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Shutdown Stories: Adil Hussain finds refuge in books, movies and cooking

The Life Of Pi (2012) actor speaks about handling the sudden countrywide lockdown, which he had predicted, with his 'greatest love' aside from acting and a bit of non-fiction reading.

Shriram Iyengar

Hours before prime minister Narendra Modi made the declaration at 8pm on Tuesday 24 March that India would be shut down completely for 21 days, actor Adil Hussain had told us, "Brace yourself mentally for a longer shutdown. I doubt it is going to end until July."

The actor is at home and tasked with quite a few chores but still enjoying the downtime. Ask him how he is spending his time and he laughs about housework. 

"We have a 10-year-old," he pointed out. "Kristen, my wife, and I are mostly busy doing household work. It is a full-time job with a 10-year-old at hand. To control his screentime, so that he does his homework for two-and-a-half hours a day. Finding things to eat, which is not necessarily repeating. For us, anything will do. We made our dosa [South Indian pancake] batter ourselves and had dosa and rice."

Though he is someone who enjoys cooking — 'one of my greatest loves aside from acting" — Adl Hussain is also planning to spend some time in quarantine with books. Playing to the image of a thinking actor, he revealed that the book he has his eyes on is Yuval Noah Harare's anthropological bestseller, Sapiens. "I haven't started yet," he said. "I just came back from Dhaka [in Bangladesh]. We had been shooting for three months. I have bought a lot of books, but Sapiens is on my mind, so I think I will start on it." 

If Sapiens feels heavy, Hussain also has his eyes on Thomas Campbell's My Big Toe series, which combines physics, theology and metaphysics. "Toe stands for Theory Of Everything," the actor explained. "Although I don't know where you would class these books — metaphysics? science? — It is science and philosophy coming together. I hope it is coming together in the right proportions and by credible sources (laughs)."

A serious reader of non-fiction, Adil Hussain said, "I haven't read fiction in a long time. I have to read a lot of scripts. The other thing I want to finish is Sri Aurobindo's Message of the Gita. It is an amazing book. It's extremely powerful. Every shloka, page, I go through, two–three or just one, it's very powerful. I sometimes just finish one, and it stuns you, the way it is translated. That's another book I want to go through one time."

Having had a very productive 2019, with Delhi Crime, Kabir Singh, Good Newwz and Raahgir, the actor is not leaving his cinematic bingeing behind. While he is not a fan of bingeing — "never had the time for it," he remarked — the actor has started on his first major series, which is also very topical.

"I am watching Pandemic on Netflix. It feels too real. I just wanted to see from their point of view how frontline workers are trying to prevent it. They actually predicted in 1918 that after a hundred years, it will happen."

The actor also has a personal collection of 150 movies dating back to the 1930s, which he plans to explore during the shutdown. "I have this hard drive full of 150 movies, curated by one of my most revered acting teachers. Films from 1936 to the current time," he said.

These are films by different directors from across the world, the most poetic films that he thought can be watched again and again. He only added those films to the drive that he could watch at least three times.

The aftertaste of a film is what matters most to Adil Hussain. As per his idea of watching films, it is not enough that you watched it once and found it entertaining. He looks at films as if they were poetry. "The taste of it lingers, and you go back to it and see if you feel you want to finish it to the end. I am lucky to have that collection. I am doing one film a day," he said.

However, the Life Of Pi (2012) actor is not optimistic about the shutdown ending early. Citing the example of the situation in Pandemic, he said, "It is an irony that a 16-year-old girl, Greta Thunberg, tried to tell us to stop doing what we had been doing. People have been speaking since the 1980s and we didn't listen. Then they said it would be too expensive for the wealthy and capitalism would fall. Right now, it looks like a massive struggle. We don't have any idea, but we have to do it."

He added, "This disease will not be sparing anyone. The health minister of England, the prime minister of Canada, Tom Hanks, nobody is being spared. Now, the panic has set in. Otherwise, the climate crisis or any other thing would have just gone on. People feel they are invincible because they have the money to go to higher ground, live in their own cities. It is difficult when these things come in."

Hopefully, the 21-day lockdown will change perspectives a little.

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