The growing independent cinema scene in India gave him wings but this year, Rajkummar Rao proved that he can straddle the mainstream equally well. The 33-year-old was part of critical and commercial successes, Trapped and Bareilly Ki Barfi. The actor also became the face of India’s entry to the Oscars with Newton, where he essayed the titular character, an endearing and exasperated government official on election duty in a troubled part of Chhattisgarh.
On Saturday, Rao will be the guest at the Express Adda in Mumbai. The Express Adda is a series of informal interactions organised by The Indian Express Group and features those at the centre of change. For the last few years, Rao has been the face of a changing Bollywood. He showed that it was possible for a regular young man from Gurgaon, without glamour and connections, to make it big in Hindi cinema.
The actor made a striking debut in Dibakar Banerjee’s ensemble Love Sex Aur Dhokha in 2010 and followed it up with Kai Po Che! (2013) where he played a young man with quiet, steely ambition. His morally ambivalent characters in Ragini MMS (2011) and Queen (2014) further showcased his versatility.
A graduate from Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Rao’s reputation as a performer was sealed with Hansal Mehta’s Shahid (2013). The film, where he essayed the role of slain human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi, won him a National Award. The actor has never shied from taking up minor roles in important films. His bit parts in Shaitan (2011), Talaash (2012) and Aligarh (2016) have helped him gain a wider audience base.
In Rao’s own words, 2017 has been special. It’s a year where he was part of films from a wide variety of genres and appeal. There was Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped, where the actor brought alive on screen the physical consequences of urban loneliness. In Bareilly Ki Barfi, set in small-town India, he swiftly shifted gears between playing the victim and anti-hero. There’s also Omerta, based on terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.
Each of these projects have reinforced Rao’s position in the industry as a bankable actor. At the Express Adda, Rao will be in conversation with The Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta.
Past guests at the event include the Dalai Lama, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, veteran journalist Mark Tully, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, writer Amitav Ghosh and cricketer Virat Kohli.