Mohammad Ali Shah - From the Army to Tinseltown
The best quality in Major Mohommed Ali Shah is his ever-smiling face and his incessant jabbering. He is a rather un-Bollywood-like Bollywood entrant who has an outstanding background in the army as a Major. He did a management degree at the IIM, followed by his stints in the corporate world. He is also the most sought after International TEDx speaker with perhaps the highest number of TEDx talks not only in India but in the world.
Of late, he has been continuously working and delivering back to back motivational sessions on dealing with the Corona virus situation to millions across the globe which has uplifted many people in their trying times! This is unparalleled within Bollywood as of today.
But finally, he decided to switch channels and choose acting as his vocation. He failed twice at the entrance exams of the National Defence Academy but not to be discouraged, he continued to study in another institution in Pune itself to visit the NDA again and again to try and get into the nitty gritty of defence life.
He has stepped into films quite some time ago with a small but significant role in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider and Tigmanshu Dhulia liked his performance enough to choose him to play his first major role in Yaara released on an OTP platform on Friendship Day. Earlier, he acted in FTII alumnus Shriram Raghavan's Agent Vinod, in acclaimed filmmaker Jahnu Baruah's Broken Window produced by Priyanka Chopra. He is tall, very fair and handsome but is not very much concerned about his looks.
“Yaara is about four friends and their tryst with the world of crime. And they are chased for decades, by a police officer which I have performed and this is my first big venture after a long struggle. In this film, the story is narrated by me as the Sutradhar. I have actors like Vidyut Jamwal, Shruti Hasan, Amit Sadh, Vijay Verma and Kenny Basumatary sharing screen space with me. It is a dream-come-true assignment for me and I was thrilled when Tigmanshu Sir chose me to portray the role of the Sikh police officer,” said Shah.
Yaara shows the transformation of Ali into the character of Jasjit Singh, a Sikh gentleman. “I devoted more than two and a half years towards intense preparation for this role and soaked into the character. This was truly a dream as it offered him the chance to display my talent as an actor! It is a character that is quite contrary to my personality. I play a Sikh police officer who ages over two decades in the film. From a young new IPS officer to ageing on towards retirement as the Jt. Director CBI.,” he says smiling all the while.
In order to invest his role in Yaara with the most ideal touch of realism, Mohommed Ali Shah grew his hair a long time, learnt to tie a turban himself, gave up smoking completely, read the Shri Gurugranth Sahib Ji and spent a month in the Golden Temple doing volunteer seva.
What is amazing is that while most actors crave recognition, here us an actor who spent almost three years in intense preparation for a role where he is unrecognizable, and that role thrills him! Here is a rare craftsman who has never tried to peep from his character to show his face. He rather look and behave the character than have the urge to be recognised, he wants to be recognised for his hard work than just for a personality which he has inherited from his parents.
His father has served as the Deputy Chief of The Army Staff and also was the Vice Chancellor of The Aligarh Muslim University. He is currently the Pro Chancellor of the Prestigious USTM and has been a member of the board of Welhams Boys School and IIM Lucknow.
Major Ali joined the Short Service Commission in the Army to train as a " Commando" and was posted at the Indo - Pak border at the line of control as a young Lieutenant. He was awarded a commendation card for his exceptional and meritorious service to the nation for placing his own personal safety at risk and going beyond the call of duty while serving the ' Assam rifles" in the North East. He served as ADC to GOC 3 Corps in the North East and also speaks fluent Nagamese!
He brings into his work in films, the discipline, the honesty and the commitment to the country he learnt as a member of the army. “Patriotism is not exclusive to the defence forces. Patriotism exists in every sphere of life which includes your work in films,” he elaborates.
He does not like to harp on the fact that the outstanding veteran Naseeruddin Shah is his father’s younger brother but he has never approached him for any help to push his Bollywood career in acting. “But I have deep regard and respect for him and I consider him my mentor in acting because I did a lot of theatre with the Thespians theatre group though I did not clear the admission test at the National School of Drama in Delhi. I had the opportunity of working under the guidance and tutelage of Naseeruddin Shah and the late Tom Alter,” he sums up.
Cover Photograph - From Ali to Jasjit Singh