EVEN over the telephone, Rohan Chand displays the trait that best defines his character from Bad Words — awkward yet confident. The 10-year-old American actor of Indian origin, who won acclaim for his role in the Hollywood film that released in the US last month, has an answer to every question. While some seem practised, he answers most of them with honesty and maturity.
“Jason, who has been a child actor himself, understood me very well. It’s from him that I learnt to keep my performance real and natural,” says Chand about television sit-com Arrested Development actor Jason Bateman, who made his directorial debut with Bad Words. New York-based Chand plays the lead role in the black comedy alongside Bateman.
The film tells the story of a 40-year-old Guy Trilby, who uses a loophole in a spelling bee competition to enter as a contestant. He sabotages it by winning against other eight-year-olds to reach the finale where he’s pitted against Chaitanya Chopra, played by Chand. Along the way, the two competitors forge an unlikely friendship.
Chand’s parents, both IT professionals, were initially apprehensive about having their eight-year-old act in the film. Since it had obscenities, theatrical viewing for under 17-year-olds could only be with parental guidance. Black lines ran over the censored portions in the script that was handed to his parents. Bateman shared and discussed the script with them, and they finally came around. “They took me to watch the film eventually,” says Chand.
While the response to Bad Words, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, has brought him under the spotlight, Chand has been part of several prestigious projects. The actor made his debut at the age of six after a casting agent spotted him playing baseball. That meeting bagged him the role of Adam Sandler’s adopted son in Jack & Jill (2011). “Adam’s extremely funny, he would keep joking before the shots. I picked up ways to make people laugh from Adam,” says Chand.
He also did a small role in Lone Survivor (2013) alongside Mark Wahlberg. Now, he has two new projects lined up. There’s The Hundred-Foot Journey by Lasse Hallström about an Indian chef who moves to France to open a restaurant and faces competition from a French eatery. The film, which also stars Om Puri, Juhi Chawla and Helen Mirren, will see Chand play the chef in his early years. The other is a Disney animation where he will lend voice to a character.