Interview Hindi

Didn't want my character in Maharani to be a stereotypical Bengali or Muslim, says Inaamulhaq

Inaamulhaq speaks about his preparation to play the small but crucial role of bureaucrat Parvez Aalam in the Huma Qureshi-starrer web-series and why he isn't seen on the screen more often.

Suyog Zore

Inaamulhaq is among those artistes who do not need much screen time to make their mark. The actor, an alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD), has proved it with his small yet powerful roles in films like Airlift (2016) and Jolly LLB 2 (2017).

A month and a half ago, Inaamulhaq added another small but powerful role in his filmography. The actor plays Bengali bureaucrat Parvez Aalam in SonyLIV's political drama web-series Maharani (2021).

Since the premiere of the web-series on 28 May, Inaamulhaq has been receiving messages from well-wishers and fans for his performance. "I'm not very active on social media, so people are finding my old clips from movies on YouTube and commenting about my performance in Maharani," the actor told in an interview.

Inaamulhaq said the length of a role has never mattered to him as long as the project makes an impact. "I have always looked for characters that will leave a big impact on the viewer," he said. "Many people still talk about that army general from Airlift, but I had only 10 or 12 minutes of screentime in the film. The same goes with Jolly LLB 2. I only had six or seven minutes of screen time, but everyone remembers that role."

Maharani is Inaamulhaq's second project with Subhash Kapoor, and he loved working with him after Jolly LLB 2. "If I work with someone, most of the time they also cast me in their next project," the actor said. "I have worked with Nikkhil Advani on three projects."

In Maharani, Inaamulhaq's official unearths a huge scam in the Bihar government where the animal husbandry department purchases seeds from non-existent suppliers on the basis of fake orders and bills. For the role, he spent a month and a half learning to speak Hindi with a Bengali accent.

"Mostly I learned from YouTube videos," he said. "I would watch a lot of videos to see and learn how Bengalis speak in Hindi. I also continuously listened to interviews of politicians like [the late president] Pranab Mukherji and [West Bengal chief minister] Mamata Banerjee. I also watched a few Bengali films. That's when I realized that there is no particular rule. It all depends on the emotions of the person. After this initial preparation, I met Geeta Guha, who was my senior at the NSD. She is Bengali and she helped me fine-tune my accent."

With this role, Inaamulhaq also wanted to break the stereotyped portrayal of Bengali and Muslim characters in Hindi cinema. "Hindi cinema has created a stereotypical image of every community," he said. "Punjabis are always portrayed as hyperactive, happy-go-lucky people. Muslims are always shown with a beard and shaved moustache with a little soorma [kohl] in the eyes. This is a stereotype Hindi cinema has created of Muslim characters, which I wanted to break.

"It's the same with Bengali characters — just make them talk about rosogulla, mishti dohi, and they become Bengali! There is no authenticity or research that goes into it. I wanted to change that. I didn't want my character to be another stereotypical Bengali character. And I'm glad that people have liked my character."

Apart from picking up the Bengali accent, Inaamulhaq had to learn the body language of an older guy. "My character is around 55 years old. So I had to learn how body language changes when you reach that age," he said. "Because technically you are not old. Sometimes when actors are asked to play a character who is in the 55-60 years range, they tend to overdo it, I wanted to steer away from it and play him as naturally as possible."

Inaamulhaq made his film debut in 2008 with Firaaq. Since then he has appeared in only about 15 films, of which three are yet to be released. He has also been quite choosy about web shows, having been a part of only two until now. Asked about this, he said, "I don't like to repeat my roles. It's evident from my filmography. Once your character becomes popular, you get the same kind of offers from casting directors.

"Few people have the vision to experiment with an actor's image. After Airlift, I was bombarded with the same kind of roles. The same had happened after Filmistaan (2014).

"Quantity doesn't matter [to me], quality does. Another thing I have realized is that I don't want any peak in my career. I want equal respect throughout. And this will only happen when I consistently do work of the quality that people expect from me."

However, this pursuit of quality and this selectivity has a price. "Not all, but many casting directors think of themselves as some kind of messiahs," Inaamulhaq remarked. "If I refuse a project brought by them because, let's say, I didn't like the script, it hurts their ego and they never call me again for other projects. I have also lost out on some projects because of this attitude."

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