Inaamulhaq is one of those rare artists, a truly diminishing species in contemporary theatre and cinema, who worship art and activism in the same breath, who find ‘soaring high’ synonymous with ‘delving deep’, who care as much for their primordial roots as for the reassuring fruits. Even today, he recounts the fond memories of his native place Kailashpur with child-like fervour, as if he’s still there in body and spirit.
His father was employed with the UP Sugarcane Development Department. Riding his vintage bicycle, he went from field to field maintaining records and making inspections. The family shifted from one rented place to another as they couldn’t afford a home of their own. But despite the limited means, Inaamul’s father ensured academic education for all his nine issues including him. Life was pretty tough but the family was happy and contended. “I was quite popular in my neighbourhood thanks to my sociable nature but little did my neighbours know that the real motivation behind my geniality was their TV sets, a luxury that was missing from our home”, he chuckles.
His first simulated theatre experience happened in the school assembly when he showed the courage to recite a Hindi poem from the dais. He was barely nine then, unaware of what the verse meant but fully conscious of the resounding applause that came from the other end. He relished the adulation and craved for more. Thereafter he regularly performed in school events and plays and satiated his vague but inherent urge for creative expression.
Meanwhile the family shifted to Saharanpur and Inaamulhaq bade goodbye to his friends in Kailashpur with a heavy heart. He recounts, “Some years later, I read a Maxim Gorky story called ‘My Childhood’ at the National School of Drama (NSD) which rekindled the memories of Kailashpur for me. I realised that I had suffered the same pangs of separation that Gorky describes so movingly in the story.”
In Saharanpur, Inaamul happened to watch a street play endorsing some socially relevant message. He was mesmerised by the form and content of the play, something that he had seen only on TV before. “I initially mistook the artists for vendors of Chyavanprash but when I watched the play unfold end to end, I was astounded by the sheer possibilities of this vibrant medium. When I came home that night, I had made up my mind. I wanted to be like them.”
After much hassle and an arduous wait, he finally tracked down the troupe which turned out to be the Saharanpur unit of Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA). He met the office bearers and expressed his keen desire to join their movement. One official called Sardar Anwar (who later became Inaamul’s father-in-law) was impressed with his earthy talent and welcomed him with open arms. “I featured in all their plays but shied away from any form of media coverage lest my family came to know about what they reckoned as a worthless exploit. Every time I went out to act, I told them I was going to the typewriting institute for my practice lessons, the sole socially accepted preoccupation of those times”, Inaamul reveals.
All along, Inaamul continued his academic pursuit, opting for Arts instead of Science against the family wishes. The sole intention was to learn English literature which was closer to his passion that the science subjects would have been. Although he could not secure a first class in his graduation, he relished reading literature no end, an earnest effort that kept him in good stead in later years.
He read somewhere about the NSD and was thrilled to find an institution which actually taught drama, which was now an obsession, more than passion, with him. The mandatory requirement was graduation and an experience of ten plays. Inaamul approached different acting troupes of Saharanpur for acting opportunities. What followed was an acting spree, regardless of the length and significance of the role, solely to match the NSD pre-requisite. “One of the roles was of a photographer who appears at the very end to click a sole snap. After several maddening performances, I thought it was time for some experimentation, so I clicked three-four snaps from different angles obviously inviting the wrath of my director”, Inaamul narrates the amusing tale with his trademark hearty laugh.
Finally armed with what it took, he applied to the NSD in zest but had to face outright rejection. Disappointed with the full stop, he applied to the Bhartendu Natya Akademi (BNA) with the same outcome. But despite the double blows, he continued his theatre, perhaps with even more vigour than before. The commitment reaped rich dividends eventually as he won, along with a select few, a theatre competition jointly held by the NSD and BNA in Lucknow. Happy with his performance, the then NSD director asked him to consider joining his institution. When Inaamul narrated his tragic tale, the director urged him to apply for the second time. Inaamul did the needful and finally in year 2000, he was enrolled in the esteemed institute. NSD was a mixed bag of experiences for him, but to his credit, he made his stint as fulfilling as possible unlike many others who went about their tryst in perfunctory fashion. On the one hand, he guarded the cocoon of his natural flair and on the other; he learnt about the art and science of acting from books as also from the vast body of legendary work across the globe. He explains, “Contrary to what most people believe, there’s nothing conclusive about acting. You have to constantly blend your inherent skill with acquired knowledge but all that matters is the final outcome. If you can’t make the scene convincing on stage or screen, all your talent or knowledge becomes merely ornamental.”
After graduating from NSD with distinction, Inaamulhaq took up a part-time teaching job at the university only to be able to sponsor his eternal experimental streak. The outcome of this innovative labour was a short film called ‘The Search’ which was nominated at the ‘Berlin Asia-Pacific Film Festival-2006’. The organisers invited Inaamulhaq to Berlin and offered to make his accommodation arrangements if he could take care of the travel. This was where his roots came to his rescue. Inaamul narrates, “This is something that can only happen to a small-town individual. One of my friends wrote a small, soul-stirring piece in the ‘Dainik Jagran’, appealing to people at large to sponsor my to and fro flight to Berlin. Before I realized, help poured in from all corners including the office of the renowned South Africa-based businessman Ajay Gupta (hailing from Saharanpur) who sponsored my trip to Berlin.”
Back from Berlin, Inaamulhaq moved to Mumbai on the behest of a friend. Here he did justice to every opportunity that came his way including live acts at corporate events. One of his friends introduced him to Pankaj Parashar who hired Inaamul as a writer for the sequel of Pankaj Kapoor’s memorable serial Karamchand on Sony TV. “The serial had improved upon the original but thanks to the commanding gadget called the TV remote; it couldn’t make a lasting impression on today’s restive audiences.” Then Comedy Circus followed which became an instant rage. The growing attention helped him bag a notable role in Nandita Das's ‘Firaaq’ which won him critical acclaim. Sporadic work followed– as writer for Amitabh Bachchan’s much-talked about but highly forgettable film ‘Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap’ and as actor – in Karan Johar’s remake of ‘Agneepath’, another mediocre venture. However, Inaamulhaq’s incisive work in both films stood out. Even though he was still found waiting for an opportunity commensurate with his enormous talent, Inaamulhaq stuck to his conviction and steered clear of any compromise. “I always believed in my ability and was never short of patience.”
His faith ultimately paid off when he was offered the dream role of Aftaab in Filmistaan. Needless to say, he poured his heart and soul into the character making it one of the most memorable performances on celluloid.
But there’s so much more that he has to offer in different capacities: actor, writer, filmmaker, trainer, author, speaker and activist. In many ways, his individual success will mark the success of meaningful theatre and cinema in this country. Hope the industry manages to rise above its myopic vision and constricted interests to create a utopian greenhouse of possibilities for him as also for all the Inaamulhaqs in the making.