For his role as the sardar cop, Jagjit Singh in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Yaara, Major Mohommed Ali Shah stayed for over a month in the Golden Temple at Amritsar to learn Sikhism. Not only did he learn how to tie the six meter pagdi, the ex-Army guy has read the Guru Granth Sahib too, which can be done only if you fulfil certain requirements. “At the swarna mandir, they don’t discriminate on the basis of religion, caste or anything. When I told them I wanted to stay there and do seva, they welcomed me with open arms. I swept the floor, cleaned vessels, cut onions and served food. I also grew my hair and beard, and learnt Punjabi. The best part about this was I quit smoking,” says the actor, who believes it was a spiritual experience.
Very few know that the actor who shares his surname with thespian Naseeruddin Shah is related to him. The two are chacha-bhatija. “I learnt the craft of acting from him. Since childhood I have been doing plays and have a strong theatre background. I would always ask him how to prepare for a role and approach the character. When I was in the first year of college in Pune, Naseer saab had come there to conduct a workshop with the third year students of FTII. After watching them he told my father that I was better than the third year students! That was a huge boost to me and the best compliment I have received from him,” he gushes.
Since then he has shared screen space with the veteran actor in plays and films like Vodka Diaries and Tashkent Files. With nepotism being a burning topic, ask him if he ever requested his uncle to recommend him and he says, “Never. I wanted to make it on my own. Moreover, Naseer saab is not like that. He did not even recommend his sons, my first cousins, Imaad and Vivaan, and I didn’t want to end up embarrassing him,” explains Ali.
Interestingly, even as he dreamed of becoming an actor, Ali joined the army for a short service commission of five years and was posted at the Indo-Pak border. Years later when he heard Vishal Bhardwaj was going to shoot for Haider in Kashmir, Ali decided to meet the director for a role. “I knew that if he shoots in Kashmir, there will be fauj in it, and since I had been in the army, and also had a theatre background, I could be a part of it,” says Ali, who impressed Vishal and was cast in the film.
Though he had a small role in the film, Tigmanshu noticed him in it and signed him for Yaara. “I am here because of my passion for acting and not for the glamour or the glitter. Tigmanshu gave me a role of a lifetime and I think the film will be a game changer for all us who are a part of it,” he enthuses.