A surprise package in the Lara Dutta-Rinku Rajguru-led web series Hundred is Rajeev Siddhartha.
The slim man with debonair looks entered the film and television industries in 2013 as a vengeful assassin in the Hindi remake of the American television series 24. Then came a lead role in the gay-themed 2017 Alt Balaji web series Romil & Jugal, followed by a thankless supporting role of a Most Eligible Bachelor™ in Amazon Prime Video’s Four More Shots Please!
In the Disney+ Hotstar series Hundred, Siddhartha got the opportunity to portray a character with an edge, and had sufficient screen time to leave a mark. He plays Shantanu, a racketeer in corporate threads managing shady deals for gangsters, corrupt police officers and politicians.
When police officer Saumya (Dutta) dispatches Nethra (Rajguru) to use Shantanu’s contacts to crack a case, sparks fly. Their unlikely romantic pairing yields some of the best moments in the series.
“With Rinku, it was never a question of either of us trying to overshadow the other, but we both worked together to get the scene right, and that happened on the first day of my audition,” Siddhartha told Scroll.in.
Siddhartha is referring to a scene in which Shantanu reluctantly goes on a date with Nethra. He tries to ignore her by wolfing down his food, while she looks for an opportunity to steal data from his mobile phone.
Another ice-breaker was the comic scene in which Nethra sneaks Siddhartha into her house and bribes her younger brother to get out her bedroom.
Siddhartha’s onscreen characters share some similarities – for one thing, they get shortchanged by the women they love. In Four More Shots Please!, Siddhartha’s Mihir seemss to tick all the boxes for the kind of groom Siddhi (Maanvi Gagroo) wants, but he rejected – twice. In Hundred, Shantanu is hurt when he finds out that Nethra was only using him to help with a police mission.
Both the shows, as well as Romil & Jugal, have been created and directed by women. In all of them, Siddhartha is positioned as eye candy, subtly in Hundred, and explicitly in the rest.
Siddhartha agreed, adding that “in the beginning of your career, all opportunity is golden”, and that he doesn’t mind being “objectified”, if he is in a show like Four More Shots Please!, which is “finally dealing with female bonding in the way there have been several shows and films about male friendships and male bonding”.
Playing Mihir, who’s so good that he seems to have been created in a laboratory, helped Siddhartha discover the niceness within himself. “Usually, if a man is rejected by a woman, he takes it on his ego,” Siddhartha said. “But Mihir is so nice and understanding, that that’s something to learn from.”
Siddhartha’s educational background and professional life do not immediately suggest a career in showbiz. Born in Dhanbad in Jharkhand, Siddhartha studied at The Doon School in Dehradun and graduated with an Honours degree in Economics from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College. A Masters in Business Administration from Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management and Higher Studies followed.
For a year, he was employed as a wealth adviser at Edelweiss Broking Limited in Mumbai, which is when he began thinking of quitting his job and becoming a full-time actor. His only prior acting experience was with The Shakespeare Society at St Stephens College and starring in a bit role in Dil Dosti Etc in 2007.
“It was like a voice in my head telling me every day to pursue acting,” Siddhartha said. “It wasn’t the case that someone told me you look good, and you should try out films. So when I finally quit my job in 2010 and started doing theatre in 2011, everyone, starting with my parents, were aghast.”
Siddhartha’s first professional stage production was in Mohan Rakesh’s Hindi play Aadhe Adhure, directed by Lillete Dubey. Siddhartha plays an angst-ridden man who wants to follow his heart, but whose mother wants to see him employed. “I drew from some of my personal experience of being a son whose parents were suddenly dissatisfied with his new direction in life,” he said.
Did his previous job of trying to sell investment opportunities to clients help him in his current profession of selling characters and stories? “The job equipped me with having a way with words, which is necessary in most professions today,” Siddhartha said. “The thing with selling is if you are not convinced in what you are selling, you cannot do your job.”
Before the lockdown commenced, Siddhartha had been travelling with Lillete Dubey’s theatre group and performing in Mahesh Dattani’s play Gauhar. Based on the 19th century singer Gauhar Jaan, the play is headlined by Rajeshwari Sachdev. Siddhartha has three roles – Gauhar’s servant, her lover, and a lawyer.
His other favourite work is the cineplay Love, based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, which is being streamed on Zee5. Love, set in the near future, stars Siddhartha as a man who builds a robot to fool his mother into thinking that he has found love and is getting married.
Siddhartha’s upcoming projects include a feature film and a web series directed by Prakash Jha. Life has come full circle for him since Jha had also produced his debut film, Dil Dosti Etc.