It would be fair to say that actor Rajkummar Rao is the toast of tinsel town these days. The young actor who has had several impressive performances like in his debut film Love Sex Aur Dhokha followed up by Shahid, Aligarh and Kai Po Che in the past is now riding high on his sterling act in Newton, India’s official foreign language film entry to the Oscars and his supporting role in Bareilly Ki Barfi. The recent triumphs have finally got him, in his own words ‘a name recognition’.
The only missing piece in this happy picture is his mother’s absence. She passed away while he was shooting for Newton in a remote jungle, he recalls, his eyes tearing up. Rao puts down Newton’s success to her blessings. “Me being an actor gave her the utmost happiness,” he recalls, emotionally.
The boy from Gurugram has, of course, come a long way. Growing up, while he did briefly toy with the idea of becoming a doctor, fate willed otherwise–he could not make it to medical colleges. He had been training in theatre and dance and that came in handy instead. Rao fondly recalls the days where he cycled long distances to his college and then to his beloved theatre classes. But, all was not just studies and classes- he confesses to that fact that he was a bit of a Gunda and got into a reasonable number of fights. In fact once during a fist-fight where he was sure he was going to be beaten up, all he could do was request the rivals not to hit him on his face as he wanted to become an actor.
The early years in the Mumbai were tough–despite the success of Love, Sex Aur Dhokha and Kai Po Che and his work getting noticed by the audience and people in the film industry– Rao did not get too many roles. But, he did meet his girlfriend Patralekha. Funnily enough, after watching his impressive performance as a sleazy salesman in LSD, she was determined to not work with him in a student film at FTII. But in the course of time, she realised how different he was from his screen avatar.
Watch: Rajkummar Rao gets candid with Priyanka Sinha Jha in the third episode of Expresso
On his part, he remembers how cute he found Patralekha in a mobile SIM commercial and immediately thought that somebody should marry her! When quizzed about that thought- he backtracks a bit. Marriage is not immediately on the cards for the much-in-love couple. But, Rao does admit to her playing a very important role in his life, even going as far as helping him to groom himself and better his spoken English.
Speaking of his resilience through tough times he says it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that one is there for the long haul and not rush into rash decisions. Even in the toughest times he never resorted to tactics like over-networking or gatecrashing parties to meet bigwigs. Instead, he diligently reached out to casting agents for work armed with his showreel, and his simple gamble did pay off.
Rao who now does attend a few parties as part of work is much happier by himself watching movies. “Sometimes when I go to these filmi parties, I smell struggle,” he says.
Rao truly believes that he is following his life’s passion, something that destiny co-conspired with him over. His faint ambition to pursue medicine because his cousins were doing so met with failure as did his one shot at television– he replied to an ad in the newspapers about a television company looking for actors for a television serial and it turned out to be a bogus company!
According to Rao, “God has sent me on this planet to be an actor! I genuinely love what I do. The process of film-making is more important than the by-products,” he avers.
At a stage in his life wherein, he is counted among the most talented young actors on the block, dreams appear to be turning into reality. He received a congratulatory message from none other than veteran superstar Amitabh Bachchan for his powerhouse performance, while perfectionist Aamir Khan advised him to follow his heart and learn from his mistakes.
These may seem like minor details, but, are actually signs that Rao has broken into Bollywood’s premier league. And yet people close to him, Patralekha for one, say that he has not changed at all. “People ask me how I am so grounded—it is because I know where I came from and I know that while things may be good, it can all just vanish in the blink of an eye.”
His advice to youngsters looking to succeed in showbusiness – “Be active, be patient and explore different avenues like short films. There’s no rush. You are not here for 2- 3 or five years. It’s a long journey. Stick with it.”
(Priyanka Sinha Jha is a senior journalist, editor, author, and digital-media specialist.)