Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the poster boy of Mumbai’s independent cinema, is in Cannes this year with Nandita Das’ Un certain regard entry Manto, the actor’s sixth film in the world’s premier film festival in a span of seven years.

No Bollywood actor has ever had as many films across various sections of the Cannes Film Festival. In 2012, two films featuring Siddiqui in pivotal roles – Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely (Un Certain Regard) and Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2 (Directors Fortnight) – played on the Croisette.

The following year, Nawazuddin went one better, appearing in three of the films in the official selection – Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout (Out of Competition), Bombay Talkies (Special Screening), a portmanteau film directed by Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap, and Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (Critics Week).

Manto, a biopic about a prolific Urdu short story writer who chronicled the horrors of Partition in stark, scalding ways, is the first film in which Siddiqui plays a real-life icon. “In essaying this role, I had to be totally honest not as an actor but as a human being,” the actor said in an interview following the premiere of Manto here on Sunday.

Right from the outset, Nawazuddin said, Nandita and he had decided that “everything about the portrayal of Manto would have to be totally truthful.” He added, “Of course, I had do internalize the man completely, then achieve the physical similarities and get the dialogue delivery right, but this performance had to go beyond the actor’s craft.”

“I loved the process. It was absolutely fascinating,” Nawazuddin said. “I was worried initially whether I would be able to achieve what I needed to. So I threw myself unconditionally into the role during the three months that we shot the film. My job ended there. Now it is for the audience to respond. That is not in my control.”

Ironically, Bollywood’s big-screen Manto will be seen next impersonating the late Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray, a figure on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. “I will play Thackeray with the same honesty with which I have sought to play Manto,” said Nawazuddin.

“There is a lot that an actor can do with the character of Thackeray,” says Nawazuddin. “He was an artist, a cartoonist, who gave up his calling to lead the Marathi manoos like no person has ever had in any state.”

The Thackeray movie, scheduled for release in early 2019, is produced by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut.