Rajkummar Rao on his role in Trapped, what makes a method actor and his relationship with Hansal Mehta.
In terms of a story, Trapped is a fairly bare-bones situation. How did you and director Vikramaditya Motwane approach the project?
Trapped is a survival drama and there’s a love story too. We shot chronologically for 18-20 days, which is the timeframe of the film. That was really important, because it helped us build the tension, and we could map out Shaurya’s (the lead character) mindspace as he realises that he is locked in his flat and cannot reach out for help. I lived on carrots and coffee for many days, I had blackouts similar to Shaurya’s, but one doesn’t get too many chances to immerse yourself so mentally and physically into a film.
I’ve been dying to work with Vikram and we met at an event in 2015. He sent me the idea of this film and I’m a big fan of films such as Cast Away and 127 Hours; we were both wondering why no film like that has been made in India as yet. He is one of the finest directors in the country.
Do you think that the film has any overarching themes such as alienation in a big city?
It does address the kind of loneliness that takes place in a big city, inside these apartment complexes. I have lived in a building complex where an ambulance was called because somebody had died alone and their body was found after five days. I find that we are becoming emotionally weak, we don’t care unless something affects us personally.
What do you look for in a role?
It should make sense to me on a human level, that what is described in the story can happen. Also, it should excite me as an actor; it needn’t be something new but should give me the chance to approach the subject in a different way. I’m very impulsive, too. If I really like a script, I don’t connect too many dots and think if it will do well at the box office or if it will win me an award.
Every time an actor undergoes a physical transformation in Bollywood, they are labelled a ‘method’ actor. Would you call yourself one?
I hope people read this response (laughs). So Lee Strasburg and Konstantin Stanislavski have outlined their methods and any actor who undergoes that training can call himself a method actor. I did so at FTII (Pune), so I can call myself a method actor; although I’d prefer to say that I am an honest actor, because I commit myself to the craft and the character. But growing a beard or a paunch is not method acting.
Last year, your alma mater witnessed a lot of turbulence and interference from the government. What would you say to the class of 2017?
I’m very optimistic about their future. Students at FTII are immensely talented and passionate, and they will contribute to the growth of Indian cinema. What happened there is very unfortunate, so I hope they get to study peacefully.
You have a unique relationship with Hansal Mehta. What about it sustains you as an actor?
There’s a great sense of comfort when we work together. After Shahid (2013), CityLights (2014), Aligarh (2016) and now Omerta, we understand each other at a different level. He doesn’t shoot for 12-15 hours and we don’t need to exchange too many words to communicate. As an actor, I love silence while portraying a character, because we don’t need to spoonfeed our audience. Hansal sir gets it. He has also written such amazing characters for me; there’s not much else I can ask for, except to take responsibility of those roles. A film like Omerta has not been made in India as yet, maybe even in the world. I cannot tell you more.
Your next release, Newton, won the Art Cinema award for the Forum section at the Berlinale.
It was brilliant to be there. I got the script in November 2015 and we finished shooting Newton last March. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to go to Chhattisgarh and shoot with indigenous people. It’s about Nutan Kumar who hates his name and therefore, calls himself Newton. He thinks the election process has to be followed in a certain way but others have a different idea. It’s a fun film, and will release in a few months.