In the big league

In the big league

“It may take time, but it will happen,” that was the motto of slain human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi, whose character was beautifully portrayed by actor Rajkummar Rao in the film Shahid.

The film didn’t just get the 29-year-old actor critical acclaim, but also the 61st National Award.

Interestingly, in his case, it did not even take much time.

Unlike many actors, who despite being good are not recognised for years, Rao has been pretty lucky, as the industry realised his potential with his first film — Dibakar Bannerjee’s Love, Sex Aur Dhokha and has been generous towards him with interesting offers as well.

One after another, the actor has got to play good characters in films being helmed by directors known for their distinct style of filmmaking including Anurag Kashyap, Hansal Mehta, Reema Kagti among others.

Early accolades

He accepts that graciously.

“God has been really kind and my films have been liked so far,” says the actor in a soft, courteous tone that suddenly reminds one of the characters that he has portrayed on screen, most of which have showed him as a soft-spoken guy, even if the characters have had shades of grey — whether it was Shahid Azmi in Shahid, Govind in Kai Po Che or Vijay in Queen.

Ask him about the changes that have come in his life after the National Award and he quips, “Well, the number of calls for interviews have increased. Otherwise, life is more or less the same.” And the number of film offers?

“Offers were pouring in even before the Award, but yeah, now I have a variety of roles to choose from. The options have increased manifold,” says the actor who would next be seen in CityLights, directed by Hansal Mehta, portraying the character of an immigrant daily-wage worker, Deepak.

Talking about his journey in the film industry, Rao says that it has been really wonderful so far, especially because he has got to work with some of the most talented filmmakers and has also been a part of films that have been critically as well as commercially successful.

“I never planned my career when I came to Mumbai after completing my course at the Film and Television Institute, Pune. I just went with the flow and my gut feeling and things kept taking their own turn,” he adds.

Remind him of his first film, Dibakar Bannerjee’s Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, and Rao quickly responds, “Getting to work with Dibakar was like a dream come true for me. I had seen his earlier works — Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Khosla Ka Ghosla and knew what a great filmmaker he was. It was just by sheer luck that while approaching casting directors during my initial stages, I met Atul Mongia and got LSD. I can’t be more grateful to God, as it was this film that got me noticed,” he remarks, and shares that the experience of working on the film was very enriching. “Dibakar is a great observer and very encouraging. He just motivated me to give my best,” he adds.

Working relations

The way Rao is grateful to his directors, his directors are similarly appreciative of him. In a recent interview, Hansal Mehta called Rao his muse.

“I am honoured and I accept it gracefully,” Rao quips, as he reveals the close bond that he shares with the director.

“We are like a family. We share a beautiful bond that becomes stronger with the passion for cinema. We try and make films that we believe in. We make films with full honesty and passion and intend to continue that always,” he says.

The actor can go to any length to get into the skin of the character.

Recently, the news of him becoming a daily wage labourer earning Rs 100 per day in Mumbai, was splashed all over. He did this to give his 100 per cent to the character he is portraying in CityLights.

But while he gives his 100 per cent to his characters, he is also particular about the roles he takes up.

When asked what attracted him to Vijay’s character in Queen, considering it was Kangana Ranaut who was getting more screen space and he says, “It was small but a pivotal role. When I read the script, I knew that the film was going to be really good. It was refreshing. I knew that for us, as audience, it would be a new experience.”

Rao defines himself as a simple man. He doesn’t have people who he can call his inspiration.

However, he would like to work in a film directed by Mahesh Bhatt (the producer of CityLights) some day.

While right now his bag is full with many acting assignments, once he grows and learns, he would like to take up direction as well.

“But it is too soon to talk about that as I still have a long way to go in acting,” he concludes.

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