His National Award for ‘Shahid’ is proof of his blazing talent and uncanny ability to get under the skin of his characters. Rajkummar Rao, on living his dream, in conversation with Pratishtha Malhotra.
You once said that the euphoria that you experienced on a theatre stage in your 10th grade decided your career path. Was it that early that you decided that this is what you were going to do for the rest of your life? Absolutely! When I was in class 9th or 10th, I started acting on stage. Before that I was into dance and martial arts. I loved the special attention given to children who are doing something else apart from studying. So I was very used to that attention. When I started with acting, people really started giving me that special treatment. ‘ He not only studies but is so much into acting, dance and martial arts!’ So I decided, this is what I really want to do in life because this is what makes me happy.
And why not? I was growing up watching Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and I was in love with them. So I thought, this is what I should do because this is something I love the most.
Growing up in this era, the whole hoopla about larger than life is inside us by default. What is your take on everything that is superficial vis- à- vis the cinema that has been inspired by reality that you have chosen to do? I absolutely enjoy watching them. Of course, we were all growing up watching HUM and many other films of these stars. But I think my thought process changed when I went to film school… When I actually started watching international films and some beautiful international performances. I think that changed my thinking about films. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy watching masala, larger than life films. I still enjoy them, and I don’t mind doing them as well, it’s just that the script should make sense to me. There should be something in that script which should excite me as an actor; that I can contribute to the script.
From ‘ Love Sex Aur Dhokha’ to ‘ City Lights’ today, how surreal does it feel when you glance back at life now? It feels nice. I think I have been very lucky that I got to be part of some really fantastic films and got to work with some really talented filmmakers. It was just a dream… I was dreaming about the stage since my school days and now I am living it every day. It feels great. But that said, it also feels that it’s too early for me. I still have a long way to go. The kind of work I want to do is going to take a while.
ou have been called an absolute revelation by the critics, and you have made a mark at the box office as well.
ou surely have done the rare the thing of impressing people at the opposite ends of the table… Whatever films I have done till date, have been films I have believed in and they have turned out to be honest, beautiful films. I am thankful to everyone who has gone to theatres and is watching my films and would continue to watch my films. And thanks to the critics – I think they are a big support. I think what critics say and write matters, it matters a lot. I read a lot of reviews. If I am planning to watch a film, I make sure I read all the reviews and then decide if I want to watch it or not. ou should have a balance of both.
ou once said that failure may dishearten you but success is never going to change you. Are you truly indifferent to both? eah. As I was telling you, it is my dream to act every day, to be on a film set, and if that won’t happen, of course it will dishearten me and would make me feel… I don’t know, sad maybe. Success will never change me because this is what I want to do and I am doing it. It will just make me happy.
Do you seriously believe in the statement you made that if you changed as a person, you would not be able to be an actor? Talking about getting corrupted with everything superficial around, I think it would have corrupted me by now, if it had to. If I was supposed to get corrupted, I would have been done by now. But all these things don’t matter. I just love acting, that’s the only thing I love, the most supreme thing I enjoy.
Apart from that whatever comes and goes, I really don’t take anything seriously.
ou and Hansal Mehta have bagged the National Award for Best Actor and Best Director respectively for ‘ Shahid’. How was the experience of working in such a controversial project which turned out to be a masterpiece at the end of the day? Whenever I read a script, I just go with what my gut feels. If I think that there is something in the film which is exciting enough for me to do, I just do it. The same thing happened with ‘ Shahid’. When I heard his life story, I was very moved and thought that it was a very inspiring story, a very inspiring character as well. I didn’t want to miss the chance of doing a biopic at this early stage of my career. But I didn’t think too much about the future on what was going to happen to the film. Be it any film, I never think about the future, the box office or whether it will be a success or not. I believe I should be honest to my work and we all should, as a team, make the film honestly, the way we want to make it with all the passion and love. Then whatever happens, I think is destiny. ou really can’t control box office. I have seen a lot of huge films, despite a lot of marketing, not doing well at all at the box office. So you really can’t control that. What you can control is your work, your craft and the process of filmmaking. That’s what I believe in.
When we were making SHAHID, the only thing that I was looking at was how to play this character with full honesty and give my 200 percent.
Now that ‘ Queen’ became a cult classic, it’s hard to believe that it did not get a record- breaking opening compared with the humongous blockbusters. Do you think in the end, all that doesn’t matter? Why should it matter? We should not judge a film by how much money it makes. After 50 years people are going to remember what kind of a film it was rather than how much money it made.
Films should not just be successful at the box office but in people’s hearts as well and these are films like ‘ Queen’ or ‘ The Lunchbox’, which people will remember after 100 years. I don’t think this Rs100- Rs. 200 crore thing should matter and also I think we should just get over it now. Look outside our country, they are making Rs. 5000 crore and we are still stuck at Rs. 100 crore. We should get over it and start making films that touch everyone’s heart, not only in our country but outside as well.
our line- up for this year includes ‘ Dolly Ki Doli’ and ‘ Humari Adhuri Kahaani’. What lured you towards these films? Purely the script. I just read the script and if I love it and want to give four months of my life to it, I say yes to it.
There is no other thought as to how much money I am getting or who is producing the film, how it will release, whether it will make Rs. 100 crore – no.
Talking about ‘ Humari Adhuri Kahaani’, Vidya ( Balan) being a part of the film is like an added bonus but first the script had to be good. When Vidya is there you somewhat know it will be good only.
‘ Dolly Ki Doli’ is a lot of fun; it is something very light that I am doing after a long time. I think after ‘ Kai Po Che’ and ‘ Shahid’, this is something I am looking forward to. It is a lot of fun being on set and just enjoying your character.
He is not a serious guy, though he is serious in his thought.
Whatever he says, he means it but he is not as serious as Shahid or Govind from ‘ Kai Po Che’. I am enjoying this process.
And Sonam ( Kapoor) and Arbaaz ( Khan, producer, ‘ Dolly Ki Doli’), both are great.
Sonam is a sweetheart and is a great girl. She is very nice to everyone on set and not only to me. She is doing a really good job on the film. Arbaaz, we all know, is a darling. We all love him. He is a wonderful producer, one of the coolest producers I have worked with.