Bollywood star Siddiqui takes ‘free speech’ hero to Cannes

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is considered to be one of the few actors who can straddle both commercial Bollywood and independent film genres, putting him in high demand. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2018
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Bollywood star Siddiqui takes ‘free speech’ hero to Cannes

  • His latest film sees him play the lead role in “Manto,” a biopic about the troubled life of Indian-Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto
  • Nawazuddin Siddiqui is one of Hindi cinema’s great success stories — a poor man who defied the odds to make it big in Bollywood after moving to Mumbai

MUMBAI: When Indian actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui walks the red carpet at Cannes he may take a moment to ponder just how far he has come and where he is headed.
In just over a decade, Siddiqui has gone from a struggling bit-part actor worried about finding food to an acclaimed international star coveted by directors for his versatility across all genres.
“When your film gets selected in a good category, you feel confident that you are on the right track and your choice of films is good,” Siddiqui said in an interview.
His latest film sees him play the lead role in “Manto,” a biopic about the troubled life of Indian-Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto.
The movie, directed by Nandita Das, has been selected for the Un Certain Regard category of the film festival which opens Tuesday.
“I enjoy Cannes because it is such a big and prestigious platform. It’s a whole world revolving around films,” said Siddiqui.
Manto (1912-1955) is considered to be one of the Indian subcontinent’s greatest ever short story writers.
He was lauded for being bold and progressive and a proponent of free speech, writing truthfully about the brutal violence that followed the partition of British India.
To others he was a subversive troublemaker whose stories featuring pimps and prostitutes broke too many taboos. Manto was charged with obscenity a total of six times by authorities in colonial and independent India.
He died from organ failure caused by excessive alcohol consumption aged just 42.
“Manto was an honest man who wrote what he saw. He was transparent and there was no hypocrisy in his life,” said Siddiqui, who is 43.
“He thought about things in the 1940s which we fail to see or think about even today. He spoke and wrote the truth, and truth never gets old. To play him you have to be truthful too,” he added.
Siddiqui is one of Hindi cinema’s great success stories — a poor man, who from humble beginnings in a village in Uttar Pradesh state, defied the odds to make it big in Bollywood after moving to Mumbai in 2000.
By his own admission the chances were stacked against him: “I’m a five-foot six-inch, dark, ordinary-looking man. People didn’t imagine I would make it,” he said in 2015.
But after years of playing small parts Siddiqui achieved his breakthrough in 2012 with “Talaash,” “Gangs of Wasseypur,” “Miss Lovely” and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan.” He has not looked back.
“I spent 10-12 years struggling. My lowest point was to find food and survive. Now I can do the work according to my choices,” he said at his office, a collection of posters from his biggest hits hanging on a wall behind him.
Siddiqui has held his own with superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan and also successfully crossed over into Hollywood, appearing in the 2016 hit “Lion.”
He is considered to be one of the few actors who can straddle both commercial Bollywood and independent film genres, putting him in high demand.
After “Manto,” Siddiqui will be seen in the Netflix adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s novel “Sacred Games.” It releases on July 6 and will be the site’s first original Indian series.
He is currently shooting for what he describes as his “most difficult” character yet — divisive Mumbai politician Bal Thackeray, who died in 2012.
Thackeray founded and led the Hindu far-right Shiv Sena party, which has campaigned against Muslims and sought to bar migrant “outsiders” from Mumbai. Siddiqui is both.
“Credit goes to the family and the producer who must have realized I could do justice to this complex and difficult role,” he said.
Siddiqui will be in Cannes from May 13-15 before returning to India to finish shooting “Thackeray” which releases in January 2019.
He has become a fixture on la Croisette since debuting with “Gangs of Wasseypur” (2012), walking the red carpet more than half a dozen times.
“The Lunchbox” was screened there in 2013 while “Raman Raghav” followed in 2016.
A suit that Siddiqui had made by an Indian tailor for his first visit has been a feature of all of his appearances.
This time, however, he is ditching it for a stylish tuxedo fashioned by one of India’s top designers — symbolic perhaps of how far he has come.
“The suit has its own story. But there should be change. We can’t hold onto the past,” said Siddiqui.


Stolen Picasso unearthed by ‘Indiana Jones of art’

Updated 26 March 2019
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Stolen Picasso unearthed by ‘Indiana Jones of art’

  • The 1938 masterpiece entitled ‘Portrait of Dora Maar’, also known as ‘Buste de Femme (Dora Maar)’, was handed to an insurance company earlier this month
  • Arthur Brand won world fame in 2015 after finding ‘Hitler’s Horses’

THE HAGUE: A Dutch art detective dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the Art World” has struck again, finding a Picasso painting worth €25 million stolen from a Saudi sheikh’s yacht on the French Riviera in 1999.
Arthur Brand said he had handed back the 1938 masterpiece entitled “Portrait of Dora Maar,” also known as “Buste de Femme (Dora Maar)” to an insurance company earlier this month.
The discovery of the rare portrait of Maar, one of Pablo Picasso’s most influential mistresses, is the culmination of a four-year investigation into the burglary on the luxury yacht Coral Island, as she lay anchored in Antibes.
Two decades after its theft and with no clues to its whereabouts, the French police were stumped — and the portrait, which once hung in the Spanish master’s home until his death in 1973, was feared lost forever.
But after a four-year trail which led through the Dutch criminal underworld, two intermediaries turned up on Brand’s Amsterdam doorstep 10 days ago with the missing picture.
“They had the Picasso, now valued at €25 million wrapped in a sheet and black rubbish bags with them,” Brand said.
It was yet another success for Brand, who hit the headlines last year for returning a stolen 1,600-year-old mosaic to Cyprus.
He won world fame in 2015 after finding “Hitler’s Horses,” two bronze statues made by Nazi sculptor Joseph Thorak — a discovery about which he had a book out earlier this month.
The theft of the Picasso, valued at around seven million dollars at the time, baffled French police, sent the super-rich scurrying to update boat security and prompted the offer of a big reward.
In 2015, Brand first got wind that a “Picasso stolen from a ship” was doing the rounds in the Netherlands, although “at that stage I didn’t know which one exactly.”
It turned out that the painting had entered the criminal circuit, where it circled for many years “often being used as collateral, popping up in a drug deal here, four years later in an arms deal there,” said.
It took several years and a few dead ends before pinning down that it was actually the Picasso stolen from a Saudi billionaire’s yacht as the mega-cruiser was being refurbished, Brand said.
Brand put out word on the street that he was looking for “Buste de Femme (Dora Maar)” and in early March he struck gold.
“Two representatives of a Dutch businessman contacted me, saying their client had the painting. He was at his wits’ end,” said Brand.
“He thought the Picasso was part of a legitimate deal. It turns out the deal was legitimate — the method of payment was not,” Brand laughed.
Brand called the Dutch and French police — who had since closed the case — and who said they would not prosecute the current owner.
“Since the original theft, the painting must have changed hands at least 10 times,” said Brand.
Brand said he had to act quickly, otherwise the painting may have disappeared back into the underworld.
“I told the intermediaries, it’s now or never, because the painting is probably in a very bad state... We have to act as soon as we can.”
Then, just over a week ago, Brand’s doorbell rang at his modest apartment in Amsterdam, and the intermediaries were there with the painting.
After unwrapping it, “I hung the Picasso on my wall for a night, thereby making my apartment one of the most expensive in Amsterdam for a day,” Brand laughed.
The following day, a Picasso expert from New York’s Pace Gallery flew in to verify its authenticity at a high-security warehouse in Amsterdam.
Also present was retired British detective Dick Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad, representing an unnamed insurance company.
“There is no doubt that this is the stolen Picasso,” Ellis, who now runs a London-based art risk consultancy business, said.
Ellis is famous for recovering many stolen artworks including Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” lifted from the National Gallery of Norway in 1994.
“It’s not only the public interest to recover stolen works of art,” he said. “You are also reducing the amount of collateral that is circling the black market and funds criminality.”
“Buste de Femme” is back in possession of the insurance company, which now had to decide the next steps, Brand and Ellis said.