Interview Hindi

Akshay Kumar stole my watch, says Adil Hussain of his Bell Bottom co-star

In an exclusive interview, Adil Hussain speaks about his upcoming films and the experience of working on Star Trek: Discovery.

Dwijiri B Basumatary

An actor par excellence known for his intense performances, Adil Hussain has carved a niche for himself in Indian as well as international cinema.

Having appeared in a range of critically acclaimed as well as commercially successful films, Hussain's filmography exhibits his incredible range as an actor.

Making his foray from theatre into mainstream cinema with Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya (2010), the actor from Assam has featured in an impressive line-up of films since, including Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi (2012), Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012), Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish (2012), Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), Leena Yadav’s Parched (2016), Bhaskar Hazarika’s Kothanodi (2016), Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Hotel Salvation (2017) and the series Star Trek: Discovery.

Before the pandemic struck India last year, Hussain was busy shooting for films and attending festivals, but the countrywide lockdown imposed in March turned the veteran's life topsy-turvy, like it did for most other Indians. At the same time, it allowed him some time for introspection.

"I was able to fathom the preciousness of life, of the relationships with the people that I am living with," Adil Hussain said. "My wife, my son... oh, how much I've missed their presence in my life because I was always out of home working!

"It [the lockdown] also tested my tenacity,” he said. He immersed himself into reading scripts, taking a break by reading books. In the past few months, he also watched the French classics The Grand Illusion (1937) and The Last Metro (1980) and the Japanese films Osaka Elegy (1936) and The Burmese Harp (1956).

Adil Hussain in Life Of Pi (2012)

The gifted actor wrapped up shooting for a number of films before the latest series of lockdowns was announced. Among them was the upcoming Akshay Kumar-starrer Bell Bottom, directed by Ranjit M Tewari.

The film is slated to be released later this year and Hussain can only reveal that it is a spy thriller set in the 1980s (which isn't a revelation anyway). Much of the shooting took place in Glasgow, Scotland.

Talking about Akshay Kumar, Hussain described the “fun-loving” actor as a joy to work with. "Working with Akshay Kumar is a pleasure because he is such a punctual person," he said. "He comes early in the morning. We finish our shoot by 5 o'clock in the evening and go home."

He also recounted the time when Akshay Kumar pranked him by stealing his watch. "He shook my hand and then took my watch," Hussain said. "I didn't even realize it. And then just before the shoot, the assistant director comes and says, ‘Sir, the continuity watch is not there.’ And I'm like, ‘Arey! Where did it go?!’"

His other upcoming film, India Sweets And Spices featuring Manisha Koirala, will be screened at the Tribeca International Film Festival.

"It was lovely and wonderful to work with Manisha Koiralaji because we have seen her films," said the actor, turning into something of a fan. "She is an amazingly beautiful and wonderful actor. She is such an inquisitive actor. She kept making sure if she was doing okay or not from her co-actors and the director. And how hard she prepares for the role!"

Unhesitatingly declaring India Sweets And Spices "her film", Hussain said it is a mother-daughter story more than about the father and the family. “It was a great honour to be a part of it and I hope people like it when they see it at Tribeca," he said.

While he has a number of big films lined up for the coming season, he will also be seen in independent films with lesser known actors, like Footprints On Water, which he wrapped up some months ago. The directorial debut of Nathalie Syam, the film is based on a script by her sister Neetha Syam that won a prize at the second Cinestaan India's Storytellers Contest and follows an undocumented immigrant in the UK (played by Hussain) whose daughter suddenly goes missing. Being an illegal worker, he cannot go to the police to file a missing report and so takes it upon himself to look for his child.

"It is an emotional journey and trauma for the father. Through him, we are showing the misery and plight of the people," said Hussain, speaking passionately about the problems faced by undocumented immigrants and how they are rarely talked about in cinema.

Hussain last appeared on the screens in Season 4 of the American sci-fi show Star Trek: Discovery. What surprised Hussain the most during the shoot was the way each artiste, regardless of screen time or experience, was treated.

"These actors were treated with so much love and affection and respect. And it shows in the work. It shows in the scenes. I'm not a new actor in India, but [I was] a new actor in the series. And almost a nobody. One is so used to the Indian system where unless you are somebody, you are generally not treated well," he said, laughing.

Adil Hussain in Good Newwz (2019)

While Hussain has been in a plethora of serious films, he looks forward to playing an array of characters ranging from the comic to even action.

“I would like to do all kinds of films, I don't know why people keep casting me in serious roles," he said, laughing. "Thankfully I was cast in a comic role by Raj Mehta in Good Newwz (2019). And also by Chandraprakash Dwivediji in Zed Plus (2014). I enjoy doing comic roles, but people don't cast me in those. I guess they think I'm a very serious actor."

Having spent his early years teaching theatre and even directing stage plays, Hussain also contemplates the possibility of donning the director’s hat in the future.

"There are one or two stories that I would like to tell," he said. "The story in question is written by Assamese writer Atulananda Goswami. The short story is about a man and an elephant. I decided to change it to a woman and an elephant.

"It's about a relationship that begins when the elephant is in crisis. I gave the story to some people to write a script for me. But it didn't go the way I wanted it to. So I have been trying to write it myself, but I haven't been able to make myself sit down and finish it."

While the future holds bright prospects and exciting possibilities, for now, the actor is content to get back to reading his scripts and then maybe a book.

India Sweets And Spices will be part of the Spotlight Narrative section at the Tribeca International Film Festival, which is being held from 9–20 June 2021. Bell Bottom is expected to be in theatres later this year.