“You’re not Hrithik Roshan,” Rajat Barmecha was told when he said he wanted to move to Mumbai to be an actor. Six years, a stellar debut, and a bunch of refused offers later, he’s back with a web series
It’s a hot Sunday afternoon. The sort that makes you run indoors, or roll up car windows, and have the AC on full blast. We pick the air-conditioned restaurant at a sea-facing five-star in Juhu. But Rajat Barmecha wants to sit out by the pool so he can smoke. “I love this place,” he says.
He uses the L-word a lot: “I love Imtiaz Ali”; “I love Sachin Tendulkar”; “I love Breaking Bad. I wish I could play Jesse Pinkman…”.
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Over the next 40 minutes – under a palm tree (thank god), with a staid live act in the background – we gather this about 27-year-old Barmecha: he’s a man of absolute measures. He went from being a non-smoker to learning to smoke for his debut film to puffing away 40 sticks a day. He turned down a bunch of scripts which, he says, “put me to sleep”, effectively having little to show against his name in the last six years. And at 18, he moved to Mumbai to ‘make it’ in Bollywood, with no training but truckloads of gumption.
Six years ago, Indian audiences discovered the baby-faced 20-year-old Barmecha. He played an even-younger Rohan in Udaan, Vikramaditya Motwane’s stellar debut film about coming of age in small-town India. Barmecha looks older now. The beard helps. He’s no longer the wide-eyed Delhi boy who dreamt of Bollywood. But he still has a young man’s high-pitched enthusiasm when taking about scripts, stories and Imtiaz Ali romances.
You moved to Mumbai at 18. You got Udaan at 20. What were the first two years like?
I survived on Rs 6,000 a month: stay, food, travel, everything. I lived in a PG in Borivli, four people to a room, in a building that’d be the first to fall in an earthquake. If I went to McDonalds, I’d get the McAloo Tikki and not the McVeggie, which is more expensive. When my brother [Vicky Barmecha, older, assisted Anurag Kashyap on Bombay Velvet] visited, he took me to Pizza Hut and said, “Eat whatever you want.” It sounds filmi now, but at the time, it was touching.
How’d you get started? You had no formal acting training.
I did ads. My first one was for Nokia, and I made Rs 6,000. Then, in a week, I was doing three ads. Someone stopped me on the road once and said, “Aren’t you in the Max NewYork Life Insurance ad?” I called dad and said, “Arre, aaj kisine pehchana.”
Moving to Mumbai to act is often romanticised. What if it didn’t work out?
I have friends who didn’t make it. And I know I got lucky. When I wanted to move, everyone said there has to be a backup plan. “You’re no Hrithik Roshan, that everyone will be waiting to cast you.” Your relatives think you’re a loser, that you’ll never make it. That changes when you do make it.
Was there a backup plan?
No. I just believed in doing what I’ve decided. And that even if took 10 years, we’ll figure it out.
But even after you did make it, with Udaan, you sort of disappeared again.
For five years since, I’ve been choosy. I didn’t want to pick something bad and have people say I was only good in just one film.
We meet @barmecharajat, the Udaan boy, on a hot summer afternoon in Juhu. Six years after a stellar debut, he's now in @bindass's web series #Girlinthecity. He tells @saritray his story of moving to Mumbai, living in a PG, working in ads. Visit www.HT48hours.in to read the story and listen to the full chat
You turned down big directors?
Yeah, I was approached by big guys. But I didn’t want an ensemble role with a huge star. One such film I turned down flopped, so I guess I did the right thing.
Basically, you don’t want to do masala films.
I have no problem with masala. I can dance, I can be mushy. It just has to be sensible. I don’t want to do bulls**t. Imtiaz Ali does commercial, and he does love stories. A lot of people hated Tamasha, but I loved it. When I met Vikram [Motwane] and Anurag [Kashyap] for the first time, I told them my favourite film was Salaam Namaste. And they were like, “seriously?” I still like Salaam Namaste. My only thing is, if I read a script, I shouldn’t be like, “F**k, when will this get over?”
Why do a web series then?
I met Anand [Tiwari, producer of the series] , and he told me the whole concept for Girl in the City while walking in a park. At the end of it, I said I’m on. I would’ve said no if I didn’t like it. That’s just how I am.
The writer tweets as @saritray2001