Thursday, July 25, 2024

A character should challenge me as an actor: Rajkumar Rao


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Rajkumar Rao is prepared to play any character– hero or parallel hero, a villain, a terrorist or a young man selling saris, as long as the script is interesting, even if controversial. His new film Bheed was in trouble when its trailer was released. In an interview with Shoma A. Chatterji, Rao talks about his career, his choice of roles and working with Anubhav Sinha in Bheed.

Excerpts of an interview:

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 directors with whom I have worked, you know that you are in safe hands and you can blindly trust them.


How was the experience of working under director Anubhav Sinha whose films usually deal with subjects that are controversial?

It has been a dream-come-true experience for me. Imagine working under the directorial wand of the director who has given us such very powerful films like Thappad, Mulk, Article 15 and Anek. Each film has a strong political statement to make, either at the individual level or at a collective level.  My main take away from my work in Bheed is that we two have become great friends. He is very easy-going to work with. At the time of shooting and later too, he is full of fun and that is an understatement. Bheed was shot in winter.  Even then after the director called ‘Pack Up’ we didn’t leave the sets. Anubhav Sir would order wonderful eats and we were free to do whatever we wished to such as flying kites or playing cricket. He invests a lot of time in writing which I feel is one of the most important aspects of film-making. He is the only director I’ve worked with who reads his script every day before starting his day.

What is Bheed all about?

We are not supposed to give the story away but in short, it chronicles the plight of migrants during the Covid-induced lockdown of 2020, when lakhs of migrant workers travelled to their hometowns from cities. The teaser of the film drew parallels with the horrors of Partition, juxtaposing grim visuals of 1947 and the heartbreaking images of 2020 lockdown.

What role have you played in Bheed?

I play Surya Kumar Singh, a cop who is not only ridden by the guilt resulting from caste-conflict but is also trying to find out strategies to solve the problem of hordes of migrants stuck at the border. There is a scene where he is pushed to the ground and the camera closes in on his face that reflects hundreds of years of persecution suffered by the lower castes. Working with actors like Pankaj Kapoor and Ashutosh Rana was a learning experience. Bheed is certainly one of my most special films. The reason is the subject and the way Anubhav Sir has executed the idea. The film being made in Black &White makes it even more special.


The Corona Virus was still quite active when you were shooting and the scent of fear was alive. Did it make you look back on those dangerous days and fearing the virus could attack again?

It was a situation we could actually experience from close quarters. Around 1000 people were hired to portray migrant labourers in the film. They would report to the sets every single day. Just looking at their lost, disaster-wracked faces were enough to learn to some extent the terrible times they were going through. I can never forget their faces. This also taught me a very important lesson about the temporality of everything in life. Nothing in life is permanent or forever. Besides, this helped me to think over the kind of roles and characters I would choose to do at this stage of my career.

What about the trailer of Bheed being pulled out of YouTube and be declared private which led to a famous house withdrawing its name from the banners and another group replacing it?

The trailer was re-released with some modifications after a few days. But many people I spoke to said that they loved the trailer. I think any debate on any film must come only after the film has been released. My guess is that those who love the work of actors like Pankaj Kapoor, Asutosh Rana, Aditya Srivastava, Virendra Saxena will surely come to watch this film,

What kind of films are you looking forward to?

The first preference is for a good story. The second demand is that the film should portray me in a character that would challenge me as an actor. Fortunately, such films have already come my way be it Aligarh in which I portray an empathetic journalist investigating a story on a professor being humiliated and ostracized only because he is gay, or, Queen, in which I play a negative cameo which everyone loved though the film belonged entirely to Kangana Ranaut.

But are these films guaranteed to pull in the mass audience?

I think a film creates its own audience. All we can do as a part of the film is hope for the best, that’s all. Each film creates its own audience. So long as the directors can make the producers happy without losing out on their investment, which, I guess, is possible with a solid storyline, a story that will make the audience think, I am fine with it. All kinds of films can be made but they must strike a balance.

After Bheed, what next?

Guns and Gulaabs is my first Netflix series with the most amazing Raj DK and Krishna Nidimoru who have put together the mind-blowing The Family Man. It is a web series which is a thriller with a touch of comedy.

There’s also Sri, a biopic. Srikanth Bolla is a millionaire businessman who has built Bollant Industries though he is blind. Then there is Mr And Mrs Mahi with Janhvi Kapoor directed by Sharan Sharma for Dharma Productions.


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