With a journey spanning 4 decades in the industry, Naseeruddin Shah is still the star that he was when his debut movie Nishant was nominated for an Oscar. From an inspiration in ‘Iqbal’ to an irresponsible father in ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara’, from a normal citizen in ‘A Wednesday’ to a quirky oldie in ‘Finding Fanny’, Naseeruddin Shah always chose an unconventional movie plot. His movies were way ahead of their time. That’s probably why he didn’t really see much of commercial success on screen.

However, his choice of cinema is exactly what made him stand apart. His roles made him what he is today. Even Hollywood could not help noticing his talent. He was one of those few actors who got more than a few scenes without lines in Hollywood movies. He acted in them instead of being a mere guest star.

On his birthday, we present you some of his most memorable movies that made us laugh, cry smile, and most importantly – think. Let’s go through some of his career defining roles, along with a few unique facts:

1. Sparsh


To play the role of a blind character is a challenge in itself but to do it with such conviction and such nuanced perfection, speaks highly of Mr. Shah’s skills. He perfectly essayed the role of a blind man who just couldn’t tolerate sympathy towards him or his students. His ideals were rock solid and so was his chemistry with Shabana Azmi. To make the role seem so realistic was beyond excellence. 

Fun fact: The movie was shot in an actual blind school in Delhi and his character was based on the principal of that school.

2. Ishqiya


One of his finest films in the last decade, Shah was amazingly impressive as Khalu Jaan – a romantic at heart. His attempts at flirting were laudable and his combination of being a dreamer as well as a doer were brilliantly crafted. His old-school and inevitable charm showed just how magical this guy can be. He was paired with Vidya Balan for the first time in this movie and then again for his cameo in Begum Jaan.

Fun fact: Sanjay Dutt was the initial choice for Naseerudin Shah’s role. Aren’t we glad that Naseer was chosen in the end?

3. Jane Bhi Do Yaaro


A cult classic of the 80s, words are not enough to describe what a gem of a movie this was. one of the major reasons for this movie being the way that it was (and still is), is Naseeruddin Shah. This movie developed the reputation of India’s definitive black comedy. It was not only a nihilist classic, but also a great social satire. The Mahabharata scene remains alive in people’s memories even today. 

Fun fact: The movie had a budget of just Rs. 7 lakhs and Naseer was paid a meager 15,000 for the role.

4. Mirch Masala


He has never resisted playing a role that is different in character. His character was a lecherous Subhedar with his intense lust for women, who was also treating the villagers like animals. For such hateful personality, you would think people would dislike him, but, no, he was loved even more for getting under people’s skin and creating hatred for him out of thin air. The climax of the movie is equally satisfying. This movie was also given a National Award for the absolute brilliance that it was.

Fun fact: This movie features the mother-daughter trio, Dina Pathak, Supriya Pathak and Ratna Pathak. It also features Naseeruddin Shah and Raj Babbar (in a guest appearance), husbands of Ratna Pathak and Smita Patil respectively.

5. Masoom


The story revolves around a guilty husband who knows his marriage is on the verge of collapsing after some secrets are exposed (a child born as a result of a one night stand), the engaging plot and captivating background score were just an add-on to Naseer saab’s realistic display of emotions. This movie was a directorial debut for the about-to-be legendary Mr. Shekhar Kapur and the duo definitely ignited a sea of emotions. Urmila Matondkar and Jugal Hansraj were the child artists who played Naseer and Shabana’s children in the movie.

Fun fact: Gulzar made a guest appearance in the last scene as the man who parked his car inappropriately adjacent to Naseeeruddin Shah’s car at the station.

6. Bazaar


To make an impact in a movie with an intellectual ensemble cast is setting a bar in itself. This is a movie which talks on the tender issue of bride-buying in India. It’s a marketplace where helplessness is bought and sold off. Naseer’s character of Salim as a financially incapable guy who couldn’t marry someone he loved, and the poetic ‘lover for life’ was not only tear-jerking but also totally awe inspiring.

Fun fact: An old classic Cerrone disco song is played during a party in the film.

7. Today’s Special


A movie that albeit quite boring with a washed up Indian-American lead, totally rocked, because of the character played by Naseeruddin, who, throughout the movie has his wits about Indian style of cooking. Even though he is a taxi driver in the movie, he teaches a chef, the importance of spices in food and life. You will laugh only when he is on the screen. So this is a big shout out to all the Shah fans. 

Fun fact: The restaurant in the film is now Thakali Kitchen in Flushing, NY, which specializes in Nepali cuisine.

8. Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai


The movie that has been a dumb charade favorite, displays the anger that Naseeruddin has when capitalism takes over his father’s skills. He has carefully essayed the role of a man who understands the plight of the workers without overdoing the character.

Fun fact: The movie was shot in the Pinto house and the only payment the production had to make was to name the lead character ‘Albert Pinto’.

9. Monsoon Wedding


The movie is a story about a typical Indian arranged marriage. How the entire planning takes place – from stressed parents to event planner to tantrum throwing relatives – the movie has it all. Apart from the realistic shots of Delhi, the only thing that is to be mentioned (not spoiling the plot for you), is the scene where Naseeruddin sides with his daughter – it deserves praise. Watch this movie for that scene alone. 

Fun fact: The movie won the Golden Lion, the highest prize at the Venice Film Festival 2001.

10. Mandi


A group of prostitutes struggles against the politicians who want them thrown out. The movie, a Shyam Benegal classic, has Naseeruddin playing the startling role of a servant. His relation with the girls of the brothel and his loyalty towards protecting them from the evil are both, overwhelming as well as mesmerizing. His difficult relationship with Shaban Azmi in the film is flamboyant.

Fun fact: The rights to this film are owned by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. Let’s hope we don’t see Don kind of remake of this classic in the future.

. . .

Even though he has risen as an actor (and how!), he has been amazing at doing theatres also. With short films like Interior Cafe Night, or his memoir – And Then One Day, he just proves that he is downright multi talented.

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