Rinku Rajguru, not yet 21, already has a neat pile of achievements: three Marathi films, a direct-to-streamer Hindi movie, parts in two anthology productions, and an important role in a web series.

All this while studying for an arts degree. Rajguru continues to live with her parents and younger brother in Akluj town near Solapur. Physically attending college was out of question for Rajguru even in pre-Covid days. The overnight stardom that followed her stunning debut in Sairat in 2016 meant that Rajguru has had to opt for distance education.

“I have never experienced college life, never hung around with friends,” Rajguru told Scroll.in. “I told attend exams and study in between when I get the time.”

When Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi-language Sairat came out in 2016, director Sujay Dahake had publicly marvelled at its then 15-year-old heroine’s preternatural ability to capture innocence and young love without artifice. The essence of Rajguru’s performance should be preserved, even bottled up if necessary, given how rare it is, Dahake had said at the time – remarks he confirmed in a recent conversation with Scroll.in.

Yad Lagla, Sairat (2016).

That essence has since acquired more layers. Rajguru’s latest role is in the Netflix anthology film Ankahi Kahaniya. Rajguru appears alongside Delzad Hiwale in the chapter directed by Abhishek Chaubey. Rajguru plays Manjari, a frequent patron at Pradeep Talkies, where Hiwale’s Nandu works as an usher. A relationship develops between Manjari and Nandu, both achingly young but already battered souls seeking respite from their hardscrabble lives.

Rajguru’s expressive eyes, the highlight of a mobile face capable of portraying light mischief and deep sadness, is put to good use in Chaubey’s film. Although she has been in a few Hindi productions, Rajguru hasn’t yet shed her Marathi accent while performing in the language.

“I have asked for an accent coach, but so far, I have played Marathi characters,” she explained. “If a director tells me I need to change my accent, I will definitely work on it.”

Language is no bar for Rajguru, she asserted: “ I haven’t really thought about whether I want to focus on Hindi or Marathi. All I want is to be in good films, work with good people and portray all kinds of different characters. The language doesn’t matter.”

Unpaused (2020).

Among the Maharashtrian characters Rajuguru has played is in the series Hundred, directed by Ruchi Narain, Ashutosh Shah and Taher Shabbir. The Disney+ Hotstar web series from 2020 has given Rajguru the biggest platform for her talent.

Rajguru plays Nethra, a feisty young woman who, upon learning that she is terminally ill, agrees to become a part of a police officer’s mission to prove herself at her workplace. Rajguru – not for the first time in her career – confidently shares the screen with such seasoned performers as Lara Dutta and Makarand Deshpande. Adventurous, sassy and funny, Nethra is Rajguru’s most rounded role till date.

Among Nethra’s most memorable moments is the one in which she checks out Shantanu (Siddharth Gautam), a handsome racketeer. Equally relatable are a slow-burning date and a morning-after scene that follows a romp between Nethra and Shantanu.

“Ruchi told me that Nethra had been written specifically for me,” Rajguru said. “I had never done comedy before. The script was great fun to read, the atmosphere on the sets was fun too, and I went full-on into the character.”

Siddharth Gautam and Rinku Rajguru in Hundred (2020). Courtesy RAT Films.

The 1980s-set Ankahi Kahaniya was an opportunity to play a different kind of Maharashtrian woman. “I felt a connect since I am a Marathi girl too, and the role is different from what I have done in the past,” Rajguru said. “All Abhishek sir told me was, behave like a young woman in the 1980s. He also made me learn needlework, since Manjari is good with embroidery.”

Rajguru relies on instinct, observation and internalisation, she says. “I don’t discuss my character too much, but I listen a lot since my job is to execute the director’s vision,” she added.

Rajguru is the first person from her family in showbiz. “My family is full of teachers,” she said. That includes her parents, Mahadev and Usha.

They have been hugely supportive of Rajguru’s ambition. “My father is a great dancer, and my mother is a very good singer,” Rajguru said. While she has a manager, her father overseers her professional moves.

Rajguru consults her parents when she is offered roles, but only after she has asked herself, can she do it? Does she see herself as the character?

Her mother wants Rajguru to be in a film like Sadma, the Balu Mahendra drama starring Sridevi and Kamal Haasan. Sridevi, alongside Smita Patil, Amitabh Bachchan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, are among the actors Rajguru named as her favourites.

Ankahi Kahaniya (2021).

Rajguru’s still blossoming career includes the Marathi political drama Kaagar, the Zee5 film 200 – Halla Ho! and the Amazon Prime Video anthology film Unpaused.

There is no shortage of offers, but the role has to be right. “After Sairat, everybody saw me as Archie [her character in the film] and kept offering me the same kind of film,” Rajguru recalled. “I didn’t want to do the same role over and over again. I want to do something different each time. After Sairat, when nothing came my way for at least two years, I said I would wait, it doesn’t make a difference. Kaagar was that different role. People don’t like to see the same thing over and over again.”

She prefers movies to web series, which involve lengthy shoots. “You can wrap up a couple of films in the time it takes to shoot a web series, but then you can’t refuse them either,” she observed.

Work keeps bringing Rajguru to Mumbai, a city that both overwhelms and fascinates her. “Mumbai is crowded and has a lot of traffic, but you also get to meet a lot of people here,” she said. “There are so many people, each of them with their own stories. I like to keep watching them.”

But home, for now, is Akluj, a place Rajguru described as having open air, privacy and serenity. Here, Rinku Rajguru can be herself until she is beckoned to be a version of herself.

Also read:

‘Ankahi Kahaniya’ review: An absorbing triptych about saying what needs to be said

‘Hundred’ review: Lara Dutta and Rinku Rajguru steer a fun run to the crease

In Nagraj Manjule’s spellbinding ‘Sairat’, hearts race but caste divides