He is one of India’s finest actors of his generation. Whatever the role, Rajkummar inhabits he gives it heart and soul. In a span of seven years he has played wide range of characters and challenged himself every time. But the more Rajkummar mixes it up with his diverse character portrayal the more he makes you question is he a leading man, a villain, a character actor, or indeed something more on the line of an auteur – Rajkummar Rao is brilliance personified.
‘When I read a script I look for something different and which, makes me explore new things. I need to be excited and the film should push me as an actor. I just wish to grow as an actor with every film. I don’t want to keep doing the same thing. It’s very monotonous and boring. I am an actor because I want to live various lives and films are the only way I can do that.’
His bold creative choices and unwavering commitment to roles have been well recognized, as have the chameleon-like physical transformations he’s undertaken for characters such as the 324 year old in Raabta and Bose in Subhash Chandra Bose. ‘My most challenging work till date I would say will be Bose because I could never have imagined playing Bose but when they offered me I took it up as a challenge. There was a lot of research that went into it. I saw many documentaries on YouTube. I read his autobiography. I learnt the language. I shaved half my head. I gained almost around 12-13 kgs. I went to his house in Calcutta spent a lot of time there. Basically I wanted to understand his life and his vision. It was a complete eye opener. I have immense respect for Anitaji but now I am even a bigger fan especially after living his life on screen.’
He has honed his craft over the years and with each film he has challenged himself and given us something new and fresh with such ease and honesty. And in the due course he has found a place in the industry that only belongs to him, and that he can safely call his own.
'I feel very blessed that I have played these wonderful characters and I feel very fortunate that I got to work with such wonderful directors in this short span of my career. It is very important to challenge yourself as an actor because I don’t like things that come easy. I don’t like to put myself in a comfort zone as that is a very dangerous spot. As there won’t be any growth. Also I feel you won’t survive for too long as people will get bored of seeing the same thing again and again. I like to push myself outside of my limits and that’s why this year I took up Bose, Newton, Bareily ki Barfi, Shaadi Main Zaroor Aaana and Omerta.’
His super successful collaboration with Hansal Mehta sharpened his craft and together they have given us powerful and intense films such Aligardh, Shahid, City Lights and Omerta, and the web series on Subhash Chandra Bose. With each of these films there understanding of one another has grown stronger and today they are a team that have celebrated success with each film. ‘There are many who say that I was reborn as a filmmaker after Shahid. The truth is that this rebirth was possible because I met Raj and because we decided to work together. He is a director’s dream because of his absolute commitment to the scene, irrespective of his own role in that scene. He is a generous actor and his performances are bereft of ego. He immerses himself in the character and dedicates himself to the film unlike many who dedicate the film to themselves. In a way I am so happy that Omerta did not find a producer until recently. I strongly believe that stories find their auteur and not vice-versa. Omerta had found me way back in 2005 but I think it had to go through a long wait because it was waiting for Raj. The way he has approached a character that is so far removed from his real self never ceases to amaze me. Omar possesses a cold exterior and a very violent mind. He is brutal and passionate. Throughout Omerta you sense Omar’s violence because of the way Raj has internalized the character – he scares you without actually committing a violent act. He is a predator who might turn brutally violent any moment, such is the fear his character instills in you,’ Hansal Mehta shared his connection with Rajkummar.
Vikram Aditya Motwane on the other hand pushed Rajkummar immensely in his film Trapped. To make a film with only one actor in the frame for more than 90% of the film is not only bold but extremely risky. Both Vikram and Rajkummar attempted something that had not been seen in Indian cinema before. ‘Working with Rajkummar Rao was a complete treat for me as it’s a pleasure to work with an actor who is so dedicated to his job, his craft. I was so happy to be on the shoot every single day. We gave it all we had and it was so liberating. Trapped was very cathartic for me and I don’t think I could have found a better person to collaborate with who was non-questioning, and so trusting. One of Rajkummar’s greatest qualities is that he is unbothered about outwardly perceptions. And I think that has happened because he is still less than 10 films old and has already seen the ups and downs. He is here to challenge himself and the filmmaker. He just goes for it if he believes in it and is so dedicated always. I really hope to do more films with him,’ says Vikram.
When one sits back and looks at Rajkummars’s filmography one can’t help but applaud his unabashed choices, his artistic flair and his confidence in himself to play the roles he has. One can see that for him the character and the essence of the story is far more important than screen time or hierarchy of the actors - and that quality alone, I feel makes him a true and honest actor. ‘For me it’s been a wonderful journey. Of course there have been some rough patches but no complaints. As I feel very blessed that I get to work and I get to do the work I believe in. I have not compromised in my films. I am not someone who follows herd mentality. I have chosen to make my own path and I want to do what my heart says. When I joined the industry the industry was going through a change there were these amazing filmmakers who were pushing the boundaries and telling these amazing stories in a different way. So I feel very blessed that I am here right now working in the industry when there are some wonderful stories being told and made,' shares the actor.
Text Shruti Kapur Malhotra