Doors don’t open easily but you have to be at it: Rajkummar Rao
The Shahid actor, who completes a decade of working in the Hindi film industry this year, says he feels “blessed” and has no complaints about anything, including his struggling days as an outsider
Rajkummar Rao — who celebrates his 36th birthday on Monday — completes a decade as an actor in 2020. A true-blue outsider, the Stree actor talks about how he has gone about navigating his way through Bollywood, how his career got new directions with movies such as Bareilly Ki Barfi and Stree and why talent is ultimately going to shine through. “I was clear about the motto, ‘jeena yahaan, marna yahaan.’ It’s great that my family, especially my mum, was really supportive,” says Rao. Excerpts from an interview:
What’s the birthday plan for this year?
There are no special plans as such. After all, we are living through a pandemic. Patralekhaa plans to bake a cake herself. But I am, anyway, not a party person. Instead, I love to spend time with my friends, family and loved ones. So, I will be fine.
This year, you complete a decade as an actor [after making your debut with Love Sex Aur Dhokha in 2010]. How has the journey been?
Honestly, the journey has been wonderful. I am busy doing what I have always passionately loved. I am aware that it doesn’t happen to everyone, and that I am among the lucky few and I have lot of gratitude for that. I have constantly learnt and grown. And that’s what you want to do as an actor by playing completely diverse parts. That way, I feel completely blessed, and have no complaints.
Though at the start of your career, you did serious, dramatic parts, many feel things changed when you played the much-loved Pritam Vidrohi in Bareilly Ki Barfi. What’s your take?
Yes, that’s true in a lot of ways, especially because people love to put actors in boxes that ‘if he/she has done a particular kind of work, then let’s give him more such parts’ Till Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB) came around, people would see me as a ‘serious, dramatic actor’. As an actor, I never thought, ‘I am going to do something very different.’ I knew that it was a great role for any actor – to portray a dual personality in a beautifully written script. It never occurred to me that I was dabbling in comedy space. But the end result was amazing. The kind of response I got from people was overwhelming, and I really enjoyed that space. Films such as Newton, Trapped and Shahid take a toll on you but with a part in a film such as BKB, you enjoy those fun moments.
And do you agree that later on, Stree put your career in a totally new space?
I agree because box office verdict decides a lot of things in your career but I can’t only think about that while working. To be honest, I feel, in a way, some kind of a shift in my career happened with BKB. And I really enjoyed that space as well. Then, of course, Stree came along and lot of things changed. But let me tell you, like ‘serious’ films, such ‘fun’ films too require a certain amount of mental and emotional prep. But once you have sorted that bit, then, on sets, you can have a lot of fun with your scenes. I feel, as an actor, you should just be sincere with your material. I never went out looking for comic parts but then they come to you, the idea should be to enjoy it and add to your experiences.
Is there a lot of difference in the way you approach a ‘serious’ and a ‘fun’ part – as an actor?
When you are doing a serious, dramatic part, a lot of prep – mental as well as physical – goes into it. For instance, if you are doing a biopic, then you meet the person and try to understand the mental psyche of that person. I guess, more than physical, it’s a lot about going on that internal journey as the idea is to be to stay as true to your part as possible. And at times, that’s not easy. It can be very tiresome at times. Fun, comedy-laden parts, on the other hand, are all about having fun with the lines on the sets. You have to let it flow, and enjoy.
You are a true-blue outsider, who has made it big in the Hindi film industry. But it must have been challenging. Agree?
Undoubtedly, it’s been challenging. In fact, my struggle started way back, when I joined college. So, I was doing my graduation during the day and in the evening, would go for my theatre classes. At that time, there were days when I must be cycling for 70 kms to attend my classes but I never had any complaints as I was and am really passionate about it. Later on, I went to Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and I got to learn a lot there. I was clear that once I came to Mumbai, I should be really competent as an artist. For any budding artist, it’s imperative that they should know their art. As an outsider, I didn’t know anyone in the industry, so there was a lot of struggle. Many a times, people just wouldn’t want to meet you. But I never let such things hamper my passion. I was clear about the motto, ‘jeena yahaan, marna yahaan.’ It’s great that my family, especially my mum, was really supportive.
Despite all the positivity that you had within you, there must have been some weak moment too…
I wouldn’t say that there were no weak moments, but I always had a positive outlook. I knew that eventually, things will work out. More than me, I think my mother was confident as she would say, ‘it will work out for you. Don’t worry.’ You know, since I came from a middle class background, it wasn’t as if money was coming in full flow. In fact, at times, there was no money at all, for rent and even food. But I just kept at it by being positive and working even harder. It took me two years to get my foot in, but I knew that giving up wasn’t an option.
How do you recall those ‘struggling’ days now?
I look at them very fondly. I feel every actor, especially during their struggling period, must keep their love for art going and should not focus only on their physical appearance. I remember along with my friends, I would do some kind of acting practice or performance pieces, and that would make us so happy. At the end of the day, if you know your job well, audiences as well as the film makers are going to notice you. Hindi cinema and the way the overall industry it functions, has changed a lot. If you are really good in what you do, you will flourish. So, my only suggestion to newcomers would be to focus on honing your art and skills.
Do you agree that an ‘outsider’ is at a clear disadvantageous position as compared to an ‘insider’?
It’s true that as an outsider, things don’t come easily to you at the start. But trust me, if you are really passionate and know your job well, there will be barriers but nothing can stop you. Audiences are going to lap you up, and that’s critical for everyone, right? Unlike earlier, nowadays, you have professional casting directors whom you can approach. Imagine how, earlier, people would make rounds of director or producer’s offices for that one meeting. Yes, the doors don’t open easily [for outsiders], and it’s extremely tough to get that first opportunity. But once I get a foot in the door, I have no choice but to make optimum use of that chance. So, the mantra is: ‘be at it’.