Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar

Go to Rajkummar Rao’s house and he goes to the kitchen to get water for you, himself. When you get surprised at that, he says, ‘my maid is on leave.’ ‘But I can even make tea for you. I make really good tea,’ he adds. He’s in the middle of several other promotional activities and we soon settle down to chat about ‘Behen Hogi Teri’. He’s in his new look for ‘Bose’, so is seen sporting a hat to sort of hide that. His on-screen characters might be complex and layered; off-screen though, Raj is as simple as it gets. Honest and to-the-point – discover that as you go through this interview. Excerpts:

How did you come and board for ‘Behen Hogi Teri’?
Amul and Tony, they called me to their office and told me about this film. I went there with a neutral mind. I loved the concept, I thought it was very relatable. I know people like Gatoo and Binny. There were people like this around me when I was growing up and somewhere even I have done things like Gatoo. So, I found it exciting. And somewhere, even I wanted to do a light-hearted film after a couple of mentally and physically exhausting films. It didn’t take that much time to say yes.

While the first look of the film (you dressed as Shiva) was hugely appreciated, it also gave rise to controversies and objection…
I used to dress up as Shiva, and act like him in jagrans and it’s normal. People dress up like that during plays or in jagrans. I think we just made a big issue of out of it. I love Lord Shiva, I fast on Mahashivratri, so people can’t tell me I am disrespecting him just by acting like him. People have to understand that we are artists, actors and I’m just playing my character. Gattoo is someone who acts like Shiva in this jagran mandli. I’m not doing anything more than that. But the first look came out and people took offence. So, people should have waited to see the film. If they want to offend to that, then they should first stop the jagrans and everything which happens for real.

You said you wanted to do a light-hearted film…but did this one also require some bit of preparation?
These are fun films. So, it’s all about living in the moment, to try and make it funny. I think comedy is all about the timing. If you have a great script, director, as actors we just had to be in that situation and react. It’s a very situational comedy. I’ve had similar situations. I grew up in a mohalla where there were girls and boys, they liked each other but never could tell each other about their feelings. Then when I’m playing a character, I would do everything to be like him. So, in this case, I had to learn a new language, a Lucknowi accent. It helped in this case because I’ve had similar experiences.

The pairing has been quite unique…how was it teaming up with Shruti Haasan?
It was wonderful. She’s a talented, extremely gorgeous girl and very co-operative on set. I think we share a good chemistry, I have been getting many messages that we have a good chemistry. That’s what you want – people should believe you are actually a couple. Even ‘Behen Hogi Teri’, it’s not a typical hero-heroine kind of film. This film just deals with characters from small-town India. The major part of India is small town. I am not beating up 20 guys at a time, so it’s not unreal. Gattoo can’t do that, but he’s sharp, street-smart.

What has been the influence behind sticking to characters or films more in the real space?
I don’t like watching films which I can’t relate to, at a human level, unless you’re making a film like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Bahubali’ which is larger-than-life and grand in its scale. I don’t mind doing these films. But when you’re trying to say that a guy can sing songs and beat 10 people and do everything, in a real-relatable story, I know it is fake.

Which has been your most difficult character to pull off?
I think ‘CityLights’. But again, it keeps changing. When I did ‘Trapped’, I thought that was more difficult. Now I’m doing ‘Bose’ and finding that more difficult. It’s a good thing since I’m somewhere pushing myself as an actor. A lot of films were challenging for me – ‘Citylights’, ‘Trapped’, ‘Ometa’ with Hansal sir, or even ‘Ragini MMS’ for that matter, that was horror in a real space. You had to be really scared and not look like you’re just acting. When we are scared, our breathing also changes so all of that was also difficult.

You moved to ‘Behen Hogi Teri’ from ‘Trapped’ I believe? How was that transition?
I had to finish ‘Bareily Ki Barfi’ before I moved to this one. As an actor I didn’t want to be in my comfort zone. It takes time, it took time for me to get off my mental state of ‘Trapped’. But I do one film at a time. I fiinish it, take a few weeks off and then go to another film. I finished ‘Trapped’, took some time off and then started preparing for ‘Bareily Ki Barfi’ and ‘Behen Hogi Teri’ because you have to get into a different zone, learn a new language, work with a new team and actors. Also because ‘Trapped’ was a difficult film for me. Mentally, I was really exhausted. In a way, ‘Behen Hogi Teri’ was a breather for me. Having said that, my commitment for every film is the same. I wouldn’t take a film like this lightly. I have to be really there. The hard work I put in for every film must be the same. Just the situation changes. For example, someone saw the film and told me that it’s commendable how as an actor you make some things so believable. But it’s a sensible commercial film, there’s logic behind the characters. It took me some time to get over ‘Trapped’ but as an actor you enjoy it.

“I don’t like watching or doing films which I can’t relate to, at a human level, unless you’re making a film like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Bahubali”

This sort of appreciation might have also made you confident though?
No, I get really scared before starting any film. I’ve started shooting for ‘Bose’ and I’ve shot for 6-7 days but I’m still nervous. I don’t know how it will happen. I don’t feel very confident as an actor but I want to do it. I don’t want to do things which I know I can. I want to push myself, and try things which I would have never imagined. That’s what keeps me going as an actor – when I finish the film, look at it again and get surprised that I could do something I’d never imagined myself to do. You always pick up mistakes, and you always feel you can do better. But I love the process, I love watching films. I get very inspired by other performances. As far as myself is concerned, I watch myself and I feel things could have been better. But when you’ve worked hard, and see the whole thing coming alive, it’s a great feeling.

Is your state of mind on a personal level, also different while shooting different films?
It does happen. For example, right now I’m doing ‘Bose’ and my state of mind is very different. I am promoting this film, but I miss being on set right now. I want to go to Calcutta and be in that environment. Especially, in Bose you have to literally feel like you belong to that era and want to fight for your motherland. But now I’m living it and totally enjoying it.

In a way, ‘Behen Hogi Teri’ is your first proper romcom. Like a quintessential hero kind of film, if I may say so. Did that bring any pressure?
I think with these films, the only pressure is that you have to look a certain way. You cannot compromise on that. The perception is that, for a commercial film the lead actor has to look a certain way. I’m not saying, he has to be the best looking person ever but I had to physically take care of myself. I was on a strict diet, I was completely taking care of my hair, my skin. Physically, I was taking care that I look better than any of the characters I’ve played so far. Also, Shruti Haasan is so gorgeous, so I thought, it shouldn’t look like a very odd pairing. I think I’m looking my best in ‘Behen Hogi Teri’. Also, in earlier films I was working on my characters. I had to look like Deepak Singh in ‘CityLights’. I had to look like this really thin, tired guy. With ‘Behen Hogi Teri’, I had the option to look my best.

Do you think, there’s a pressure to fit into the expectations of a quintessential Hindi cinema hero?
I think, it’s mostly for female actors. Everyone’s perception towards beauty is very different. But yes, there’s definitely a pressure to really fit into that definition of a commercial Hindi cinema hero and heroine.

Has it been conscious to have a mixed bag of films this year that include different genres?
It just happened that this year there’s a ‘Trapped’, ‘Behen Hogi Teri’, ‘Newton’ and ‘Bareily Ki Barfi’. It’s a mere co-incidence. If today also, someone comes to me with a script which doesn’t fit into the so-called commercial category, I’d do it if I like it.

Somewhere amidst these different characters, is it difficult to stay connected to the real you?
I started feeling that somewhere I’m not giving time to myself which is sad actually. It gets monotonous. Though I love being on set, I want to be on a set every day of my life but after a point, you have to detach yourself and then start looking inside. So, I’m going to take some time off, after ‘Bose’ and spend some time with yourself.

What has been your influence while growing up as far as cinema is concerned?
I have been and I am a hardcore Hindi cinema lover – I grew up watching Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Irrfan so I took a bit of all these people. I used to mimic them actually.

Since ‘Behen Hogi Teri’ is a rom-com…tell us which is your favourite comedy film and love story?
I love ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ and ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’ as far as comedy films are concerned. My favourite Hindi love story is ‘Dil Se’. The way Mani Ratnam has shown love in the film is amazing. Manisha’s character, she loves this guy but she’ll never show it, and he’ll never show it either. They’re such complex characters.

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