I Never Had A Plan B. Acting Was The Only Thing I Fell In Love With And The Only Thing I Dreamt Of!
As an actor, this rank outsider has netuned his acting skills to the point that his performances are slick, sharp and at times, spontaneous yet superbly controlled. No wonder, this powerhouse performer has won the prestigious National Film Award and his lms have made a huge impact at the Oscars and even at the Cannes Film Festival. A superlative performer who has
Heis like a chameleon - give him any role or character, and this performer par excellence transforms into that persona almost instantly. Arguably, one of the best actors amongst the NewAge stars, he has raised the bar with each performance of his. And, how! That’s right, he is Rajkummar Rao… unassuming, grounded, humble… in fact, you may just fail to think of him as a star… until he slaps you on the face with a wonderfully tuned performance, so edgy and clear-cut that you can’t just help but marvel at his superbly honed skills. His repertoire of films have been amazingly varied yet completely multi-hued. From Ragini MMS, Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD), Gangs of Wasseypur, Kai Po Che, Queen, Newton, 5 Weddings, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Trapped to playing Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in a webseries to now Mental Hain Kya, his films have grabbed eyeballs, won awards galore in India as well
erased the demarcation between art and commercial lms to just content rich lms, RAJKUMMAR RAO is indeed the ‘nd’ of the decade for the lm industry. In conversation with Sumita Chakraborty, Rajkummar Rao candidly talks about the challenges that changed his life as an actor, his thoda different lms, girlfriend Patralekhaa and much more…
as internationally and have proved that this versatile actor is indeed a performer in a league by himself. … Presenting the very candid Rajkummar Rao as he talks about his life, films, challenges, love life and more. Read on…
You are an industry outsider who stormed Bollywood with path-breaking roles and fabulous performances. How would you describe your journey? My journey has been long, challenging yet extremely interesting. Honestly, I feel very blessed that I’m a part of this industry. Perhaps it’s because of my family’s love and blessings, and of course, the hard work that I’ve put in - be it in Delhi, film school days or in Mumbai… whatever it is, it has really worked for me. Sometimes I wonder, why me? … Because we all know that there are so many people who come to the city with the
same dream, but some go back with broken dreams and broken hearts. So that way I feel very blessed that I have been accepted by the industry despite being an industry outsider. In that way, my journey has been so wonderful. It’s been a learning curve, actually. I got a chance to work with some really amazing people and some marvellous filmmakers. I’ve learnt such a lot and definitely, I feel like I have grown as an actor. Since my first film to now, because of the kind of people that I’ve worked with, I’ve picked up so much especially from my team and my film friends. It has enriched me as an actor. Of course, I still have a long, long way to go but yes, the journey uptil now has been interesting.
There must have been a lot of challenges that you’ve faced. Could you talk about them? There were huge challenges then and of course, there still are challenges and there are different ways in which I faced those challenges. When I was starting out, I really struggled. I had to look for work for almost one-and-a half to two years. There were numerous rejections, and there were times when I felt down and out, but during these trying times, it was very necessary to keep myself motivated, to keep myself inspired and to keep going. Failure can make you slip down yet you have to pick up yourself. In life, of course, there will be rejections, there will be negativity around you. But you can’t let these things hamper your dedication or your love for what you are doing. So during my struggle, I made sure that I stayed
When I was starting out, I really struggled. I had to look for work for almost one-and-a half to two years.”
motivated. I would try and learn new things. I would look at other actors, and I would try and learn from them, learn more about the art. I would get myself enrolled into some good acting workshops, hone my skills. And more importantly, I made sure that the challenges weren’t getting the better of me. Despite the rejections, I would keep going for auditions etc. In life, it is necessary not to let anything pull you down.
You know Rajkummar, when you say ‘struggle’, I’ve spoken to Ranveer Singh about his journey and he had told me about a lot of casting couch incidences that happen even for men. Have you by any chance faced the casting couch? No, that way I feel I am very lucky as I never had to face any kind of casting couch. I’m sure it happens with boys as well but in my case, I’ve never experienced it.
It has been a slow and steady ride for you, at any point did you ever think of giving it up? No, because I never had a plan B. Acting was the only thing I fell in love with and the only thing I dreamt of. My dream was to be a film actor and there was no chance that I could give it up. I knew nothing but acting. So I kept on… and here, I am!
You’ve done all kinds of shades as an actor. But in Omerta, you’re playing an out and out anti-hero. So what made you pick this film? The reason is that most of the films I have played, have me in either good characters or with shades of grey - be it Ragini MMS, LSD or Queen, but I have never got a chance to play somebody who is an outright villain and Omerta gave me that opportunity. And also another reason is that Hansal (Mehta) sir was making it, and that was enough reason for me to say ‘yes’. Omerta is a very important story to be told and I thought it was very relevant especially in these times. So these were my reasons to say ‘yes’ to Omerta.
At any point did you feel that you wouldn’t be accepted in this kind of a role? I can’t overthink whether I’ll be accepted or not! I can’t work like that honestly. As an actor I want to push my limits. I want to explore all kinds of
After several hours of audition, I got the most important phone call of my life conveying that I’ve got the film.”
genres, I want to do different characters. I don’t want to restrict myself thinking that I should not be doing this or probably be doing only a particular role and then would be accepted. You have to take your chances, keep pushing your boundaries and that’s exactly what I do.
2017 was a remarkable year for you. You had so many films lined up, so many rave reviews, so many hits... Do you feel that you’ve finally got your due in the film industry? I was very lucky the day I got my first film more so as an outsider I know how tough it can be for an outsider to actually break into the industry. So I never had any complaints but of course, 2017 was a very exciting year for me, and it has definitely added a lot in my career. The kind of films which released in 2017 and the kind of love I got for them was amazing and yes, a bit humbling too. So yes, I am happy to be in the place that I am in right now, but as I said, there is still a long way to go.
You talk about being an outsider and breaking into the industry. How did you get your first film? My first film was LSD ( Love Sex Aur Dhoka), it released in 200910. And that happened purely only on the basis of auditions. I was waiting at the casting director’s table, trying to look for my first break and there itself, I got to know that Dibakar Banerjee was planning his first film and casting for it. The process was slow but eventually, the casting director Atul Mongia called me for the auditions and finally after several hours of audition, I got the most important phone call of my life conveying that I’ve got the film.
And your parents…. What about their reactions? They were extremely happy, of course, more so because they had witnessed the kind of love I have for acting and how badly I wanted to be a film actor. So when they got to know that I’ve finally got my first break, they were extremely happy. But they have always been supportive of whatever I did in life. As an one-time industry outsider, what is your take on the industry? Well, for one, the industry is a great place to work in. Here, talent survives no matter what. The audience decides who they want to see onscreen. And perhaps that’s why some of the not-so-talented actors – no one wants to see them anymore. As for me, I’m still that curious kid from Gurgaon who looks at Bollywood from a distance.
You normally do content rich scripts. Would you be agreeable to do a total masala commercial film? Yes, I don’t mind doing any film. I want to do every kind of genre. But then films too need to have a story. It just can’t be a potboiler. Of course, the audience too have decided that the concept of masala films is great but it still needs content, and that’s why the definition of commercial cinema is changing so we can’t really go without content now. Content, for me, is the topmost priority.
Your films Shahid, Aligarh, Newton and Omerta, they all have had a political colour. Do you in real life too have political leanings? Are you vocal about your political views? I am politically aware, and I tend to speak whenever I am required on issues that are close to my heart. I tend to put my heart out on Twitter. But otherwise I am very caught up with work - either I’m shooting or promoting my film. So I don’t get enough time to really talk about things but whenever I get an opportunity, I definitely speak my heart out. If I feel strongly about something, then I do make a point. And when I feel very strongly about something, I definitely talk about it.
I want to do every kind of genre. But then masala films too need to have a story. It just can’t be a potboiler.”
You come across as a very intellectual actor. Are you like that or do you have a goofy side too? (Laughs) Well, I don’t know if I’m an intellectual actor or not but I do read a lot. So all I can say is that I am not unaware of things and I can have a deep conversation, too. But on the other side, I can be a lot of fun too. Ask my friends… I am a very funloving guy. Of course, that’s a very different side of me. I am not at all like what people tend to see in films.
You’ve done this wonderful webseries Bose:Dead/Alive. For one, how was it working for this webseries? Secondly, if you look at your repertoire, it’s fabulous. How do you pick your films – do you take a long look at the script or what? No, the criteria for choosing a script is quite intuitive, quite impulsive. When I like a script, then and there, I just say ‘yes’ to it. But when it came to Bose, I took it as a challenge. Because I could never really imagine myself playing Subhash Chandra Bose because the role is so different and so real. You know when Ekta (Kapoor) told me that she thought that I could play Bose in the series, I thought why not, it would be really exciting. But I really had to push myself out of my limits to play the role. But it was fun. And I am really so glad that I did that. Because just to experience his life onscreen and to learn about him during my research, was very interesting to say the least.
Any particular outstanding moment during this webseries that you remember? The entire thing… not just one moment. Whatever Netaji stood for and the kind of ideologies he had - thoughts of selfless love for his mother country etc… everything about him was very fascinating.
Rajkummar, you said that you want to work with Deepika Padukone. Has anything been finalized or are there any offers? Well, nothing has been finalized as yet but let’s see… hopefully very soon.
Unlike other actors, you have been very transparent about your relationship status. Do you think as the mindset is amongst actors, do you think being open about your relationship status will cost you your female fan following? No, no not at all. The love you get from your audience, it’s really pure. It is a very beautiful relationship that we share with our audience. And we all are whatever we are because of their love and purely, for their love. But what I am offscreen, I don’t think bothers our audience. My personal relationship has no impact on the audience as my reel and real life are very different altogether.
You are working in MentalHai Kya with Kangana Ranaut. First of all, how was it working with her? We actually haven’t started shooting for the film as yet. We’re going to start it this month. But of course, we have had some interactive sessions about the script and a couple of readings. I’ve always liked Kangana. I think she is a very fine actor and a very fine talent and that’s what I want. I want to work with really amazing co-actors – like-minded teams work really well and then the films work really well.
Earlier Newton and now 5Weddings is premiering at Cannes. You’re going international. Any plans of going global too? Doing Hollywood films or world cinema? There are no offers as such but I would love to explore the Western cinema. I would like to pursue it if there is an exciting part for me. Right now, my Indian plate is really full of work commitments and if there’s something that really excites me and if that means to go there, I would definitely jump at it.
What are you looking forward to now currently? Is there any particular film or any pinnacle of success? Right now, I am waiting for
My personal relationship has no impact on the audience as my reel and real life are very different altogether.”
Omerta’s release and then whatever is coming in, be it Fanney Khan or Stree, which is a desi horror comedy or Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh or Mental Hai Kya, the year’s looking exciting.
You spoke about Stree. You’re doing this with Shraddha Kapoor. Have you started shooting for this film? How is it going? We are actually almost done with the shooting. It is actually going really good. I am very, very excited about it, perhaps because it is the first of its kind, a very unique genre, it’s a desi horror comedy and we are really having a great time making the film and I really hope our audience will also have the same amount of fun that we’re having.
Are you totally work oriented? Is it total work, no play, I mean we don’t hear any rumours about you, no stray gossip, no affairs… Are you like this or are you good at hiding things? No, I am not good at hiding things. I am extremely busy working and when I am not working, I love spending time with my loved ones or travel. These are the only three things that I do. I am either working or at home with friends and loved ones or otherwise I’m traveling. So there’s no time to give fodder to gossip. (laughs)
How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life? I try maintaining that balance. But
I never had to face any kind of casting couch. I’m sure it happens with boys as well but in my case, I’ve never experienced it.”
I think it is easy if there is understanding between two people and thanks to technology, you always are connected because of phones and Facetime.
Do we get to see you and your girlfriend actor Patralekhaa on screen any day soon? Umm…yes, you might see us probably this year or next year. The details, I can’t tell you because it is very, very early to tell.
What is your Bollywood wishlist? My wishlist is the same as when I had started my career. …To be a part of really good films and to keep challenging myself as an actor and to grow with every film.
What about biopics? They are the current flavor in the film industry. Would you like to do another biopic soon? I’ve done a couple of biopics like Shahid, Aligarh, Bose. Honestly, I love doing biopics and I love playing real life characters. So if anything exciting comes my way - not this year as my schedule is full - but if there’s something exciting I would love to explore it.
Which part of being an actor you don’t like? I like everything about being an actor. In fact, I would want to ask God to make me an actor in every birth.
As an actor, do you have a problem with media intrusion or always being scrutinized? No, that way I am very blessed. I get so much love from my media fraternity so there are no complains as such.
Any message for our Stardust readers? I just want to thank each and everybody for all the love that I’ve got through these years and I can just say that I will keep trying hard and do something new every time.
My wishlist is the same as when I had started my career. …To be a part of really good films and to keep challenging myself as an actor.”
With Kangana Ranaut
Love Sex Aur Dhoka