'Playing Shahid was really difficult'
He began his career in 2010 with a small role in Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhoka and went on to do some serious roles in films like Shaitaan and Gangs Of Wasseypur.
But it was only after the success of Kai Po Che, that actor Rajkumar found his identity in the industry.
The 29-year-old actor comes across as a very calm and unassuming guy -- very different from the serious characters he plays on screen. “I am not at all serious. When I am with my friends I crack silly jokes and laugh at stupid things,” he says.
Rajkumar plays the lawyer Shahid Azmi in his upcoming film Shahid, which releases on Friday, October 18.
In the conversation that follows, the Gurgaon boy talks about the success of Kai Po Che, the preparation he went through for his character in Shahid, and also recalls his days of struggle.
Image: Raj Kumar with Anwita Paul
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'Kai Po Che's commercial success has helped me a lot'
How have things changed for you after the success of your last film Kai Po Che?
I haven’t changed as a person and I don’t think success can change me.
The biggest change is that people on the streets recognise me by my name. Earlier, people would say ‘Ragini MMS ka ladka jaa raha hai aur yeh ladka Love Sex Aur Dhoka main tha.’ This is because I was there on the posters of Kai Po Che.
The film’s commercial success has helped me a lot. Dibakar (Banerjee) once told me, “Expect nothing and then even if you get something, you’ll be happy.”
I am happy that my film did well and I was appreciated for my performance.
Image: Rajkumar and Sushant singh Yadav in Kai Po Che
'I wasn't much aware about Shahid Azmi'
How did you bag the film Shahid?
I met Hansal Mehta (the director of Shahid) in his office and he narrated the film's story. I was inspired and fascinated with Shahid Azmi’s story.
There were so many complexities, so many ups and downs in his life. I was really excited to play this character.
Did you know anything about Shahid Azmi before? How did you prepare for the role?
I didn't know much about Shahid Azmi. There was no direct research material available on the net. Most of the material that was available was his interviews.
I spent a lot of time inside courtrooms listening to lawyers arguing cases. I also met Shahid’s family who helped me a lot.
I wanted to understand how Shahid functioned in his daily life. I also read the Quran to prepare for the character.
Image: Vipin Sharma and Raj Kumar in a scene from Shahid
'It was mentally challenging to do Shahid'
Did you feel a big responsibility on your shoulders as you were portraying a real person?
Yes, there was a sense of responsibility. Playing a real life character means people are going to judge you keeping in mind the person on whom the film is based.
Shahid’s family was involved in the filmmaking process and they too were eager to see my performance.
Was it disturbing for you, living the character?
It was not disturbing but it was mentally challenging to do this film. Playing this character was really difficult.
There were times when I returned from the shoot with a headache and a lot of things going on in my mind. My mind had become restless. I couldn't stop thinking.
It took me a lot of time to come out of the character.
Image: Rajkumar in Shahid
'My family never doubted my decisions'
Did you always want to be an actor?
I grew up in a middle class family in Gurgaon. I was pretty average in my studies. I participated in school plays and realised that I wanted to be an actor.
In college I participated in a lot of plays. Later I joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and completed my acting course in 2008.
I decided to live in Mumbai and search for work, which was a big struggle.
Did your parents approve of your choice of career?
They were very supportive. Although no one from our family is connected to film, we are all film buffs.
I came to Mumbai in 2008 and I got my first film Love Sex Aur Dhoka after 18 months. It was a struggle. But my family always supported me mentally and financially. They never doubted my decisions.
Image: Prabhleen Sandhu and Rajkumar in a scene from Shahid
'Shahid is my most special film to date'
How difficult were the initial days in Mumbai?
I rented a house and started meeting a lot of people. Right from casting directors to directors, I would just go on meeting people.
I faced many rejections. Some people would just politely refuse while others would try and find fault -- I was too tall for a role or I wasn’t fair enough...
The auditions were happening but nothing materialised. There were times when the casting director would like me but the director rejected me.
I did feel dejected but it never demoralised me. Finally I was offered a film, which never took off.
It took me a year and half to get my first role. Thankfully now things have changed and I am doing some good roles. Shahid is my most special film to date.
Now that the struggling days are behind you, how do you plan to take your career forward?
I haven’t planned anything. I want to do films that I like.
I am not saying that I will only be a part of solo hero projects. I am open to doing films that have two-three heroes like Kai Po Che.
The perception about me in the industry has changed. People are taking me more seriously. This has helped me to select the scripts that I want to be a part of.
Would you be open to doing out-and-out commercial films?
As of now I am happy with what I am doing. I cannot connect with out-and-out commercial films.
But I am not saying that I won’t do it. I would love to do a comic character.
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar