As an actor, actor Rajkummar Rao is all about performances. Last seen in Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger opposite Priyanka Chopra, Rao let a new guy, Gourav Adarsh, bask in the glory of the film’s success.
Now with his upcoming film, Badhaai Do, a sequel to the 2018-super hit film Badhaai Ho, a normally thin-framed Rajkummar Rao has bulked up for his role as a cop. “Playing a cop is always exciting for me. I am shooting in Dehradun for the film and there is another film, the remake of the 2020-Telugu film Hit, in which I am playing a cop. It is an exciting story,” says Rao who admits to have loved some cop roles in movies. “I am a big fan of films like Ardh Satya, Shool and Ab Tak Chhappan. I really like those kinds of characters. And these characters would be my reference when I play a cop,” says Rao.
Treating an acting bug
According to Rao, acting was the only talent he had. “I fell in love with my art when I was a kid. I was never chasing fame and money; this is what I wanted to do. I did theatre and went to the Film Institute as I did not want to come here unprepared,” he says talking about how he went about with his preparations for the craft. “You’ll have friends who’ll say that you do very good mimicry and impressions and look good too. And they’ll ask you to go to Mumbai and be an actor. But it is not that simple.
Cinema is changing and we need talent out there now. We need to get trained and have some experience before coming here. I came here and I did not want to give up chasing my dream without Plan B.”
But it was not all about films for the actor, who had wanted to do something with theatre after school. “There was this wonderful place called Shriram Centre for Performing Arts near Mandi House, and I enrolled for a two-year acting course, for which I travelled from Gurugram to Delhi in the state roadway buses,” recounts Rao, getting nostalgic. “I come from a humble middle-class family; we were not too financially well-off. My dad Satyapal Yadav was a government employee working in the revenue department. So someone told me that I should arrange a bus pass by enrolling into a Delhi University college as I was spending a lot of money daily in travelling.”
With a decent academic performance in Class 12, Rao applied to different colleges and got into one where he pursued his bachelor of arts.
Then on, a different schedule ensued. The actor who was then called Rajkumar Yadav would leave home by 6:30 am and reach college and then keep acting, preparing for plays and return home by 11 pm for dinner, following the same routine for three years. “That is when I learnt FTII was restarting their acting course. As I’d always wanted to act in films, I applied and got through in my first attempt. There, you are not just attending classes — I spent two and a half years breathing cinema and ‘talking actors’ with some great teachers,” says Rao.
For all the film talk happening to him then, Rajkummar recounts how the only Hollywood star he knew before FTII was Tom Cruise.
“The place I come from, in Prem Nagar, Gurgaon, I had access to only Hindi films,” he explains. “But FTII opened a new world for me. There, I watched films of Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, Kurosawa and François Truffaut, and was inspired by many including Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro. I realised that acting was not only about looking good and saying your lines. It had become a much deeper spiritual journey for me.”
Finding his footing
The actor points out how much he owes his parents. “My mother always had faith in me. She asked me to keep working and that it will work out. She never told me, ‘Why don’t you try TV serials?’ It is not that I am looking down upon that medium, but I wanted to be in films. I was staying in Mumbai with two of my batch mates, chasing my dream since 2008, and Mumbai is an expensive city. There were days when there was no money for food, and we’d go to a friend’s house and ask, ‘Can I share your meal?’ And they were kind enough to do that,” he says.
Life did, however, change for him after his debut film in 2010, Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (LSD), with Dibakar Banerjee.
“I never thought LSD would change anything for me in that I didn’t think people would scream out my name on the streets. But I knew that this would be a film that people would watch and directors would notice my work in, and that is what happened. Anurag offered me Gangs of Wasseypur 2 and then Mukesh Chhabra got me Shahid and Shahid got me a National Award,” he reminisces....