Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s memoir An Ordinary Life can’t tell the difference between opinion and reality
Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s statement of apology — issued in the form of a tweet, where the actor regretted hurting sentiments and stated his decision to withdraw his memoir An Ordinary Life (Viking Penguin) — has drawn wide reactions. From the looks of it, the great disconnect between how Siddiqui talks about love affairs with Sunita Rajwar and Niharika Singh and what apparently transpired, in reality, seems to be the reason for criticism.
Both Rajwar and Singh have openly slammed Siddiqui for fabricating stories and portraying lies. Additionally, a complaint filed with the National Commission for Women (NCW) by a Delhi based advocate, Gautam Gulati, where the actor has been charged with outraging the modesty of Niharika Singh, could have acted as one of the factors for the actor to rescind his book.
In his book, which is written with journalist Rituparna Chatterjee, Siddiqui freely shares his opinions on the way women who came in his life chose to function.
There are times when his ‘opinion’ compels him to take women and their choice for granted. In his own words, Siddiqui harboured a massive crush on his first axting teach, Anamika Haksar, while she liked him “strictly in the way a teacher likes a good student”. He claims he couldn’t wrap his mind around why she would marry a “random guy” who was a few years his senior.
In another incident that he describes his the pursuit of finding love, Siddiqui mentions that he tried going out with actor Tannishtha Chatterjee, his junior at NSD. Her dating pattern (of dating new men every few months), he claims, gave him hope. He harboured a crush on her for a few months and as an ‘outsider’ and someone who came from a small village, Chatterjee’s confidence, her fluency in English and her smoking made him think, “I should try my luck.” (pg 96).
Reading the personal stories that Nawazuddin Siddiqui shares to describe his feelings and sentiments towards women one cannot help but wonder if there is an inherent streak of sexism within the actor?
The blatant sexist nature of the world of Hindi films both on as well as off screen is not an unknown reality and therefore many successful male actors often delude themselves with a god-like complex.
When the news of Kangana Ranaut’s alleged affair with Hrithik Roshan first came out the former faced a lot of flak from within the industry. Perhaps it might not be totally incorrect to say that Ranaut was socially ostracised for saying something that traditionally had been swept under the rug. In fact, Raveena Tandon even wrote an opinion piece supporting Ranaut where she shared how in the “in the 1990s, the hero would threaten to ‘break the girl’s face’ if she spoke about him.
While one is not taking sides but the industry is quick to judge women or take stands against them but when it comes to the men in similar situations the reactions are slow, and at times even non-existent.
One could argue that maybe it was too soon in the day for Siddiqui to pen his memoir.
But the life that he has led, from a time when he didn’t have money to eat for days on end to become an internationally acknowledged acting powerhouse, surely warrants an account. But much like the real-life narrative surrounding Siddiqui — where the focus seems to hover around his struggles and the fashion in which he has arrived rather than his work or his method — the main thrust of the book seems to be on his frustrations about the lack of opportunities.
In another incident Siddiqui talks about an outburst when a common friend waxed eloquent about Vijay Raaz; both Raaz and Siddiqui share similar physical attributes and the former broke through a few years before the latter. Later when Raaz enquired if he had offended Siddiqui in some way to make him say “What the f*** was so great about him?” (pg 113) to their common friend, Siddiqui writes that he was no less of an actor and the only difference was that Raaz was successful and a star and he wasn’t.
The fashion in which Siddiqui talks about women makes the row surrounding his autobiography hardly a surprise. He also bares his soul about the discrimination that “kaalas” (dark skinned) such as him underwent during his stint at the National School of Drama (NSD) while his fairer classmates got girlfriends easily.
He describes a harrowing incident called ‘Sunderkaand’ where he writes how “one of us blackies lost it.”
Under the influence of bhang one of Siddiqui’s batchmates “lost it” and turned into a “lascivious beast who began to touch the campus girls inappropriately” (pg 94). When a girl from the nearby Kathak Kendra slapped him and said that she was letting him go for he was too stoned, Siddiqui writes – “our timid voices wafted in a sequence one after another from a corner, ‘Excuse me, madam! I am also intoxicated… yes, me too, madam! Can we also do this?” (pg 95).
While Siddiqui has every right to talk about his life, it’s intriguing how even the presence of a co-writer with a journalistic background — the book’s dust jacket mentions Chatterjee being a former foreign correspondent for the Economic Times — did not make him wonder about seeking permission? Or consent? Doesn’t that make Nawazuddin Siddiqui the same as a Harvey Weinstein?
Siddiqui’s decision to discuss former girlfriends, apparently without their permission, or simply hide certain truths about his own life – it is said that Niharika Singh was in the dark about Siddiqui being a married man during the course of their affair – are also revealing testimonies.
Perhaps Siddiqui felt that he was narrating his story but that still doesn’t rule out certain basics of penning a memoir.
In the recent past both Rishi Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah in their autobiographies Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored (HarperCollins, 2017) and And Then One Day: A Memoir (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) respectively, have been unabashed and blisteringly honest not only about themselves but also many people that they came across in the course of their careers. Yet unlike Siddiqui, both Kapoor and Shah appear to clearly demarcate the fine line between an opinion and the reality that was seen by two people.