant’s point of view. Shah acted superbly as He also worked brilliantly in Neeraj Pandey’s critically acclaimed A Wednesday (2008).
Later, he starred in international projects such as Monsoon Wedding in 2001 and a Hollywood comic book adaptation The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003 (co-starring Sean Connery) where he played the role of Captain Nemo. His portrayal of Nemo was very close to the design of the graphic novel, although his Nemo was far less manic. He worked in an Indian adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, titled Maqbool and Rajiv Rai’s Asambhav opposite Arjun Rampal and Priyanka Chopra in 2004. He then went on to work in The Great New Wonderful (2005). He was most recently seen in The Dirty Picture (2011). Naseeruddin Shah’s upcoming films include The Hunt where he plays a recluse growing marijuana in his forest retreat. He made his Pakistani film debut in Khuda Ke Liye by Shoaib Mansoor where he played a short cameo. His second Pakistani film Zinda Bhaag was selected as the country’s official entry to the 86th Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film award.
Naseeruddin Shah has been successful in mainstream Bollywood cinema as well as in Parallel Cinema. He has appeared in international films, notably playing. He was the first of several celebrity actors, who played the role of narrator in the popular audiobook series for kids Karadi Tales. He was the narrator in the film Paheli — the Indian entry to the 2006 Academy Awards. He has been awarded the life membership of International Film And Television Club of Asian Academy of Film & Television. Shah has written his memoir And Then One Day published by Hamish Hamilton. Naseeruddin Shah has won numerous awards in his career, including three National Film Awards, three Filmfare Awards and an award at the Venice Film Festival. The government of India has honoured him with the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan awards for his contributions to Indian cinema.