A National Award winner, and one of the finest actor Bollywood can boast of today. Here is a quick meeting with Rajkumar Rao as his performance in the movie Trapped left the audience spellbound
Excerpts from an interview
The role of Shaurya in Trapped is one that many big names in Bollywood would have rejected. What made you accept it?
I don’t think any sensible actor would have rejected Shaurya’s part. It’s a dream for any actor to feature in a survival drama. The moment Vikram told me about the idea, I went for it. There were no second thoughts. I feel very fortunate that it came to me.
What criteria do you apply while accepting a role?
I don’t have any set formula. I read all my scripts myself and if there is something which excites me as an actor, I just say yes to it. It’s a very impulsive decision. The content is of utmost importance followed by what I am doing in that story, what’s my character’s contribution and who is making it. If there’s something which challenges me as an actor I just want to jump on it.
When you have a smaller role which has negative shades such as the ones you portray in Queen andHamari Adhuri Kahani, does this make you feel sad, or do you take them on as challenges?
I’m very proud of Queen. I knew that it was Kangana’s film and she was absolutely amazing. The kind of praise I’ve got for Queen has made me happy about my decision. It’s important to be a part of films that you can really be proud of. If I had been sad, I would not have taken the project, right?
You were wonderful at mimicry when you were very young. Did this talent push you to choose acting as a career?
I was good at impersonations but there are other reasons too. I fell in love with cinema when I was a kid. I was very much like the kid in Cinema Paradiso. I thought of it as a parallel universe where I wanted to reach. I did my first major play in class nine and decided that this was what I wanted to do in life. Since then my only aim was to be an actor in films.
We know about the diet regime you created for yourself for a fortnight in preparation for the role. What other kind of homework did you put in?
The process to explore Shaurya was very organic. Once we were sure about the character we didn’t plan much. I was trying to live in the moment and enact the moment truthfully. To get the hang of it I also had to stop eating or drinking water. I had to go through the experience Shaurya was going through in order to find the truth.
Your work has been extremely versatile. Why do you think you have never been typecast?
This is probably because I am constantly challenging myself to do something different. Cinema is a director’s medium and when you have directors like Hansal Mehta, Vikramaditya Motwane, Anurag Kashyap, Vikas Bahl, Abhishek Kapoor, Dibakar Banerjee, Mira Nair, Ashviny Iyer, Bejoy, Mohit, Amit and other immensely talented ones, you know you are in safe hands and you can blindly trust them.
When you got the National Award for Shahid and the standing ovation at Berlinale for Newton, what did it feel like?
It feels great when people recognise the hard work that we put in together in a film. Awards are very encouraging and inspiring for me. It makes my belief stronger that I am moving in the right direction.
Your characters in Shahid and Omerta are poles apart. In the former, you play a terrorist-turned committed lawyer defending wrongfully imprisoned people. In Omerta, you play a terrorist yourself. How does this work for you as an actor and a social being?
It’s tough to portray two people who have come from the same background but are poles apart in their perceptions and their ideology. I could connect with Shahid on a personal level, I believed in his principles but in Omerta, where I play a dark character, it gets tougher because you have never experienced such emotions in your life. As an actor, you must live those emotions truthfully. Another fun part of being an actor is that you get to understand human psyche very well.
You have agreed to portray Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in a web-serial to be produced by Ekta Kapoor. How do you plan to do your homework?
Apart from learning the language and reading lot of books and watching videos on Bose’s life, my main focus would be to try and live him as closely as possible. It will be a very internal process. His unconditional love for the country is something I will also try to achieve while portraying him. But at this point, I also find it quite scary to flesh him out on screen, never mind even if it’s a web series.