Renuka Vyavahare (BOMBAY TIMES; August 11, 2017)

Rajkummar Rao made his film debut with Dibakar Banerjee's Love Sex Aur Dhokha seven years ago and right from his first film, he proved that he is here for the long haul. Post that, he continued to deliver a spade of incredible performances in films like Shahid, Kai Po Che!, Queen, Aligarh and Trapped.Hailing from Gurgaon and having no 'contacts' in the film industry, he managed to prove his mettle and versatility in a world that tends to favour style over substance. Speaking of the National Award-win the National Award-winning actor, Hansal Mehta once said, “Raj surrenders himself to a role without any kind of baggage.“

Rajkummar's thoughts have no baggage either. “A lot of things don't go in your favour but that doesn't make life unfair. Life is good,“ he says ahead of the release of his upcoming film, Bareilly Ki Barfi, produced by Junglee Pictures and BR Studios, directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and written by Nitesh Tiwari (director of the blockbuster Dangal). In a candid chat, he also speaks on the nepotism debate, marriage plans and how people should stop misusing the word 'method acting'. Read on...

You are fast gaining the reputation of being an actor who chooses diverse roles...
My process of being an actor has always been the same. It's just that people are now giving me varied roles and noticing me. I am getting films like Omerta, Trapped and Bareilly Ki Barfi, where I get to portray a multi-shaded character, who looks, sounds and behaves differently. That's what I look for as an actor - roles that can push and challenge my limits.

Was a quirky entertainer like Bareilly Ki Barfi a welcome change after doing intense films like Trapped and Omerta?
Some roles take a toll on your mental and physical health. Trapped was a tough and gruelling shoot and Omerta was explosive. Yes, Bareilly... is a lighter film, but it was a tough role for me as I had to portray a character with diverse shades without going overboard. In one scene itself I had to show two different sides to my character and that was difficult. Ashwiny's film is quirky and the characters are so rooted that you can smell India in it.

You have Ayushmann Khurrana and Kriti Sanon sharing screen space with you in Bareilly Ki Barfi. Is it challenging to be a part of multi-starrers? Is there an inner desire to outshine your co-actors?
If there's a crying scene, you can't think, 'Let me cry better than the others'. You can't compete with your co-star because he is in the same frame with you. Acting is reacting to someone in a scene. Insecure and selfish co-stars, who only think about their camera angle and their lines, put me off. I really can't work like that. I wouldn't be honest with my work then. However, I had a blast working with Ayushmann and Kriti in the film. They are cool co-stars to work with.

A lot of actors use the term method acting quite liberally these days, don't they?
Gaining weight, losing weight and growing a beard is not method acting. That's just being true to your character. I lost nine kilos for Trapped and gained 12 kilos for a biopic in a span of six months. Method acting is a training module. Any actor who undergoes that training is a method actor. Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri can be called method actors.

You are one of the few actors not crippled by the 'Am-I-the-lead-actor' mentality. Aligarh was essentially a Manoj Bajpayee film, while Queen was a Kangana Ranaut movie...
I choose a film by looking at the story as a whole. For instance, I knew right from the beginning that Queen is a special and different story. No matter what your role is, it's always great to be part of a good film than do a lead part in a bad film. Also, so many people know me today because of that film. I knew that Vijay (his character) was not the lead actor and that people won't like him, but without Vijay, there won't be a Queen. He's an integral part of the story.

You don't necessarily fit into the so-called 'Bollywood hero' template. How did you overcome the odds? Nawazuddin Siddiqui spoke about the alleged racism he faced recently...
Thankfully that's changing now, but I have faced it a couple of times. I once heard a story from a certain director and I told him I'd like to audition for it. Sadly, I was told, 'You can't audition for the main guy (hero) but you can for his friend's role.' I argued, 'Why not? I can do justice to the lead role.' They didn't say why I couldn't do it but I got the hint. It has happened to me a couple of times.

So this kind of discrimination does exist...
I understand where they are coming from. It's a very sensitive profession and people are highly insecure. Their minds are conditioned in a certain way about what sells and what doesn't. Someone has put in a lot of money and they want to be secure about it. Nobody wants to take risks, so hats off to people who do so and do well. Filmmakers like Hansal Mehta and Ekta Kapoor, who gave me my first two films Ragini MMS and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha... also Anurag Kashyap and Mukesh Chhabra, who suggested my name to Hansal sir for Shahid.

What do you have to say about the ongoing nepotism debate?
It does exist for sure. I've been affected by it. There was a film that I was supposed to do with a big director for a renowned production house, but someone (star kid) influenced the director and wished to do it instead. And he got the part. Luckily, that film never got made. It's my good karma. It happens, but it's a really big industry. It's not that only the influential and affluent people work in it. There are so many outsiders also, but their road ahead is more difficult. For instance, a star kid might still get ten films before he stops getting work if the first few don't work. For us, we get one film to prove ourselves after so many difficulties. And if that doesn't work, no one gives a damn about you because there are so many like us out there. I don't have an issue with nepotism as long as there's talent on screen. I am very proud of the kind of work that Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt do. Varun Dhawan and a couple of others are also good. You feel they are worthy enough to be where they are. But the problem arises when you see some non actors who have no talent, bagging roles. They are there for whatever reasons and that's when you feel the pinch.

What message would you like to give aspiring actors?
Please work on your craft before hitting the gym and going to a beauty salon. Selfies and social media hoopla are fine, but work on your acting. Fortunately, the casting process has improved a lot. There are opportunities for everyone. Yes, nepotism exists but there is a ray of hope. I am just an ordinary guy from Gurgaon, who dreamt of becoming an actor. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

Is marriage on cards anytime soon?
It will happen eventually, not that I have set a time period. It's not anytime soon. I have no plans as of now. Patralekhaa and I are very happy being with each other. Work is a priority at the moment.

Patralekhaa once playfully said that you literally watch every single film, including the B, C graders in theaters. True?
(Laughs) I used to. Now I have stopped shelling out my hard earned money for bad films. I was a struggler back then. When you have no work, it feels good to sit in an AC movie hall, and kill two hours. Also, I have watched a few films knowing that they will be so bad that they will be fun.