Born in 1950 and educated at the National School of Drama in Delhi, Naseeruddin Shah is now one of the icons of New Indian Cinema along with Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri; indeed, he is arguably one of the finest actors in the world today, though the nature of world culture is such that the most mediocre American actors are more widely known around the world. Though his use of hesitant speech and casual gesture to signify psychological complexity sets him apart from mainstream actors, he has gained a fair amount of success in commercial cinema too.
Like many of the other actors of his genre, Naseeruddin Shah was first noticed by Shyam Benegal. He acted in Benegal's Nishant (1975), Manthan and Bhumika (1976). One of his most intense performances was given in Saeed Mirza's Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai ("What makes Albert Pinto angry?", 1980). In the movie, he plays a garage mechanic from Goa who dreams of the expensive cars that he repairs but that are far beyond his reach. The film is set in a Catholic setting, primarily because Mirza did not have the courage to tackle Muslim issues. Naseeruddin Shah has also acted for other New Indian Cinema directors including Mrinal Sen (Khandan, 1983) and Sai Paranjpye (Sparsh, 1979). Besides these "serious" roles, he has a penchant for comedy.
His roles in Ketan Mehta's films and also in films like Mandi, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, and Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! (1983), have endeared him to the Indian public. He has also not shied away from accepting roles in mainstream Hindi movies where he has played a variety of characters, though his slight frame has ensured that he is most often cast in a comic role. However, directors also utilize his great acting talent when a "character role" has to be played. What is surely most arresting about him is the sheer versatility of his talent. Naseeruddin Shah has also played and directed English and Hindi plays. This is not unimportant, since many of the most brilliant film actors came to the cinema after a long stint as theater actors. With his wife Ratna Pathak, Naseeruddin Shah continues to act regularly in plays, often at Shashi Kapoor's Prithvi Theatre.