Decoding Rajkummar Rao’s rise in Bollywood

In a career spanning eight years, Rajkummar Rao has made a steady rise to the top, becoming one of the most distinctive and trusted actors of Hindi cinema. The actor, who turned 34 today, believes Shahid, Trapped, Newton and Bareilly Ki Barfi are the four films that impacted his career the most. “The characters in these films were real in a way. Though Shahid was the only true story, what happened in Trapped can happen to anyone. And I am sure there are people like Newton and there are boys who are naive, sweet and rowdy, like my part in Bareilly Ki Barfi. The humanness is something I loved,” the actor told PTI in an interview. Shahid, a 2013 biopic directed by Hansal Mehta, was based on the life of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi who was assassinated in 2010. “Hansal sir narrated me his story and on a human level, I was moved that there was somebody like him. That film also changed me as a person.” He spent a lot of time with Shahid’s family, trying to know him. “There was such variation in his life starting from being a victim, to briefly going to a terrorist camp, to landing in Tihar Jail and then becoming this human rights lawyer. It was a fascinating life. What was it that was driving him to go to these extremes? I tried to achieve that.” The film earned him his first National Film Award. It also started one of the most successful collaborations between an actor and director in Hindi cinema. “I found Hansal sir through this film and today we share a great bond,” he said. When Rajkummar was starting his career he had a few directors on his wish-list and Vikramaditya Motwane was one of them. The actor said he had reached out to the director while he was making Udaan and Lootera. They eventually collaborated on Trapped, a survival drama about a man who accidentally gets locked in a newly-constructed high-rise in Mumbai without food, water or electricity. “When you work in Mumbai, you get to know that people are making films, so after doing ‘LSD’, I went to meet him for ‘Udaan’. He said he wanted a younger boy and by the time I went for ‘Lootera’, he had found Ranveer Singh.” When Trapped came Rajkummar’s way, the actor was completely bowled over by the idea of the survival drama. “The film has taken me to places both physically and mentally as an actor, I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I lost seven kgs in 18 days as I did not eat anything for 15 days. The recognition and love that I got for this film was immense. “I had no idea how my body would look or react if I don’t eat for ten days as I had not done that ever before. I was going with the flow, it was very much in the moment, like how it was happening in the film.” Another film that is close to Rajkummar’s heart is Newton, which was India’s official entry to the Oscars. He played Newton Kumar, an honest government clerk who is sent on election duty to a Naxal-affected area in Chhattisgarh. Newton was an idealist but Rajkummar could connect with the character’s philosophy and ideology. It was supposed to be an indie film but it ended up doing great at the box office. “It was a good shock for people to see me in that avatar. Before this film, I was doing serious, intense parts and people liked it. It was like playing two different parts in one film as there is so much contrast in my character of Pritam Vidrohi. His one side is rowdy while the other is completely the opposite. I was very nervous about the role as I did not want to go overboard with the portrayal.” The romantic-comedy, also starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon, according to Rajkummar, added a new dimension to his career. “People took notice of me and saw that I can carry off light-hearted roles as well. They started talking about Pritam Vidrohi and it became a lovable character, I saw that people were clapping and whistling, it was a big high to watch this kind of reaction.