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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

Rajkummar Rao is our film personality of the year: Here’s what changed for him in 2017

In 2017, Rajkummar Rao has been seen in Trapped, Behen Hogi Teri, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Newton, Shaadi Me Zaroor Aana and one of India’s most ambitious web series, Bose: Dead Or Alive. He is our film personality of the year.

bollywood Updated: Dec 20, 2017 10:52 IST
Rohit Vats
Rohit Vats
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The year 2017 totally belonged to Rajkummar Rao.
The year 2017 totally belonged to Rajkummar Rao.

This year turned out to be the one we were waiting for a long time. Superstars were challenged and conventional filmmaking took a beating as the audience voted with their feet for new content.

Actors like Akshay Kumar and Irrfan Khan broke the mould, and the audience rejoiced every time it happened. But one actor made this tedious process look so simple. With six films and one web series, it was impossible to ignore Rajkummar Rao in 2017.

LSD, Gangs of Wasseypur, Kai Po Che, Shahid and Aligarh showed us what he is capable of, but he exploded like a supernova on to the Indian acting scene this year. Critical acclaim was there, but the box office success of Bareilly Ki Barfi and Newton simply changed the game for him and the producers willing to back different content.

Our film person of the year understands the changed scenario. He speaks with enthusiasm of a new theatre student whose first drama has been reported in a newspaper. Rajkummar says, “I never planned anything. All I wanted to do was acting, so I kept doing whatever I could. But, yes, this year has been very important in my career. People liked my work, the films worked at the box office too.”

“I always wanted to work with complete honesty,” he completes his sentence after a pause.

In 2017, Rajkummar Rao has been seen in Trapped, Behen Hogi Teri, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Newton, Shaadi Me Zaroor Aana and one of India’s most ambitious web series, Bose: Dead Or Alive. Raabta also featured him in an important role, but prosthetics played a better cameo than his character in the film.

He says, “The kind of films I have done are very different from each other. That’s something people noticed. They knew me earlier as well, but they got to see a lot of me this year. I don’t know whether I can continue this or not (laughs).”

With so many projects releasing in 2017, all this must have started in 2013-14. Has he learnt the tricks of networking in Bollywood? He retorts immediately, “No, no, I can’t. I am really bad at networking. It’s an art that I don’t have. I can talk about cinema, life in general, but I don’t know how to sell myself. I can only show them my work.”

Rajkummar induces a little philosophy in the conversation. “Actually, you simply can’t think that this is the film in which people will notice me. It’s still the same kind of effort that I put in my first film, LSD. And then there is destiny. Every film has its own.”

This makes sense because not many gave Bareilly Ki Barfi and Newton a chance at the ticket window before they hit the jackpot. Even Shaadi Me Zaroor Aana, which had a very average trailer, received praise from the critics.

In an industry reeling under the pressure of nepotism, for an outsider to have so many released ventures in just 12 months is nothing sort of a miracle. “People who know me would tell you that I am still the same guy. I am still working, still trying to make the most of it,” says the 33-year-old who identifies the differences between an actor and a hero. “I am always going to be just ‘actor’ (laughs). I don’t like the term ‘hero’ either.”

Gurgaon, where Rajkummar was brought up, might be one of the swankiest cities in India now, but it has transformed mostly in the last decade. Raju, as he is fondly called by friends, dreamt of being an actor long before the middle class dream took over his neighbourhood. He says, “I just fell in love with cinema when I was 12 or 13. It was like a surreal world. Of course, I had no idea how actors function, but it fascinated me. I did my first play when I was in Class XI, I loved every bit of being on stage portraying somebody else’s life. I realised then and there that this is my calling.”

Was there not any doubt about how tough can it all be? He says, “I never thought so much. God paved the way. I did theatre in school then FTII re-started the acting course and I joined. There I learnt a lot about films. Then I came to Mumbai in 2008 without any plan B. I kept pursuing people, tried to show them my work. I am very lucky that it finally started with LSD after two years of struggle.”

From one of the many faces in one of the three stories in LSD to a mostly single actor film Trapped, he has come quite far in seven years. Not many, other than a few star-kids, attain such velocity. “I didn’t chase ‘solo lead’ films, but I wanted to do good work, irrespective of the producer or the director. It’s still the same formula. I read all my scripts and I am still looking for that one good story,” says Rajkummar.

Rajkummar Rao in a still from Bose: Dead Or Alive.
Rajkummar Rao in a still from Bose: Dead Or Alive.

Success also means big budget films. “There were producers who wanted to work with me. Earlier, they wanted to make a small budget film, but now they can invest more money into their projects because they have the confidence that the audience likes Raj. The producers have more faith in me now.”

I couldn’t resists but ask, is he eyeing high budget films? He laughs and tries to explain the dynamics, “Main abhi 70 ya 100 crore ki filmein kar bhi nahi raha hoon (laughs). Jitni badi investment hai utna bada risk hai. I am doing some relatively big budget films, but I am doing them because they have good stories. Honestly, I don’t even ask my producers about the budget of their films. It’s not my concern. What has my performance to do with the film’s budget?”

He trained at an acting school and is a critically acclaimed actor. What happens when he works with people who are more into ‘filmy’ acting? His nuanced answer made me see the flaw in my question, “See, every actor has his or her own process. I have my own way of doing things. When actors from two different school of thoughts come together, emotion toh banta hi hai. Emote toh aapko karna hi hai.”

He goes on, “I respect the person. You can be good or bad in your work, but for me you’re a human being first. Most of the co-actors I have worked with are great people, so I connect with people on that level.”

End of 2017 doesn’t mean the end of his releases. Rajkummar still has many projects lined up. “Omerta with Hansal Mehta will release in February-March, next year. Shooting for Fanney Khan is also finished. Then I am doing a horror-comedy with Shraddha Kapoor. We are also working on another quirky script.”

Itna sab karne me din me 18-20 ghante toh nikal hi jaate honge? Pat comes the reply, “18-20 toh nahi lekin haan 15-16 toh nikal jaate hain.” This is his time, why not make the most of it!

Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha

First Published: Dec 19, 2017 08:45 IST

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