After “Sunrise” in 2014 and a double whammy with “The Wayfarers” and “Nirvana Inn” in 2019, Indian thespian Adil Hussain is back at the Busan International Film Festival this year with two more films – “The Storyteller” in the Jiseok section, and “Max, Min and Meowzaki” in the Open Cinema strand.
Hussain, best known internationally for “Life of Pi” and “Star Trek: Discovery,” also won global plaudits for “What Will People Say” and “Hotel Salvation.”
Both of the actor’s Busan films this year are by festival alumni – “The Storyteller,” is by Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, whose “Bittersweet” was in Busan 2020 and “Max, Min and Meowzaki” is helmed by Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy, who was at Busan in 2016 with “A Billion Colour Story.”
In “The Storyteller” Hussain plays Goradia, a Gujarati businessman who believes that once physical wealth is accumulated, happiness will follow, but this proves not to be the case. The film is based on a story by the late, great Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray. “He [Ray] of course pitted Gujarat and Bengal against each other. One state is a place where people believe in physical wealth way more – I’m not saying the entire community – but most of the people are very business minded and they like accumulating physical wealth – and Bengal on the other hand has a history of intellectual knowledge and ability or the aspiration towards acquiring intellectual knowledge or knowledge, per se,” Hussain told Variety. “And so, this meeting of the Bengali storyteller and the Gujarati businessman has to be seen from that perspective.”
In a reversal of casting stereotypes, veteran Gujarati actor Paresh Rawal plays the Bengali storyteller and Hussain, who is from eastern India and proficient in Bengali, plays the Gujarati character. “It is a casting coup – we were both helping each other with each other’s accent,” says Hussain.
Hussain had to master an entirely different accent, Tamil, for his other Busan film “Max, Min and Meowzaki,” where he plays Ramesh Mahadevan, a conservative businessman sandwiched between his free-spirited father and son, who are both musicians.
“To help me out, the director, who himself is from that part of India, recorded all my lines in the accent that he expected me to speak in. So I had been diligently hearing the recording and preparing for the role,” says Hussain. “And when I did my first scene, he would stop me and say, ‘elongate that a little bit,’ or ‘shorten this a little bit.’ To get the tonality – in acting jargon we call it the timbre quality – that I had to get it right. And I was definitely very, very skeptical before I ventured into it because I’ve never done something like that. And I didn’t want to make it caricature-ish at all. That would have been a disaster. I probably got it right, if not great, but at least acceptable.”
The busy actor has a raft of projects lined up. Nathalia Syam’s immigrant drama “Footprints on Water” is complete and poised to hit the festival circuit and Prawaal Raman’s “Postman,” where Hussain pays the titular postman in a mountainous village trying to save the post office from being shut down, is being edited. Also in the works is Ranjan Palit’s Kolkata-set political thriller “A Knock on the Door,” alongside Naseeruddin Shah and Nandita Das (who is also in Busan this year, as a director, with “Zwigato”); and Abhiroop Basu’s short “Lipstick,” where Hussain plays a closeted gay Muslim factory worker.
Hussain will soon commence “Otta,” the directorial debut of Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty (“Slumdog Millionaire”); Nilakshi Sengupta’s U.K.-set “Blue: The Colour of Guilt”; and one of “The Storyteller” director Mahadevan’s upcoming projects, set in Kerala.
Hussain, who features in both seasons of Netflix’s hit series “Delhi Crime,” has another Netflix series lined up – Pratim D. Gupta’s “Tooth Pari,” a paranormal mystery thriller set in Kolkata’s underbelly. The actor is also in Shivam Nair and Jayprad Desai’s ZEE5 series “Mukhbir,” a 1960s-set post India-China war spy thriller revolving around India’s escalating political tensions with Pakistan.
“It is a great honor, pleasure and privilege to be invited by the Busan Film Festival, and I hope that in future this keeps happening,” says Hussain.
“The Storyteller” premieres Oct. 8, 2022. “Max” premieres on Oct. 10, 2022.