Asif Basra: another elusive soul of the times

Art has always been the most gratifying of all mediums of expression. The way it embraces your soul while immersing yourself totally into its gravitating depth, art lends you a solace that you seldom discover in any other pursuit of life. Universal but never unilateral, fluid and flowing of a penchant that indeed is penance for the weariest of souls, it is the greatness of the world as rich as the arts that some of the greatest minds in the history of humankind have taken refuge in it. In its place of pride that where rests the finest of actors and the most exemplary of artists, the doyens of music and the bards of literature, the arts is a world of liberal attributes that which makes for one of the places to dwell in that awash you with a queer sense of hygge.

In such elaborate perceptions of the many bliss that the human life could guarantee, there have been many such souls who have lend themselves completely to the arts they preach and profess. And one such exemplary presence stemming from the conviviality guaranteed by the practise of the arts itself had been the tremendous actor Asif Basra. Like the many others of his clan whose association with the art and craft of acting in its true nature goes unnoticed, Basra too had been a silent presence in the global film industry for more than two decades now. But in his repertoire of acting credits that which saw him span projects across English and Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil and even pahadi languages, Basra’s residing in the arts had been such that the had the world sit up and take notice. He might not be the mainstream commercial actor fawned over for his star power and his aura, but in his histrionics, Basra forever portrayed a world of such emotions that defined him more than any recognition could ever have. It is his identity stemming from his films rather than the other way round that makes Basra so fit to be lauded as an artiste in the true sense of the term. For someone who left his mark on every path he treaded upon, it indeed is noting short of a legacy that the versatile actor has managed to trace, even within the folds of an industry that seldom celebrates prowess over power.

asif basra

In his versatility in a craft that he had been practising ever since his teenage years, Asif Basra’s acting skills were a resplendent drawing from the many emotions he perfectly portrayed through his mere mannerisms. His facial expressions in particular did the job pretty well for Basra, which perhaps is a trait he acquired from learning on the theater stage that which let him build up a reliable resume of emoting skills. An easy taker to the stage during his years in school, Basra’s histrionics embarked upon the range of deft emotions through his years in college as well as he regularly portrayed characters and claimed prizes for his commendable enactions. His love for theater however did not stop him from pursuing a bachelor’s degree in physics or from completing a computer course that which landed him a job, the entire salary of which went in visiting and revisiting plays.

It was in one such instance of revisiting Salim Ghouse’s production of Athol Fugard’s play Boesman and Lena that Basra caught the attention of the producer who was a well known name in the English stage. Intrigued by his love for theater, Basra was asked by Ghouse to meet him marking the beginning of a professional association with theater that would shape his life in the years to come. In a subsequent Ghouse production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Asif Basra bagged his first ever prominent theater debut as he landed the role of Horatio when one of the actors quit. In the five years that followed since then – from 1991 to 1996, Asif came to be a regular in the theater circuit, doing plays in Hindu and Urdu and English even when he perfectly juggled a full time job as well. It only was his passion for acting in general and the theater in particular that had Basra unwavering in his deliverance as an artiste every time he took to stage even after the labours of a day job. As his on stage appearances became more and more common, so did the acclaim for his many performances that saw him being a part of some of the most notable works in the theatrical world of that time. Another Shakespearean play Merchant of Venice followed as did Feroz Khan’s production of Mahatma v/s Gandhi, the latter being notable in being one of the most successful in the history of Indian theater and one that saw also Basra in one of his most commendable performances. Having enacted five different characters all by himself in this epoch making play, a blooming Basra went on to take the stage in his role as a child with spina bifida in Main Bhi Superman. In already acing such challenging roles that also were diametrically different from each other within just a few years of starting out, Asif Basra had already proved his versatility of the acting repertoire even before making his debut on the screen. It is only but an extension of his assertive stage presence that translated as effectively into heralding him as a phenomenon across the small and big screens, locally, regionally as well as globally.

Asif Basra finally made his screen debut in 1998 with the horror thriller series Woh on television, debuting in foreign cinema also with just his next venture Quicksand in 2003. His most notable breakthrough in Bollywood came the following year with Black Friday, albeit in a supporting role but nevertheless critically acclaimed. Going on to star in other mainstream Bollywood releases like Once Upon A Time in Mumbai, Lamha, Knockout, Jab We Met, Kai Po Che, Ek Villain, Krissh 3, Hichki, Fanney Khan, The Tashkent Files, Asif Basra sure managed to carve a niche for himself that had directors returning and re- returning to him with small but pivotal roles in their films. Of his more recent forays had been into the world of the web, having starred in Paatal Lok and Hostages. And Basra indeed did justice to all of his appearances, no matter the context or the stature of the characters, the genuine actor that Basra had been meant that he poured heart and soul in his every role. No wonder then that this terrific actor found also global prominence having starred in such Hollywood films as One Night with the King alongside Omar Sharif and Peter O’ Toole and the multiple award winning Outsourced, in what is an evident measure of his versatility. In his standalone nature as an actor of excellence, Asif Basra dazzled in whatever time he had on screen, establishing himself therefore as far sensational a star than any namesake celebrity purports to be. Also as the first ever Bollywood actor to have starred in a Pahadi language movie, Saanjh, that only speaks of his desire to explore the arts in whatever medium he could pursue. Saanjh also was perhaps a reflection of Asif Basra’s most intimate innermost desires, that of finding his peace in the mountains where he could be the closes to nature, like he had been while dwelling in his home at Mcleod Ganj where he breathed his last.

A dynamic actor with a disposition that stemmed of his self rooted in charms and humour, Asif Basra had been an identity of the cosmopolitan. In reaching out far and beyond to the world while also reaching into the regional realms of the Indian existence, his was a nature free of prejudice and pride which allowed him to feel more of it in his craft. It is this pride that he held in acting that made him so effortless and natural a performer who had audiences in place with his gripping display of the narrative. The allure of theater never waned even a bit for this terrific talent even as he parlayed his standing in films as a character actor with such meaningful roles that stand him in stead as a veteran of acting. In seeking also to enrich a whole generation with all the inculcations of his craft, Basra had also been an early and active crusader in conducting theater workshops for children. Even with such dedicated passion for and pursuit of acting however, Asif Basra did not let his other passion of travelling take the backseat. Continuing to work his way into the heart and soul of India through also his adventurous biking expeditions as well as his acting renditions, Asif Basra lived a life only few can dream about- fulfilling, enriching and one that has left the arts deeply, deeply indebted to him.