Naseerudin Shah”Am I playing the saint or the lecher?” was the 61-year-old actor’s first question to director Milan Luthria who went to Naseeruddin Shah with a role in his film Dirty Picture. Luthria confessed sheepishly that the role he had in mind was that of a lecher. “That’s great because,Naseerudin Shah”Am I playing the saint or the lecher?” was the 61-year-old actor’s first question to director Milan Luthria who went to Naseeruddin Shah with a role in his film Dirty Picture. Luthria confessed sheepishly that the role he had in mind was that of a lecher. “That’s great because I’m not playing the saint anymore,” said Shah, gleefully diving into the dirt.Wicked, impish and mischievous with mega doses of romance, girls and even item numbers, Shah has suddenly become the go-to guy for the philandering old man in Bollywood. “There are probably not enough older actors around to play these interesting roles, and I’m not complaining,” laughs Shah, who played the charming fraudster in Ishqiya, the pot-smoking ageing painter in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and the promiscuous south Indian superstar in the yet-to-be-released Dirty Picture.Gone is the pitiable Parsi gentleman or the tired teacher. Shah’s characters these days are played out full throttle, foot on the accelerator. Remember the snazzy gangster in a red jacket with gold-tipped collars who appears in a speed boat, while his moll (Neha Dhupia) relaxes on the deck, in Rajat Kapoor’s Mithya (2008)? Or the seemingly good doctor who tries to poison his wife (Priyanka Chopra) with mushroom soup in Vishal Bharadwaj’s recent movie Saat Khoon Maaf? There’s even a hint of incest that plays out between Shah and young Kalki Koechlin in the to-be-released film That Girl in Yellow Boots directed by Anurag Kashyap.”It is an uninhibited film that lands a punch in your gut,” he says.advertisementIt is roles like these that Shah has come to relish, where, besides sinking his teeth into the character, he also gets to have what he calls “a lot of fun”. Fun is important for Shah, because he is definitely not in it for the money. Having spent two decades acting in art cinema and making as little as Rs 3,000 for the classic Ketan Mehta film Bhavni Bhavai, he went on to do several commercial films for the love of lucre. Today he charges between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 2 crore per project, though he is known to slash his remuneration drastically if need be for first-time directors or those whose work he admires. Rajat Kapoor is one among the young directors he has helped. He partly funded his film, Raghu Romeo. Young directors, understandably, adore him. Neeraj Pandey, the writer and director of A Wednesday, wrote the film with Shah in mind for the character of the angry anonymous protagonist. Abhishek Chaubey, director of Ishqiya, says even he wanted Shah as the Urdu-spouting, Lucknowi-kurta- sporting romantic. It’s a role Shah says he “enjoyed immensely”. In recent times, Shah has decided to go all out and ‘play’ with the characters. A disciple of the Stanislavsky school of method acting has been replaced by a man who is looking to enjoy his work. “I wish I had spent as much time learning dance, as I did learning the nuances of method acting,” he says laughing. Future releases include Hriday Shetty-directed Chaalis Chaurasi(4084), a light-hearted macho thriller. “It’s an all-boys thriller, co-starring Kay Kay Menon, Atul Kulkarni and Ravi Kishen. I’m quite looking forward to this one,” he says. In keeping with his new-found zany image, he gets to cavort with starlet Shweta Bharadwaj in an item number in the same film.Shah with Koechlin in That Girl in Yellow BootsIn Dirty Picture, based on the life of southern siren Silk Smitha, Shah is “doing things I could never have imagined myself doing even in my wildest dreams. I play this completely over-the-top, raunchy actor. It’s an irresistible role,” he laughs, tickled at the thought of “hideous wigs and painted moustaches”. So 22 years after Rajiv Rai’s Tridev, in which his Tirchi Topi Wale went on to became a sensation, Shah will set the screen ablaze dancing again, this time in true south Indian style, in what Luthria calls a very fast dance number. “What is the worst that can happen? I’ll just end up making a fool of myself. Today, even that’s fantastic,” says Shah. In his soon-to-be released film, Michael, directed by debutant director Ribhu Das Gupta and produced by Anurag Kashyap, Shah makes a comeback as the main protagonist. “Michael is a father-son saga and is centered around the trials and tribulations of a tainted cop played by Naseeruddin Shah,” says Gupta.Shah is clear that he wants to slow down and do more theatre than films. The year 2010 saw him mount four new productions, By George, Caine Mutiny, Arms and the Man and revival of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, first performed by Shah, Benjamin Gilani, Akash Khurana and Tom Alter 35 years ago. He continues to act in earlier plays based on the works of stalwarts such as Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chugtai. A more peaceable Shah is evident one Mumbai afternoon. It’s raining incessantly in the city and the roads are clogged. The sets for his play have not arrived, but Shah continues to smile, tucking into homemade kheer from a steel tiffin, brought to the St. Andrews auditorium in Bandra by actor Randeep Hooda.advertisementThe lights haven’t been rigged, the microphones aren’t connected and a van driver carrying the props is yet to be located. It’s past 2 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. But the chaos doesn’t seem to dent Shah’s demeanour, as he calmly tries to find order in the chaos. He wants to continue doing theatre, but refuses to consider the idea of directing another film, after the debacle of his first, Yun Hota To Kya Hota (2006), because “the idea that someone might watch it 100 years from now makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t think I have the required skills to be a director”. The entire Shah family, though, seems to have taken acting by storm. While wife Ratna Pathak Shah currently performs with him in the play, Ismat Apa Ke Naam, his daughter from an earlier marriage, Heeba, works both in films and with Motley, Shah’s theatre group. Elder son Imaad, who makes music when not acting, was last seen in the Hindi psychological thriller 404 and his youngest Vivaan made his debut in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf. All of them seem to have chosen their foray into Bollywood and theatre with care.Shah is not averse to playing all kinds of roles, the lover, the bad guy, the protagonist with shades of grey, even a quirky portrait on the wall as in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. “If there is any novelty in the role, I’ll do it. Ishqiya was fun and Dirty Picture is real good fun. I’m just beginning to enjoy my work. But definitely no more playing the saint,” he concludes. It’s time to bring on the sinner.