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Major Ali Shah: From an Army Officer to a Method Actor

Whatever I know of acting, I learnt from the great institution called Naseer Sahab: Actor Major Md Ali Shah

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After following two-hundred years old family legacy to serve the Indian Army and later chasing his dream and passion for Acting, former Army Officer Major Md Ali Shah has made his name in this industry with immense talent. Where today actors crave for big influential roles, Legendary actor Naseer Uddin Shah’s nephew Major Ali made an impact with small but significant roles has managed to influence and win million hearts. The blood of an Army father runs deep in him and marks one big reason he joined the Indian Army before stepping into the Bollywood.

Falling in love with theaters while at the age of only 5, this IIM graduate had made up his mind to become an actor from that time. Considering his father Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah as an icon, he first joined the Indian Army where his father has served for almost forty years before retirement.

Very few know that the intention behind joining an Indian Army was to make himself a disciplined and responsible person and this is the reason he plays all roles with utmost devotion and perfection.

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An Army Officer turned Actor and a Motivational Speaker not just manages to captivate his audiences through honesty but also leaves a lasting impact on them. The latest release of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s “Yaara” has him in the role of a Sikh CBI Officer who is the main host of film. His previous roles in films like “Agent Vinod”, “Haider” and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” have been critically acclaimed.

TSA was amazed by such a talented figure and wanted to bring its readers the insights and the factor that sets this actor apart from others. Read as Actor Major Ali Shah reveals some lesser-known facts about him to his fans.

Interviewer: While most actors crave recognition, you are someone who spent almost two and a half years in intense preparation for a role in which you aren’t recognizable at all. It makes us wonder about your thought process behind choosing the role. Would you like to share it with us?

ALI: Sure! I chose to be an actor to satisfy my creative hunger. I love to act and hence I chose this profession. I was never inclined towards glamour, fame, money and glitter because I believe “All that glitters is not gold”. From the very beginning, I wanted to be an actor, an artist, a craftsman, and that too I would rather be recognized as a master craftsman of my trade. It was never my dream to be a hero or a star, though I must admit, I have nothing against becoming a hero or a star! I come from a hardcore theatre background and a hardcore theatre family. I have grown up doing plays and I believe if one knows his craft well then one will never take a beating professionally. I want to be known as a good actor rather than just a pretty face and that is the reason, I say acting is a very unglamorous profession and one needs to be as crazy as me to want to become an actor, where one is ready to do intense hard labour. Incidentally, I did my first film with Sayed Mirza in 1998. My journey into Theatre is of over 35 years and the journey into films is of over 22 years. There is a lot of work behind me, which can be seen through my YouTube channel by my name Major Mohommed Ali Shah. I am now being recognized as Joint Director CBI Jasjeet Singh from YAARA that too for a role I am unrecognizable in. So, every actor gets his due if he has remained truthful and honest towards his craft.

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Interviewer: In the movie ‘Yaara’ you have played the part of a character which is very contrary to your personality… How was your experience? What kind of difficulties did you face?

ALI: Yes, you are right my character in YAARA is very contrary to my personality unlike my role in AVRODH. For any true artist, it is more gratifying playing a role which is very contrary to one’s personality. That is what stimulates an actor. I didn’t face any challenges as such but I must say I enjoyed the process of transformation of Major Mohommed Ali Shah to Joint Director CBI Jasjeet Singh. Though there were no challenges and I enjoyed working on myself it wasn’t easy as well. I spent a month in the Golden Temple in Amritsar doing “Sewa” – which involved brooming and mopping the floor, cutting firewood for the cookhouse, lifting heavy sacks of ration and placing them in order in the cookhouse. Cutting vegetables, cooking, lifting dirty utensils and cleaning them, serving food to everyone, waking up every morning at 4 AM and making tea for everyone. I grew my hair and beard for two and a half years. Learnt to tie the 6 metres turban, read the Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, learnt to speak Punjabi even though I was told there was no requirement of doing that! The best thing that happened was as a chain smoker I quit smoking completely. To play Jasjit convincingly of had to first be convinced that I am Jasjit only then could I convince others. It is heartening to read rave reviews about my back-breaking efforts now.

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Interviewer: We got to know that you quit smoking because of your role in the movie “Yaara” how was your experience of doing that? It must have been a hard task. Do you have any tips for others who want to quit smoking but always fail?

ALI: On every new year’s eve, I used to resolve to quit smoking and then live up to my resolution up till 1st Jan afternoon and sometimes with a lot of will power till 1st Jan evening! However, couldn’t live up to it beyond that. But when I was offered Yaara, my burning passion to excel and be exceptional in my craft motivated me to quit smoking in one go! My advice to people who would want to follow this as an example and quit smoking would be it is now or never! So please quit now. If you don’t get motivated to quit smoking now it would be very difficult later now.

Interviewer: We have heard that you were always interested in acting. How far has your uncle, Naseer Sahab inspired you in this acting field? Would you like to share a memory or two about your interest in acting and your uncle’s role in igniting that (if that was the case)?

ALI: I did my first play when I was 5 years old and had decided straightaway that I want to become an actor when I grow up. A 5-year-old boy obviously would not have a good understanding of acting and would also not be aware that he has an uncle by the name Naseeruddin Shah. Naseer uncle tells me that when I was 3 years old, he asked me to pose for some photographs and I did exactly as directed by him and that was when he had first suspected that I too would want to grow up to be an actor! In childhood he made me watch Sir Lawrence Olivier’s films such as ” Othello” and ” Hamlet”. I couldn’t believe that it was Sir Lawrence Olivier playing both the roles with such ease so differently. As I started growing up, he recommended that I should read books on acting written by Constantin Stanislavsky. With a lot of interest, I not only read but also studied “An actor prepares” and “Preparation of a character”, which had a huge impact on my understanding about the craft. In 1996 while I was in high school, I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Naseer Sahab. I used to often attend rehearsals of his plays, spent time observing him on film sets, attend his acting workshops. One memorable workshop of his that I attended was in the year 2001, with the final year students at the National School of Drama, where the only 3 external students who had attended his workshop along with the final year batch of the NSD were Shahid Kapoor, Randeep Hooda and self. Shahid and Randeep returned to Mumbai and became heroes in reel life, I joined the Short Service Commission in the Army to serve for 5 years and marched besides heroes of real life. Two years back I shared screen space with Naseer Sahab in “The Tashkent Files“. But I never asked Naseer Sahab to recommend me or to introduce me to anyone from the industry. Whatever little bit I did I am proud to say I did it on my merit because I firmly believe that ” Pehchaan Se Mila Hua Kaam Zyaada Din Nahi Rehta Hai, Lekin Apne Kaam Se Mili Pehchaan Zindagi Bhar Rehti Hai”. Whatever I know of acting I learnt from the great institution called Naseer Sahab!

Interviewer: How would you describe your experience of acting in a film, especially “Yaara”?

ALI: I am a workaholic. I always enjoy working and keeping busy. Since I am so passionate about the craft of acting, I don’t consider it work at all. As they say, if you can convert your passion into your professional you will never have to do a hard day’s work for the rest of your life. I learnt so much from Tigmanshu Dhulia and the entire cast. I am glad that I have been able to break the shackles and the stereotypes that to cast an actor for a role, the actor must look like that character. I take pride in saying that I have broken that misconception and have proved on the ground that irrespective of suitability or looks if an actor knows his job, he would be appreciated for knowing his work. I am not only grateful to Tigmanshu Dhulia but am more impressed by him by taking the risk of casting someone like me who didn’t look or behave like the character he had in mind, however seeing my passion and hunger he had the faith that I will do justice to the role and will live up to his expectations!

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Interviewer: Anything that you would like to say to our audience, regarding your films or anything? We would love it if you can shed some light on your upcoming projects.

ALI: As you may be aware, there is a lot of uncertainty concerning upcoming film projects due to this pandemic. Fortunately for me, I had started dabbling in motivational speaking last year since I felt my struggles, hardships, failures, humiliations, rejections, heartbreaks, hardships, and how I overcame them could become an inspiration for many others! I am a successful motivational speaker today not because I am the most intelligent, smartest or the wisest. Not at all. I am not. I am a motivational speaker today because I may have made more mistakes than anybody else in this world! I am a fighter. I have never believed in giving up. Each time I fell I have bounced back with double or triple the velocity! I have been doing Theatre online and also conducting theatre workshops online through webinars Internationally. Online motivational talks, online Theatre and now online films too! I would say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get online”. There are over 10 films I have done in the last couple of years, a couple of them have me as the protagonist as well, which have fetched me enormous critical acclaim in several International film festivals. Hopefully, they may all release on the OTT platform too, during the pandemic itself!

Interviewer: Serving the Indian Army as a Major and then following your passion in Indian Cinema might not have been easy. What are some of the hurdles that you faced chasing your dream?

ALI: To achieve something very big in life, one has to do something even bigger to achieve it. It’s never easy for anyone to fulfill one’s dreams in any field. Of course, it requires a whole lot of grit, determination, sweat, tears, blood, burning desire, genuine passion, sacrifices, patience and perseverance and persistence and back-breaking hard work to constantly sharpen the saw and keep the machinery oiled. When I was training in the Officers’ Training Academy for the Army, I had a piece of paper which my father had sent, written in his handwriting “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed at war”. This remains applicable to me not just for my preparation for being an officer in the Army but in every aspect of life.

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Interviewer: All the directors you have worked with till now are Award Winning directors. Would you like to share your experience with them specially Tigmanshu Dhulia?

ALI: I have been very fortunate and lucky that in Theatre I have had the fortune of working and learning with masters of the craft such as Naseeruddin Shah, Tom Alter, Dr M Sayeed Alam, Lillette Dubey, Lushin Dubey, Arvind Gaur, Saif Hyder Hasan to name a few.
In films I have worked with Sayed Mirza, Sriram Raghavan, Vishal Bhardwaj, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Kabir Khan, Jahnu Baruah, Vivek Agnihotri, Kushal Srivastav, Nabeel Firoz to name a few. With Tigmanshu Dhulia I have done two films, ” Raagdesh” and “Yaara“. Tigmanshu Sir as we very affectionately call him pays a lot of emphasis on detailing, is very patient and since he is a trained actor from the National School of Drama, he understands actors’ psychology very well and ensures that the actor is comfortable on the sets.

Interviewer: How do you take your role in the movie? We heard you even went to Golden Temple to prepare yourself for your role as a Sikh. How was your experience there and how much did it help you?

ALI: Yes, my intense preparation, labour and research for Jasjit Singh’s character in Yaara is invaluable learning which will also hold me in good stead all my life. Since knowledge and wisdom is that wealth that no one can steal from you and the more you share it, the more it will increase! So apart from my intense preparation regarding which I mentioned earlier as well, this knowledge and experience will hold me in good stead all my life.

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Interviewer: Who do you consider as your biggest motivation in life?

ALI: The biggest motivation in my life is my wife and son. I am a complete family man, and I work hard to not just make myself proud, but so that my son can look up to me with pride that he is my father!

Interviewer: If it was not Indian Army or Acting, what would you have then taken as a career? Your father, Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah went in the field of education after his retirement. Would you have done something similar or would have gone to any other career option?

ALI: I am already in the field of education. I train the acting students in Subhash Ghai’s Film School, ” Whistling Woods International”. Though I am an IIM graduate and have also been a CEO of a company, I cannot imagine myself doing something else other than what I am doing right now. Motivating people and spreading positivity through my talks and experiences…Jai Hind!!!

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