Showbiz can tower forebodingly like an unscalable monolith for outsiders but within the span of a few years, Rajkummar Rao had decisively bent the industry to his will with the one-two punch of critically-acclaimed titles like Shahid (2013)—his turn as the gritty lawyer in a polarised political landscape fetching a National Film Award for his trophy shelf—supplemented with more commercial fare like Stree (2018). Today, his decision to champion content-backed stories from the teething stages of his career would appear almost prophetic, as the influx of streaming platforms heralds a new era of prestige television.
But if you were to ask Rao to choose between the latter and his first love—the glorious world of cinema—he would demur from picking favourites. “Whether I am doing Monica, O My Darling or Mr and Mrs Mahi, my process as an actor stays the same. You cannot deny the power of OTT platforms, but there is that hidden magic of watching a movie on a big screen… that feeling of watching and experiencing something together as a community that can never be replicated,” he muses.
It was in one of these darkened cinema halls where a young Rao exalted in Raj and Simran’s triumph of love in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) and revelled in the poetic patriotism of youth in Rang De Basanti (2006). That his destiny lay in the storied echelons of cinema was clear, it would just serve as a matter of when. And while he doesn’t prescribe a formula for success, an iron-clad will and boundless passion like his ought to do the trick. “If you really have faith in what you do, there will always be opportunities. It can be tough at times, but I have never had a plan B. If you love something truly and are willing to keep working hard everyday, things will come together in one way or another.”
And it is perhaps this passion for his craft that enables to pull off chameleonic changes—in the span of the past year, Rao has morphed from a closeted gay man in Badhaai Do to a razor-sharp homicide investigator in HIT: The First Case. Deeming it as a conscious choice, he laughs that he doesn’t want to get bored of himself. “When I am reading a movie script, I tune in to my instincts and my gut feelings. I never want to compartmentalise myself by playing the same roles over and over again. The diversity of characters, different types of storytelling and varied formats is where the true joy of being an actor is,” he smiles.
This thirst to get under the skin of new characters and breathe life into diverse stories is why remakes don’t excite him—“There is only one Taj Mahal, no point remaking it,” he quips—although he wouldn’t mind surfing through the sands of time to witness an epic like Mughal-e-Azam (1960) being made. His voice grows distant as he allows himself a moment to revel in the gilded glory of a bygone era, but as he steps back into the present day to survey the cinematic landscape, he concedes that there has never been a more exciting time to be alive. “We are giving due importance to the stories now. With the advent of streaming platforms, the world is shrinking. People have access to some truly incredible content and they are expecting the same from commercial cinema. It is a joy to see the industry pushing the envelope.” And if content is truly king, then Rao’s boundary-blurring passion for his craft holds the keys to the kingdom.
All Credits: Photographer :Roy Fashion Stylist : Harmann Kaur Hair : Vijay P Raskar Make Up : Nitin Purohit Branding Manager : Aangi Assisted by : Anokha Ann (fashion styling) Cover Design : Xunayana Words by : Hasina Jeelani Production : CutLoose Productions Artist’s reputation management : Media Raindrop