Rajkummar Rao may be trapped in a high rise in his latest movie, but he is definitely not going to get trapped in the stereotypes of Bollywood.
From an experimental urban thriller, Trapped to light comedies – Behen Hogi Teri and Bareilly Ki Barfi — to political satire, Newton, Rajkummar has his plate full this year with four back to back releases. Excerpts from an interview with the National award-winning actor who caught the acting bug quite young.
This seems to be an exciting year for you with four back-to-back releases coming up.
I was shooting non-stop last year. Aligarh was the only film that released in 2015. It was mere coincidence that all these films are coming together. I would finish one film, take two months break and start preparing and shooting for the next one. Behen Hogi Teri is a fun, small town film, while Bareilly Ki Barfi is a romantic comedy but with very stark characters. Hansal Mehta’s Omerta that releases probably next year, is quite explosive, very sensitive and very universal. It is something we have never seen before on the Indian screen. Next I will start shooting for Ekta Kapoor’s new digital series, in which I will play Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
With just one character in Trapped, it must have been quite challenging keeping audience interest in mind?
The director (Vikramaditya Motwane) can answer that question well because when I am performing I don’t think about those aspects. That moment when I am living as an actor is mine. I am trying to live that moment truthfully, so I can’t be thinking about other reasons. But yes, Vikram has done that beautifully and our editor has cut the film in a brilliant way. The use of music and sound design is all very engaging. That is the reason we are calling it an urban thriller. It is a very unique, very different, one of its kind film. It is one of my most challenging works till date.
What was your reaction when you were approached for Trapped?
I was thrilled because I was getting the chance to work with Vikram. I have been a big fan of his work, I loved both his films — Udaan, Lootera. A story and film like Trapped is so rare for an actor. There is so much that you can do. I was more than happy.
Do you consider playing a solo character in a film as an opportunity or does it make you nervous?
It is definitely an opportunity, it doesn’t happen with every actor. I feel privileged to do this survival drama and I think any sensible and good actor would jump on to a film like Trapped.
90 per cent of the film is shot in one flat; we had a limited crew but everybody’s energy was towards making this a special film. Also, I was going through such physical changes and was eating, drinking accordingly. It was needed for the part. I was just doing my job. Shaurya (Rajkummar’s character) is somebody who is stuck in this apartment without food and water, so as an actor it is my responsibility to go through that process. Everybody was there for me, they were pampering me, lot of love was showered on me, everybody’s energy was just focussed on Shaurya’s journey and how to make it interesting.
Would you consider this as the best phase of your career?
My best phase is yet to come but it is a great time. I feel there is definitely a growth in my performance. Now when I look back at my earlier films, I feel I could have done much better, which is natural to feel because you grow in life, you age. Performance comes from the experiences and exposure in your life. I feel more confident in the industry now from the time I began. But I still remember how I was in Gurgaon. I saw this whole filmy world as a parallel universe, and now when I am shooting and making a film, the feeling is the same. I still feel I am in this amazing, dreamy, fairy tale life that is so different from my mundane life.
We have read that movies deeply impacted you when you were growing up…
Yes, I remember when I saw Agneepath as a kid, I started howling on how Amitabh Bachchan could die. He cannot die, he is Amitabh Bachchan; he is not a human being, he was a super man for me. Of course, now I am part of the industry, part of film-making, and now that feeling is not there. But I still get very emotional when I see a good performance or a good film. I get moved easily.
Your collaborations with director Hansal Mehta has resulted in award winning films…
Yes, and our forthcoming film Omerta is by far the most explosive work I have done with Hansal. I think he is one of the best directors we have. For me he is more like a family now because Omerta is our fourth film together. The kind of relationship we share, it’s going to last for life. We can keep working together. We share the same understanding, the kind of stories we believe is very common and the way we want to tell them is with similar understanding.
Was there a script while shooting for Trapped because a film like this would need lot of give and take between an actor and director?
We had a 35 page script/screenplay. But that was about it. Most of it was improvised. Actually for a film like Trapped you really can’t write, you can probably write pointers. Shaurya is stuck and his door gets locked…after which you can’t really say how an actor would react. One will have to go there and live that moment in order to find out how I will react. Then there was a pointer that it is Day 3, there is no water and he is searching for water. Now, as an actor it is my job to convey this pointer in as best way possible.
Did you convey your ideas and thoughts to the director while shooting?
I was already so excited that I was getting a chance to work with Vikram and I have my complete faith in him as a director. I knew I was in safe hands. There were times when I was confused, I wasn’t sure, but he was always there to take care. But he gave me total freedom to perform, to explore. He was very open with ideas. It is a mutual feeling and understanding between a director and an actor. They have to have that kind of trust in each other in order to make a film special and beautiful.
Trapped has a universal appeal to it…
Yes, it is a very universal film. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. Lot of people have seen the film and they are relating to it. They can connect to the character and be a part of Shaurya’s journey. Such is the response. I would give credit to Vikram in shaping the character’s journey. It is so engaging, so universal, very believable and very human.
How much do critics and their reviews matter to you?
Of course, it does. I read most of my reviews. I want to see other people’s perspective. It is always good to know what other people are thinking about you because after a point of time you start losing your objectivity. You need third person’s perspective in order to know things with an open mind.
Most actors say that more than critics they would care for audience reaction…
I want both of those. I want the balance of a critic’s opinion and audience love as well.
Among the actors of this generation who do you like?
Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Sushant Singh Rajput, Shahid Kapoor, Amit Sadh, who is also a friend. There are so many, that is the beauty of this generation. Everybody is pushing their limits, everybody is doing such exciting work. Ayushmann and Varun are also very talented.
Do you guys connect?
We don’t meet often. We are busy with our own lives, shooting and promoting and then taking breaks, but whenever I meet Ranbir or Ranveer I very naturally tell them. I told Ranveer that I really loved his work in Bajirao Mastani.
We have always slotted actors in commercial mainstream and art cinema. Is the gap between them diminishing?
It is diminishing for sure and the credit goes to all these biggies, these superstars who I am fan of. Starting from Shah Rukh, Aamir, Salman, Hrithik, all of them are changing the definition of commercial cinema. The highest grosser today is Dangal, which is absolutely an unconventional commercial film. There is nobody dancing, there is no item song, it is the story of a 50-year-old guy, a father, and the film is set in a small village in Haryana.
Who would have thought this subject 15 years back? Who would have thought that a film like this would make Rs 400 crore? These superstars are pushing their limits and they have given us also a chance to experiment with our craft. I have always said that films or cinema is like a buffet, you serve everything to the audience and let them decide what they want to go for. Let them make their choice but you should give them the choice.
How important are these Rs 100, 200 crore clubs for you?
I definitely want all my films to make money, I want my producers to make money. For the industry to survive it is important that money should come. It is directly proportionate to how many people are watching your film. Rs 100, 200 crore actually means that those many people went to theatre and saw your film. I want both, critical acclaim as well as good box office returns.
Would you ever do a complete mindless film, the ‘leave your brains at home’ kind?
(Laughs heartily) I doubt I will ever do that. But never say never, maybe just for the kick of it.
How do you go about choosing your script?
There is no fixed formula. I read lot of scripts, actually I read everything. I look for excitement. Something should happen inside me when I am reading a script and it is very impulsive. Either you feel it or you don’t. I go by my instinct.
Who are the directors on your wishlist?
There are so many of them. All these new generation of filmmakers. I don’t want to miss out on any name…Raju Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Do you fear failure?
More than failure I am nervous when I am shooting a film. I am constantly thinking about whether I am able to crack a character, or a scene, or not. What if I get stuck? What if I feel trapped? I am honestly scared about these things more than whether it will make money or not.
Do you feel scared of getting trapped into a stereotype?
Yes absolutely, but I am constantly making efforts to not to go through that process and to keep doing different films, keep playing different parts. That is why I want to constantly surprise my audience. I want to give them a Behen Hogi Teri or a Bareilly Ki Barfi, and Newton and a Trapped. It is an exciting time to be an actor.
You have made it large without any backing or connection in the industry. What are your thoughts on the ongoing debate on nepotism?
There is favouritism, but that is okay. As an audience I want to see talent on screen. I don’t care where it is coming from. As long as an actor is talented, it is worth my money and time, I want to see them on screen. I would pay money to watch Ranbir Kapoor, I would pay money to watch Alia Bhatt, these are extremely talented actors. But the problem is when somebody is not talented and still we have to keep watching their films just because of this nepotism thing. I have a problem with that. But times are changing now. People are accepting only good talent.