THE CHAR­AC­TER ARTISTE: GAJRAJ RAO

The Brand Reporter - - COVERSTORY -

The puppy-eyed gent who plays ‘the fa­ther’ in Bad­hai Ho is ad­man Gajraj Rao. A ca­reer ad film di­rec­tor, Rao de­buted as an ac­tor with Ban­dit Queen and has since fea­tured in films like like Black Fri­day, Dil Se, Aamir and Tal­var. Among younger au­di­ences, Rao is known as the tech-chal­lenged ‘TVF dad’.

Back in the day, Rao, like Amit Sharma, worked with Pradeep Sarkar and even­tu­ally started pro­duc­tion house Code Red Films with Subrat Ray. He was part of the­atre group ACT 1 in Delhi, with Manoj Ba­j­pai, Ashish Vid­yarthi and Shoo­jit Sir­car. While this is the first time he’s be­ing di­rected by Sharma, he has acted in nu­mer­ous ads made by Pra­soon Pandey (of Cor­coise Films) in the past. "It was a paid work­shop for me on di­rec­tion; I learnt what not to do on my set," re­calls Rao.

While act­ing, Rao says he leaves the di­rec­tor in him at home, and shuts out the ac­tor in him while di­rect­ing. "I re­alised long ago that you shouldn’t be both at the same time," he says.

Sharma and his part­ner at Chrome He­mant Bhan­dari had to con­vince Rao to take up this part, one that matched the lead in screen-time. "A month was a long time to be away from ad­ver­tis­ing. Also, I can’t run or dance due to spondyli­tis, and this was a big role," he says, "but they had faith and re­minded me that I do 12-hour shifts while di­rect­ing. For Hyundai (Atul Kulka­rni plays an army man in this ad), in fact, we shot for 18 hours non­stop at Ro­htang." Other mem­o­rable ads from Rao’s re­cent kitty in­clude those for Flip­kart (in­clud­ing the ‘Dolly Mashi’ spot) and In­dusInd Bank (with Bo­man Irani).

Did he have any other ap­pre­hen­sions dur­ing the film­ing of Bad­hai Ho? "Ac­tors fear look­ing stupid; if it’s a com­edy it shouldn’t be buf­foon­ery and the emo­tional bits shouldn’t be hammy. Cin­ema is a di­rec­tor’s medium, and if the di­rec­tor is un­sure, then I need to keep check­ing the mon­i­tor," he an­swers.

Rao says about the film­ing process, "On Day One of the shoot, I saw Amit’s depth; there was sub­stance in his nar­ra­tion. He ruled the set and his was the last word," adding, "While Mani Rat­nam doesn’t talk or ex­plain much and Anurag Kashyap will have a whole the­sis for your di­a­logue, Amit gives you the ex­act rea­son be­hind ev­ery scene." Rao knew Sharma as the 18-year-old AD work­ing for Sarkar. "I re­mem­bered him as a flam­boy­ant Delhi boy; I watched him do great work as an ad film­maker over the years. My per­cep­tion changed com­pletely while shoot­ing. He knew ex­actly how a writer would re­act to var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions; his nu­anced un­der­stand­ing was a rev­e­la­tion."

In Bad­hai Ho, he learnt how to cre­ate pauses in se­quence: "It’s dif­fi­cult for ad film­mak­ers who are used to cre­at­ing sto­ries in 30 sec­onds - they’re eco­nom­i­cal with pauses. When peo­ple lack con­fi­dence in their craft, they make it pacy."

‘Char­ac­ter roles’, that were com­mon­place in the ‘60s and ‘70s, have made a come­back thanks to the new uni­verse of con­tent cre­ated by Ama­zon and Net­flix, Rao be­lieves.

He prefers story-driven films to graph­ics-based projects. For in­stance, "sham­poo ads are all about the hair go­ing ‘swish-swoosh’ and fly­ing this way and that - I can’t tell sto­ries there." He avoids such briefs even if the cost is los­ing the project.

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