Though he is not complaining, Rajeev Khandelwal, who moved from television to feature films with determination and focus, is yet to touch stardom.
Rajeev is just happy with the acclaim he has received for his film debut, Aamir (2008), which is very close to his heart, Shaitan and Table No. 21, and the way people liked those films.
For the uninitiated, Rajeev began as a production controller in a Delhi-based production house.
Then came a stint as a model, followed by the telefilm Kya Hadsaa Kya Haqeeqat.
His big break was the Balaji serial Kaahin To Hoga, followed by roles in thrillers like C.I.D., Time Bomb 9/11 and Left Right Left.
He was even the host of the game show Deal Ya No Deal and the talk show Sach Ka Saamna.
Caught in a flurry of meets with the media, we ask him whether there is anything he wanted to say, but could not because no one asked him!
He nods his head and says, “I think it is important to educate people about films, what they see, and what they perceive. It is not nice that mindsets are being created today and therefore, opinions too.”
In an introspective mood, he goes on, “In the past, films would genuinely work because they struck a chord.
Today, there is a perception that something will work, and something won’t.
Good films go unnoticed with the theory that audiences don’t take to them. But when you watch a film, you need to go deeper and understand it.”
Unmindful of the past he gives as reference, when it was the mainstream films predominantly that succeeded, he says, “I can’t bring myself to do a no-brainer. I am not brilliant — my weakness is that I need a solid script. But my confidence has increased from the time when my first film Aamir opened in 350 screens to the 600 that Shaitan got, and now we are looking at 1000-plus for Samrat & Co.”
Aamir, he says, also got unstinted praise.
“There was no one at all who criticised it,” he remembers.
“Table No. 21 did make a small profit, but as I said, such films need to be marketed better, and it should not be assumed that they will not be accepted by the audience because of the lack of big stars and hype.”
As for his comparatively commercial movie Will You Marry Me? that was a disaster, he reveals, “The film as released was not at all what was narrated to me.”
We probe deeper and ask him why he cannot challenge himself as an actor and do a mainstream film that will help him attain a certain commercial standing, and then blend his career with the kind of films he likes.
Pondering for a moment, he surprisingly agrees with the suggestion.
“I think you are right. I have shut doors. I hope that I get the chance to try that cinema too,” he smiles.
Coming to Samrat & Co, Rajeev admits that it is an entirely new zone for him.
“My knowledge of detective fiction was zero. But my writer-director Kaushik Ghatak is raised on Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Feluda and every kind of detective fiction. He had a complete script and in a workshop that we did, he gave me 20 situations and then asked me to imitate him on how Samrat should behave in each as an ace private investigator. He made me watch BBC shows on Holmes and went to every length to make his enthusiasm for the genre rub off on me.”
In the first few days of the shoot, nevertheless, Rajeev was uncomfortable.
“But then, with the overcoat and scarf that was practically a uniform, and the effect of the workshop, I got into the groove. The smart look and the impressive strides helped me believe in my character.”
Samrat, he says, is a Mumbai-based detective and the film opens with a girl, the heroine played by Madalsa, coming to him for help.
“Her case is so unique that I am bound to help her.”
Is there a romantic angle? Rajeev smiles as he says, “I cannot reveal that.” But the case takes him to Himachal Pradesh.
“The ruse is simple. In Mumbai’s weather, I cannot wear the impressive stock costumes of a detective,” he smiles.
He agrees that if this film works, producer Kavita Barjatya and director Kaushik have planned it as the first of a big-screen detective franchise, a genre hitherto foreign to Hindi cinema.
So where does the heroine stand in the later films?
A smile is all we get in reply, though he adds, “Kaushik has created, over four years, a complete world of Samrat. He says that he has used only 10 per cent of that world here. They are also planning to launch comics of Samrat & Co.”
In any case, Samrat is now firmly ingrained into Rajeev’s psyche.
Admits the actor, “I now realise that observation and conclusion as habits are just something that we normal people miss and detectives train themselves to notice.
Today, I can look at you and surmise some things about you, your character and your recent activities, thanks to Samrat.
In fact, I surprise my wife and friends now with some simple conclusions that are almost always right.”