This edition of Express Adda, held at Tote on the Turf in Mumbai, hosted actor Rajkummar Rao. In a discussion moderated by The Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta, Rao talked about being drawn to characters with many shades, censorship and creating a dialogue, and why it’s a good time to be in films.
On starting out
I was born and raised in Gurgaon. I grew up in a joint family, in a typical middle-class north Indian family. I went into martial arts when I was in Class III or IV. Then dance came into my life. But we had a ritual; every weekend, the whole family would sit together and watch two or three films every night on VHS. And I was madly in love with films and that world. For some reason, I used to think as a kid that these actors are not from this planet. It’s a surreal world and they must be living this amazing glamorous life but at that time I didn’t think of becoming an actor. I remember watching Agneepath and crying my eyes out and sitting with my head in the pillow saying, ‘God please Amitabh Bachchan ko zinda kar do. Woh mar nahi sakta, woh Amitabh Bachchan hai. So, I was a very filmi kid. I did my first play in Class XI, where I played Oedipus. I really enjoyed being someone else on stage. After Class XII, I joined Shri Ram Centre. From Class XI, my life just changed. My focus was only on acting. For three years, I was totally into it. There was never a plan B.
On getting his break in Love Sex Aur Dhoka
I came to Mumbai in 2008 after passing out from FTII. You know the usual struggle but I don’t have too many emotional stories to share that I slept on footpaths and all. That didn’t happen; my family really supported me. In 2010, I was visiting FTII and I saw an ad that said Dibakar Banerjee is planning his first digital film and he wants to cast newcomers. I was a huge Dibakar fan and I knew his characters were mostly from Delhi. I thought this was my golden opportunity, I can’t let it go.
I kept calling up the casting director Atul Mongia till he asked me to meet his assistant, Neha Chauhan. I gave a test which Banerjee liked but he asked me to lose some weight. I used to eat a lot of gulab jamuns. I started running since that day and I am still running. After a few rounds of auditions, I got that one phone call that everyone in the city was waiting for. That changed my life. And since LSD, I am still working. In Ragini MMS, I was hesitant to play a character with grey shades. Since Ekta (producer Ekta Kapoor) was keen to cast me, I thought of taking it up as a challenge because I love the horror genre.
On Kai Po Che! and being socially responsible
Kai Po Che! was a big film for me. But I feel as an actor, as an artist, you should be socially responsible. I really don’t want to do films where I am spreading hatred or something that if I do probably 10 other boys from small towns will follow me.
I am aware of my social responsibility.
Riots were a part of Kai Po Che!, but it was not only about riots, it was about friendship, these three characters and their lives, and cricket.
On being Newton
I thought it’s a great script, it has intelligent humour and it talks about something so important. It talks about democracy, about elections, the way it functions in really remote areas and about a character Newton who is so idealistic that we don’t see people like him, especially in our cinema these days. Probably earlier we used to see, but not anymore. So, I thought it was a great chance to showcase someone like Nutan Kumar (Newton) on screen, who actually doesn’t have too many shades. He’s a single-minded guy. As an actor, I cherish doing parts with shades, but Newton was single-minded. There was a rope and he was walking on that same rope from frame one to the last one.