Barely done with a flurry of promotions for his most recent release Fanney Khan, actor Rajkummar Rao is already neck-deep in interviews and promotional events for his next release. The horror-comedy Stree (August 31), directed by Amar Kaushik, also stars Shraddha Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Aparshakti Khurana and Abhishek Banerjee. Tell-tale signs of promotional fatigue are evident, and yet Rao is attentive, responding thoughtfully and often cautiously. Excerpts from an interview.
Last year you were in seven films, including ‘Newton’, ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ and ‘Trapped’, besides the web series ‘Bose Dead or Alive’. This year you have been in ‘Omerta’, ‘Fanney Khan’ and now ‘Stree’. Do you worry about overexposure?
Not really, because all the films are vastly different and, after Stree, I don’t think I have a release till February next year. I will start shooting Mikhil Musale’s Made in China next month, followed by Anurag Basu’s Imli.
The moment I feel I am repeating characters, I will get bored. As long as the character looks and sounds different, I will be contented. Of course I crave another Shahid or a Trapped, but trust me, even the character in Stree does not come to me naturally. Vicky cannot sound like a Delhi boy. I have to work on that particular Madhya Pradesh accent, the body language, and bring a different pitch to the performance.
Amar Kaushik’s ‘Stree’ has been written by Raj and DK (‘Go Goa Gone’, ‘A Gentleman’), who are known for their proclivity to genre films.
Yes, and they are very good writers. I loved Shor in the City and Go Goa Gone. I enjoyed the script of Stree and thought they had created an incredible world with these characters and this ghost and so much humour interwoven.
I also have immense respect for [producer] Dinesh Vijan. He’s so passionate about the films he has backed. I had seen Amar’s short films and he was bringing his own experiences. I also loved my part. I have not explored a character born and raised in Madhya Pradesh. While I have played many characters from Uttar Pradesh, this film gave me a chance to use a new language.
Vicky is a talented lady’s tailor. He’s aspirational and doesn’t fit into this small town, and unlike the rest of the town, he does not believe in ghosts and spirits.
You played the role of Adhir in ‘Fanney Khan’. What was it about the part that interested you?
There were so many reasons to do this film. I wanted to do work with Mr Anil Kapoor. I have grown up on his films and danced to the songs of Ram Lakhan. I am glad I did it as, through this film, I have found a friend in him.
Secondly, Fanney Khan has been produced by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and his Rang De Basanti is one of my all-time favourite films. So I had the opportunity to work with him and I am sure we will have more opportunities in the future too. Thirdly, I liked the script and my scenes.
In some interviews, Anil Kapoor has said that he learnt from you while working in ‘Fanney Khan’ and, later, ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’. What was he referring to?
That’s very kind of him. I think he loves me, and I love him back. On the contrary, I have learnt a lot from him. He has such discipline, his commitment to his craft, his energy – there is so much to learn from him. Even at this age he is still full of vivacious energy and killing it.
From intense characters such as Shahid Azmi in ‘Shahid’ and Deepak in ‘Citylights’, you seem to have pivoted to light-hearted comedies.
Yes, most of my films have been intense and serious, but I have started enjoying this light-hearted, humorous side to my characters. Going forward, I am also doing films that are a mix of drama and humour.
Do you prefer reading a script or a narration?
I don’t take narrations. I believe in reading a script. Also I don’t really enjoy narrations. I get very restless during narrations, especially if I am not enjoying it then I feel stuck for two-three hours. It’s rude to get up mid-way and say it’s not happening.
Are you affected by box office results?
It definitely matters. Everybody wants his or her films to do well. Everybody wants to get money back. I can’t control the box office. I can’t control reviews. As long as my sincerity connects with people and they can see it on the screen, I think I am okay.
Having said that, box office success does give you greater reach and a better choice of films. The options are better and bigger. Last year, I saw some good success at the box office but, honestly, I don’t know how to crack it. I don’t know if anyone has the sure-shot formula.
For instance, Raazi got phenomenal numbers, but I don’t know if anyone could have predicted that. So there’s no point in thinking about something you cannot guarantee. It’s more important to enjoy the process – give it your best and then hope for the best.
You have carved quite a niche for yourself. Who do you see as your competition?
I don’t believe in competition. We are a huge industry making so many films that there is enough out there for everyone. People do compare and that’s fine, but I don’t bother about that because I believe each person is unique. What I can do someone else can’t do, and what they can do I can’t do.
I think what works for is that people connect with me. They believe what I am doing, and they think this could be happening to one of us. Instead of competing with one another, healthier competition would be in the kinds of films we are making.
Whom among your contemporaries do you find interesting?
Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kangana Ranaut, Anushka Sharma, who is both producing and acting, Deepika Padukone, Kriti Sanon and Shraddha Kapoor who will surprise audiences with her work in Stree.
Is a sequel to the web series ‘Bose on the cards?
Yes, we have talked about it, but it’s won’t happen any time soon because to prepare for it, I will have to shave my head and gain all that weight again, and that’s a long process. Currently, I am developing a potbelly for the part of a Gujarati businessman in Made in China.