Gajraj Rao’s homophobic act in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan has received a thumbs-up even before the film’s release on February 21. “My characters are not cardboard characters. They have been written beautifully. Even their dialogues are so real,” he says. The actor, who claims to be watchful about not getting stereotyped in father roles post the success of Badhaai Ho, feels humbled that filmmakers are offering him characters which are complete.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS), which revolves around same-sex love, features Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar as the lead pair. The romantic social drama also stars Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta, Manu Rishi Chaddha and Sunita Rajwar.
In a candid chat with indianexpress.com, Rao shared his expectations from the Hitesh Kewalya directorial. The actor also revealed why he is content with his journey to stardom, despite things coming to him very late.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan comes with a very strong message, wrapped in humour. Is that the new norm in Bollywood, of presenting socially relevant stories with a pinch of laughter?
I don’t know whether it’s become a norm or not. But I feel presenting it using humour is a good way to deal with a difficult, less talked about topic. I don’t like films which are preachy. In Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, without giving any lecture, we are showcasing a relationship using situational comedy.
You seem to be redefining the way the Indian father is presented in our films.
I try not to play only father characters and avoid getting stereotyped. Like in Badhaai Ho, Jeetendra Kaushik was a very good husband, son, and father. He had three dimensions. Even Shankar Tripathi in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is not just a father, but a man of several roles. I am an elder brother, and a Botany professor too. So if I demand that a unique character be written for me, that won’t happen. I feel humbled that the new age writers and directors are writing such roles for me.
So how is Shankar Tripathi different from Jeetendra Kaushik?
Jeetendra Kaushik was very mellow and adjusting. He wasn’t aggressive and orthodox about things. Like he left the decision to bear the child to his wife (Neena Gupta’s Priyamvada Kaushik). Shankar Tripathi, despite loving his family, is a stubborn man. Hence, he gets shocked to know that his son is gay. The story revolves around this turmoil in his family.
Do you think Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan was possible because it came in the aftermath of the judgement on Section 377?
The film wouldn’t have been possible before the judgement. If something is unlawful, you can’t depict that. It’s great that such a judgement was passed. Now filmmakers can weave stories around such a “taboo” subject.
You play a homophobic dad in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. Did working on this film change your perception about same-sex love in any manner?
When I was assisting in Delhi, there was a young boy who joined as an intern. Prior to that, I had read a little or seen in films which depict such a relationship in a very inaccurate manner and create funny gay characters. So you carry that same image. But when I interacted with the intern, I got to know about it in-depth and realised this isn’t some illness or disorder. It’s pretty normal. Your wavelengths need to match, that’s it. When you get connected with theatre, you start seeing the world differently. That’s when my point of view was formed, and then I felt no objection or discomfort about same-sex relationships.
You and Neena Gupta give major couple goals onscreen. How did you two achieve that comfort at this stage of your careers?
We are fortunate that the audience wants to see us performing together. When both come from a theatre background, things become easy for you. So there hasn’t been any kind of awkwardness as yet. I hope writers and directors continue to create such roles for us. We have a mutual admiration club. We were shooting for Badhaai Ho in Delhi and Neena ji’s husband lives there. So we got home-cooked food from his residence every day. When you have such kind of understanding and collaboration, things become fun. You must’ve heard the news about those would-be in-laws from Surat who ran away together. A friend told me that a film should be made on this and Neena ji and I should play the parts. It’ll be a very interesting plot.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan was a set of reunions – Badhaai Ho (Ayushmann Khurrana and Neena Gupta) and TVF (Jitendra Kumar and Maanvi Gagroo). Tell us more.
Ayushmann, Neena ji and my journey began from where we left Badhaai Ho. Hence we enjoyed Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan a lot. Ayushmann is such a nice human being. He is very hardworking and real. He keeps reading and writes poetry. So you can steal a thing or two about the new generation from him. With Jeetu, I am doing TVF’s Tech Conversations since 4-5 years. But its shooting happens in one day, here we were together for almost two months. So we got to know new sides of our personalities. Maanvi is a very intelligent girl. Her and Ayushmann’s sense of humour and wit is at par.
Jeetu and Ayushmann had a great understanding when it came to their characters. Their rapport was like Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja. When they opened a cricket match together, the barrier of a senior and junior vanished. It was only about performance. Jeetu and Ayushmann have also played their inning in a similar manner. Then the film has Manu Rishi. Even he is a fabulous actor. You’ll get to see a new side of his performance.
You began with Bandit Queen in 1994, but found recognition only recently. Was the journey too long?
There might be one side of Gajraj who will complain that it took a very long time. But there is another side that lets everything come at its own time and pace. That’s most important. Despite being talented, so many people don’t get such opportunities all through their lives. 25 years is a long journey, yet I don’t have any regrets. I see all the fame coming my way right now as a dream because this isn’t an eternal happiness. Who doesn’t like to be complimented? The love that I see in fans’ eyes cannot be compared with any trophy. I am enjoying the moment, but I tell myself that this is all business where conditions apply.
Which is the role that’s closest to you?
Badhaai Ho’s Jitendra Kaushik. I am looking for a similar part since past one year. A character that is complete in itself. The challenge that this character gave me was amazing. Now that the film is successful and the character got all the love, it looks easy, but it wasn’t. I was acting in a different manner on the first day. Then Amit (Sharma, director) told me how to do it. I will share an interesting story. The scene where grandmother (Surekha Sikri) scolds Priyamvada (Neena Gupta) in the morning and Priyamvada leaves the house while I follow her, that shot and the following shot where we sit in our car and the neighbour asks us where we were going, is the same scene in the film, but was shot on three different days. So to manage such continuity is a challenge.
What kind of audience reception do you expect from Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan?
Whatever reaction we have got from the audience so far, whether they are open or not to such relationships, they will definitely watch Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. People at least have understood that the intention of this movie is good. There is honesty in the thoughts. Now it’s on the audience how they see this story.
You are also a part of Maidaan.
I am currently shooting for Maidaan which will go on till April. It is based on Syed Abdul Rahim, a football coach in the 1960s, and how he led a medal-winning team. I play a very different part, that of an antagonist. Just like Amit wanted me to do Badhaai Ho, he told me that even this role is meant only for me. And after Badhaai Ho, I have blind faith in Amit. Whatever he will ask me to do, I will do.
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