Interview by Dr. Prerna Singla
(Editor-in-Chief Hall of Poets.)

Major Ali leading the Assam Rifles marching contingent at Rajpath, New Delhi saluting H.E. The president of India on 26th Jan 2008. Picture Courtesy: Major Mohd. Ali Shah.
Picture courtesy: Major Ali

Dear readers,
It a pleasure to interview Major Mohammad Ali Shah today. He is an Indian Theatre personality, Film Actor and a Social activist. He is the son of Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah (PVSM, SM, VSM) Former Deputy Chief of The Army Staff, former member Armed Forces Tribunal and currently the Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University. He is the nephew of actor Naseeruddin Shah.

A former Army Major, Ali has also worked in the management Industry. As an actor he has worked with National award winning directors Tigmanshu Dhulia and Vishal Bhardwaj. Major Ali led the Assam Rifles marching contingent at Rajpath, New Delhi saluting H.E. The president of India on 26th Jan 2008. He was crowned the coveted title of RSI May Prince – First Runners up in Hyderabad in 2002. He has done professional theatre with the renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah and Tom Alter, and has also won theBest Actor’ award at the Delhi International Film Festival for his movie “The Ruffian”.
                                                                                       Picture courtesy: Major Ali

Major Mohd. Ali Shah

Hello Major Ali,
        It is a pleasure to interview you today. You are not only a talented Actor but also an Inspiration to budding artists.

Thank you so much Prerna, it is indeed a pleasure for me to be interviewed by such a multitalented lady like you rather. Oh! Am I an inspiration to budding artists – thank you. I am just following the calling of my heart and trying to convert my dreams into reality.

You have acted in “Agent Vinod”, “Haider”, “ Bajrangi Bhaijaan” and also “The Ruffian”. Please share with us your experiences in the field of acting.

Well, I’ve trained as an actor by being consistent in doing Theatre. I have been trying to learn Constantine Stanislavsky’s means of acting for many years under the able guidance of my uncle Mr. Naseer Uddin Shah. I am more of a Theatre artiste than a film actor. Sriram Raghavan who is incidentally a super senior of mine from my college, Fergusson College Pune trusted and cast me in a small role in “ Agent Vinod”, he is a trained film maker from FTII and I learnt a lot from him. Mr. Vishal Bhardwaj is a legend and one of the most brilliant director’s we have in our country today, he is an institution in itself and the visionary that he is. He knew that being an ex Army officer, I would do justice to the role he had in mind for me – The Army Major who picks up Haider’s father and orders fire on Haider’s house. This was a role which I had lived in real life so I didn’t face any difficulty in doing it in reel life. In Kabir Khan’s “ Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, my fruitful meeting with Mr. Salman Khan and an audition got me a small role in the film – which was later unfortunately later edited and cut since the duration of the film was coming to be way beyond what was expected. However, I consider myself lucky to have made good friends on the sets and was a part of such a fine team. Monetarily, they were very generous with me and paid me what I asked for without negotiating. “The Ruffian”  is an English film dubbed into Hindi and Malayam, I was lucky to have had a brilliant director who gave me a very fine role as the title and the lead which led me to win several “ Best actor” awards at various International platforms such as the prestigious Delhi International Film Festival, The International Film Festival of Prayag – where apart from best actor I also got a second award – a special mention by jury and critique’s for outstanding performance. Best actor at the Aligarh International Film Festival (Film Saaz). I think I have just been lucky since I am in the process of learning. I don’t know how to act – I think I am a very bad actor – I just behave in the manner the character is supposed to behave. Though, I must say that I feel truly flattered when thespians tell me that, that is what is expected from a good actor. Acting is a die-hard passion with me, though I am also trying to learn it, since a great actor should be able to do exactly what the director desires out of him. Whether he acts or he just behaves. I am lucky to have learnt from such great institutes of learning so early in my acting career.

Major Mohd. Ali Shah after having won the coveted awards of "Best Actor" at the Delhi International Film festival.
Picture courtesy: Major Ali

You won the ‘Best Actor’ award at the Delhi International Film Festival for this movie “The Ruffian”. What is the film about?

I feel blessed to have won that coveted award in the National Capital. It is a story based on William Somerset Maugham’s story – “The man with the scar”. My work in this film didn’t require me to act at all, it required me to be there and behave in a certain manner – I owe the award to the director, the role and I guess since I didn’t have to do any acting – hence the critique’s could believe in my character.

Mohd. Ali Shah in the lead role in "The Ruffian"
Picture courtesy: Major Ali

It is a known fact that you are a self made man. What struggles did you face to reach where you are today?

Thank you for the compliment Prerna. I have always been inspired by self made people, my father, my uncle, your father who is himself a self made man and have always wanted to do something extraordinary in life. I don’t want to live a normal mediocre life; I feel I have been born to do something big. However, to be very honest I feel I still haven’t done anything or reached anywhere in life. God willingly I will someday, since I am a very persistent and a determined person and I just love to work hard.

My favourite quotes relevant to both me and you are:
“The heights by great men reached and kept –   was not attained by sudden flight-
For they while their companions slept  -  were toiling upwards in the night.”

Another quote that I read on a tombstone while I was posted in Kohima – at the Kohima war cemetery-
“When you go home- tell them of us and say for your tomorrow, we gave our today.”

Please share something about your upcoming film “Yaara”.

I am very fortunate to have been directed by National School of Drama alumnus and National award winning director Tigmanshu Dhulia, who had the faith in me while giving me a dream role which was very difficult. I love challenges. It took me about a year to prepare for it and I delivered exactly what he wanted out of me. I have a very central and an important role to play in this film where I age in the film over a due course of over 20 years. It is a role which will bring my true talent and range as a versatile actor and am penning huge hopes with this film. In the cast we have, Shruti Hasan, Vidyut Jamwal, Amit Sadh, Sanjay Mishra. I can guarantee you whenever the film releases it will be a grand success. Tigmanshu Dhulia is a genius.

Picture courtesy: Major Ali

Major Mohd. Ali Shah (Left) with the legendary International Film maker Majid Majidi (Right) from Iran.  

You were an Army Major, worked in management Industry, and are also an Actor. What led to the transformation?

I was 5 years old when I first went on stage and completely loved the feeling of performing before a live audience. Thereafter, I was consistent with doing plays in school including lifting the “Best Actor” trophy in school exactly 20 years back in 1996. I have always idealised my father and my uncle, both of them went to Pune for their education. My father went to the NDA and Naseer uncle went to FTII. I wanted to have a better understanding of both these great institutions and so chose Pune for my graduation. During my student days in pune I worked as an actor and an assistant in several short films with the FTII and also visited NDA regularly. I made up my mind that I wanted the best of both worlds – So I decided to train in the Army as a “Commando” where I would get paid and trained in martial arts, horse riding and polo, deep water diving, mountain climbing, rock climbing, hang gliding, water sports, adventure sports etc., which will also help me to do my own stunts as an actor later. So I joined the short service commission to do a 5 year stint in the army. My chest swells with pride when I recollect my army days. I am proud to have kept my family’s martial tradition alive apart from nurturing patriotic feelings. I think the Army is the best finishing school. It shaped up my personality and prepared me to face any challenge for the rest of my life. I trained at OTA Chennai and was deployed in the midst of counter insurgency and counter terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir at the LOC as a young Lieutenant, thereafter I got a prestigious assignment as the ADC to a General Officer Commanding a Corp in the North East, who incidentally was my father – I remained professional with him on that assignment. Thereafter, I was once again very lucky to have got promoted to the rank of a Major, perhaps I was one of the youngest Major ranking officer in the country at one point of time and was selected to go on deputation to “Assam Rifles”, in Nagaland, where I was awarded a commendation card for meritorious service. God has been very kind to me, after having completed my stint in the Army I was fortunate to study business management in one of the best B school’s of the country – IIM Calcutta where I managed a lucrative placement on campus and hence could save enough money to buy a humble apartment for my wife so that I could have a roof over my head while I chase my dreams in Mumbai. I think having worked it out strategically like a true Army man and a management student, having an apartment of my own in Mumbai made things easier for me. I had to take the longer and harder route but at least I was spared the hassle of sleeping on streets in Mumbai. So it was all a very well thought of and a planned move since I always wanted to be an actor. It is ironical that I just love to act – However, I still don’t know what acting is, as I told you I know how to only behave depending upon the situation.

Major Mohd. Ali Shah attending the National Fil awards ceremony with his Army ceremonial medals. At the National Film awards ceremony in 2015. "Haider" won 5 National awards apart from several filmfare awards.  Picture courtesy Major Ali.

You have also acted in “Ghalib ke khutoot” and in the film based on the noted Shayar Majaz Lucknawi. What in your words is poetry or Shayari??

Oh it is a real high. I have been literature student and love poetry, drama, shayari. Urdu is my mother tongue. I have grown up watching Naseer uncle’s Mirza Ghalib. I have seen him recite Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s nazam’s. One needs to have an ear for it and i am blessed to have been born in a family where Urdu is spoken. Naseer uncle credits his Urdu to having studied in Aligarh. Today when I visit my parents in Aligarh I am floored by the level of Urdu shaiyari that goes on in the city. I have read your poem’s Prerna and I would say “aap ki poem’s mujhe prerna deti hain to work even harder”.
Picture courtesy: Major Ali

Major Mohd. Ali Shah (Left) with Tom Alter (Right) in the play "GHALIB".

To whom would you like to give the credit of your success? Who is your inspiration?

Thanks for at least considering me to be successful Prerna. However, I don’t think I am successful as yet. I am determined to succeed. I feel I have the passion, the patience and perseverance and the will to keep at my craft and would never give up. My inspiration is my father and my uncle Naseer.

what do you think about Hall of Poets International ezine and what message would you give to our readers?

I feel this idea of yours of Hall of Poets International ezine is BRILLIANT. Since it is relatively new there isn’t much awareness about it as yet. However, having said that it is commendable that in such a short span you have come a very long way with this brilliant idea of yours Prerna. Before I would give any message to your readers, I would like to commend your team for having the courage to follow their dreams and their passion. Not many people do that. I know for sure that this idea of yours is going to go global and will take the world by storm very soon. I would advice your readers to continue reading literature of such fine nature and spread this great idea by word of mouth.

Interview by
Dr. Prerna Singla 
Chief Editor , Hall of Poets 


P.S. ~ The questionnaire is copyrighted and the intellectual property of Dr. Prerna Singla. The first publication rights to the interview rest with Dr. Prerna Singla. The interview can be reproduced only with prior explicit permission of Dr. Prerna Singla and the interviewed. A clear bold mention and ping link to the original interview along with the name of the original interviewer, Dr. Prerna Singla, as well as the interviewee must be made when reproducing the interview in part, as an excerpt or as a whole.

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