Naseeruddin Shah was born on 20 July 1950 in Delhi. He showed interest in an acting career from his childhood. He graduated with BA from the Aligarh Muslim University, National School of Drama in 1973 and enrolled in the Film and Television Institute of India the same year.
He made his acting debut in Shyam Benegal's 1975 film, Nishant. He established himself as a good actor and won the Indian government's National Film Award for Best Actor in 1979 for an effective portrayal of a blind man in the film Sparsh. This was also the time when several young directors were making movies that were different from those produced till then. This movement was termed the New wave, with actors such as Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Om Puri appearing together in offbeat Parallel Cinema art films like Bhumika (1977), Bhavni Bhavai (1980), Ardh Satya (1982) and Mirch Masala (1986) He also won three Filmfare awards during this period. His performance in the 1982 film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, a comedy, displayed his versatility but at the same time, also made it difficult to categorise him. In the interim, he was considered for the title role in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, but finally the role went to Ben Kingsley. Shah was very disappointed that he could not bag the role
He became active in mainstream movies, popularly known as Bollywood with the 1980 film Hum Paanch. His next major success in mainstream films was the 1986 multi-starrer film Karma where he acted alongside veteran Dilip Kumar. Sole hero films such as Ijaazat (1987), Jalwa (1988) and Hero Hiralal (1988) followed. He played Inspector Ghote, the fictional detective of HRF Keating's novels in the 1988 Merchant-Ivory English language film The Perfect Murder. He acted in several multi-starrer Bollywood films as well such as Ghulami (1985), Tridev (1989) and Vishwatma (1992). In 1994, he acted as the villain in Mohra, his 100th film as an actor. He strongly believed that the distinction between art and commercial films had largely reduced, especially with the directors of the former also making commercial films. In 2000 his dream of playing Mahatma Gandhi was realised when he played Gandhi in Kamal Hassan's critically acclaimed Hey Ram which focused on the assassination of Gandhi from the assailant's point of view. Later, he starred in international projects such as Monsoon Wedding in 2001 and a Hollywood comic book adaptation The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003 (co-starring Sean Connery) where he played the role of Captain Nemo. His portrayal of Nemo was very close to the design of the graphic novel, although his Nemo was far less manic. He worked in an Indian adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, titled Maqbool. in 2004. He then went on to work in The Great New Wonderful. He was most recently seen in Omkara which is an Indian adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello. He recently made his Pakistani film debut in the critically-acclaimed and controversial film Khuda Ke Liye by Shoaib Mansoor where he played a short, yet powerful cameo.
In 1977, he along with Tom Alter and Benjamin Gilani formed a theatre group called Motley Productions. Their first play was Samuel Beckett's novel Waiting for Godot, which was staged at Prithvi Theatre on July 29, 1979. In 1988, he acted in the eponymous television series based on the life and times of Mirza Ghalib, directed by Gulzar and telecast on DD National. In 1989, he acted as the Maratha King Shivaji in another eponymous television series Bharat Ek Khoj based on Jawaharlal Nehru's book The Discovery of India directed by noted film director Shyam Benegal. The role of Aurangzeb was performed by Om Puri. It was speculated that he was paid a sum of Rupees Four Lakhs per episode. The story of Shivaji was spread over two episodes. In 1998, he played the role of Mahatma Gandhi in the play Mahatma Vs. Gandhi, (which looked at the Mahatma's relation with Harilal Gandhi, his first son). With this, he achieved his objective of portraying Mahatma Gandhi. Incidentally, in 2000, he again portrayed the Mahatma, this time on film, in Hey Ram. His Performance in "Safarosh"(1999)was widely acclaimed. He played the villain with dual identity of a Gazal Singer and Pakistani sympethiser who supports terrorism in India. He was the first of several celebrity actors, who played the role of narrator in the popular audiobook series for kids Karadi Tales,. He was also the narrator in the film Paheli - the Indian entry to the 2006 Oscars. Naseeruddin Shah has been giving performances with his theatre troupe at places such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Lahore. He has directed plays written by Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto. His directorial debut in movie, Yun Hota To Kya Hota, was released in 2006. The movie stars several established actors such as Paresh Rawal, Irfan Khan and Ayesha Takia.
• 1980: National Film Awards for Best Actor, Sparsh • 1980: Filmfare Best Actor Award, Aakrosh • 1981: Filmfare Best Actor Award, Chakra • 1983: Filmfare Best Actor Award, Masoom • 1985: National Film Awards for Best Actor, Paar • 1984: The Volpi Cup (Award for Best Actor) at Venice Film Festival for Paar • 1987: Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award • 2000: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award • 2000: IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) Award - Artistic Excellence for Performance in a Negative Role for Sarfarosh • 2003: Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian award • 2004: 7th International Film Festival of Mumbai - Award for contribution to Indian cinema • 2007: National Film Awards for Best Supporting Actor, Iqbal