Today is Rajkummar Rao’s 36th birthday. He is diminutive but his height has never deterred the power house performer from displaying his histrionics in front of the camera. He does not have six packs to flaunt but when he emotes, it is awesome to see him on the screen. . We at bollyy.com and Mayapuri wish the actor a very happy birthday by reproducing his interview taken just two years ago during the promotion of his film Omerta. In this exclusive interview, RAJKUMMAR RAO tells JYOTHI VENKATESH that he had to struggle at every step during his journey to stardom.
What exactly is Omerta all about?
Omerta directed by Hansal Mehta is the story of Ahmad Omar Saeed Shaikh. The dreaded Pakistan born International terrorist who was involved in major international terror activities be it 9/11, 26/11 or hijacking, kidnapping and killing of the Wall Street Reporter Daniel Pearl. I play the role of Omar who was a bright and intelligent boy.
How tough was it for you to play the role of Omerta?
Frankly speaking, it was quite tough for me to get into the skin of the character of Omerta since I could not at all connect to him at any level either externally or internally. To feel the hatred towards another human-being without any remorse can take quite a toll and it took me a while to shed this character from my psyche. As part of my preparation, I even went to London and spent a few days to figure out his cultural background. I also read a lot of books on terrorism and saw documentaries.
To what extent, did director Hansal Mehta contribute to you in the process?
I would give the entire credit to Hansal Mehta for his vision. Today, for all you may know, Omerta may be roaming around the streets of New Delhi in different attires
Is it true that the role drained you as a human being at the end of the day?
It was my first ever anti- hero role. I should confess that it was thrilling as an actor to play an antagonist since there was no limit or given rules to play with and you had the power. It was quite draining for me as an actor because I had to immerse myself into a very dark world with which I was not all familiar with.
You have played almost every kind of role, like in Shahid, Aligarh and Newton or for that matter Bareily Ki Barfi, Trapped and Omerta. What is your strategy to be part of films of different genres?
There is no strategy on my part as an actor. Honestly I’d say that it is only the blessing of God and elders above and the love of each and every one and my sincerity which has fetched me good roles in good films till now.
Was acting in Omerta tougher than acting in Trapped?
I could easily relate to the character that I played in Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped whereas it was quite a tough task to get into my character in Omerta especially since it is a thriller which set out to unravel the journey of a human mind. Omar was a very sharp guy who would keep on changing his looks, appearances every moment. I even tried to pick up a couple of his accents as he was a multilingual International terrorist.
Trapped was a one man show, like Sunil Dutt’s Yaadein. Did you make it a point to watch Yaadein to prepare for your character?
I did not watch Sunil Dutt’s Yaadein though I had heard a lot about his performance in the film. Yes. There was no co-actor with me in Trapped and I had to perform solo in front of the camera but trust me I did not see it at all as pressure on me. My only co-actor was my circumstance.
Do you think achieved success in your career as an actor very easily without having had to struggle for it?
I have had to struggle for two years and in the process, I had to face rejection and spend months without any work. Nothing was working at one point of time but I persisted because I had a lot of patience to pull me through my worst phase.
Can you pick five best films out of the 20 and odd films that you have been part of till today?
I’d say that I am extremely proud of all the films in which I have acted till date and though barring one or two, I am quite happy with my performances in all the films in which I have acted till date, my best five films have been Citilights, Shahid, Newton, Trapped and Omerta.
Newton almost made it to the Oscars but lost. What do you think about it?
When 92 countries from all around the world participated in the Oscar, all that I can say is that I am super proud that we represented India at the Oscars with Newton.
What is acting as far as you are concerned?
Though I do agree that acting is something which is inborn in every one of us on earth, I decided to learn acting at Film & Television Institute at Pune, because it is a place where you can polish your skills, when I fell in love with Cinema as a student of eleventh standard in my village. Acting is like breathing for me without which I cannot live. Need I say more?
You won rave reviews for your performance as Subhash Chandra Bose in the web series Bose: Dead/Alive. Do you see the web series emerging as a major force to replace Cinema as such?
Cinema will always be there whether web series makes inroads into entertainment or not but one thing is for sure and that is web series will become a major force to reckon with in the days to come, with players like Ekta Kapoor and Hansal Mehta becoming a part of the web series too , besides films and television. Frankly, I do not at all see myself physically resembling Subhash Chandra Bose but when Hansal asked me if I would be comfortable enough to play Bose in Ekta Kapoor’s series, I took it up as a challenge and hence it was my responsibility to prove myself as an actor. I was amazed by the overwhelming response which I got for my acting in the web series Bose: Dead/Alive.
What gave you the impetus to take up ‘loud’ acting in Bareilly Ki Barfi after underplaying your roles in several films as an actor?
I am only being paid to deliver my goods as an actor. I am trained to do my job as an actor to make every character that I set out to play quite different from the ones that I have played earlier, Like in Bareilly Ki Barfi. Isn’t that what I am supposed to do as an actor?
What do you think of the Hindi Cinema scenario today?
Hindi Cinema has indeed changed in a big way from the time we used to perceive cinema in the past. Today I am happy that we are making the kind of cinema which we could not even dream of making even ten years ago, like for example Bareily Ki Barfi or Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan or for that matter Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhaan.
Which are the actors who have served as beacon lights for you?
I have always been a big fan of actors like Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahani and Sanjeev Kumar. I also admire the new generation of actors today who are very good with their craft.
Tell me whether you perceive any one of the actors of today as your threat?
Honestly, I do not at all see any other actor as a competitor today because I am not jealous of any one today since I feel that acting is a very pure form and not just a sport where you compare one another or compete with one another for the winning post.
Who are the filmmakers with whom you are keen on working?
There are so many directors with whom I have not worked till date but am keen on being part of their films. Like Gulzar, Anurag Basu, Vishal Bharadwaj, Imtiaz Ali and Mahesh Bhatt.
You are an actor known for your talent today. What is your opinion about ‘star’dom as against ‘actor’dom, if I can call it that? What are the pitfalls as far as stardom is concerned?
I do not think that there are pitfalls as far as stardom is concerned. The only thing is that as an actor, you should not put pressure in yourself. Also if you are a star, I do not think that you should take yourself seriously and just continue to act diligently.
Do you still work hard after you have reached your position in films?
I wanted to reach a position as an actor when I started my journey but frankly after a certain point of time, I felt that I did not want to follow the herd. That was when I decided to just do my work to the best of my ability and make my mark.
Is it true that you have just completed acting as a transgender in a Bengali film?
Yes. I have been a part of the Bengali movie Ami Saira Bano, in which l play a boy, who feels like a girl from inside and is thus sent to the transgender community who rechristens him as Saira Bano. With this film, I also became the first mainstream Bollywood actor to play a transgender. Though the shooting has been finished and the film is stuck in post-production stage.
Do you have any inclination to act in plays?
Though I have acted in a lot of plays in the initial dates of my struggle, my plate is now full of acting commitments in films and have no time to act in plays now and hence not really dying to act in plays. However, whenever I manage to snatch time from my busy commitments, I make it a point to watch plays at the Prithvi Theatre off and on.
Where do you foresee yourself as an actor, say ten years hence?
As an actor, ten years hence I frankly do not know where I will be because I have always believed in only living for the moment and try to only focus on the films that I set out to do at any point of time.