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Interview – Rajkummar Rao: “I’m very impulsive when choosing a film.”

Rajkummar Rao wowed us with his hilarious portrayal in ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’. Having worked with stalwarts like Aamir Khan and Hansal Mehta, Rao has proved his originality time and again. He now belongs with the likes of Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose quirky film choices and incredible talents have both impressed and intrigued us. Now, Rajkummar returns as a straightforward man in an upside down world, ‘Newton’.

Tell us something about the film’s plot.
His name is Newton. He’s a rookie government clerk, who is very imandar. That is very rare and that’s how he stands out. He’s sent to Dandkaranya, a naxalite hit area in Chhattisgarh to hold elections. But he comes up against forces that challenge his truthfulness. That’s the premise of the story. It’s a dark comedy.

Where did you get the inspiration to play the role?
I can’t deny that the script was very powerful. It’s based on the original Newton, who was very idealistic, like my character. I’m also a little idealistic when it comes to a job. I relate to him in that manner. I don’t want to corrupt myself or follow the herd. I will do what is right according to me. I sat with my director, Amit, everyday and spoke to him about the character. We decided that he would have curly hair. Apart from that, I added a couple of quirks of my own to him, which you will see in the film!

You shot this film on location. What is the ground reality like there?
I was seeing the problem from outside before the film. I was slightly scared when we went there. But once we went there, we were welcomed! The people are so caring and happy, I was surprised. That location too, it is untouched beauty. No one has shot there. We used many local people as actors and they always have a smile on their face! They are so content with their lives, I really learned something! We were told once to leave a little early, but that’s it.

How painful is the emotional and physical hangover of a character?
Well, physically it really takes a toll! I gained so much weight for ‘Bose’ and now I have to lose it all! Gaining is no problem – all you have to do is hog! But losing it is so hard! In terms of emotions, I think acting is more about feeling than seeing. So, the emotional hangover is a bit terrifying. Especially after intense characters like Shahid. I take trips to deal with it. I leave for a couple of days after shooting and come back refreshed and ready for the next project!

Which film has satisfied you the most as an actor?
City Lights.

You do films that are socially conscious – like Aligarh and Shahid. Have they made you politically aware because of these?
No, I’ve always been aware of what’s happening in India. I try to put my point forward sometimes too. But these films definitely helped me learn more about our circumstances and the people that are changing them. I didn’t know about Shahid before I did it with Hansal (Mehta) sir. I din’t know people are wrongly convicted and stay in jail for so long. Even City Lights, we see migrant everywhere but never really realize their hardships.

How much homework do you do before you take on a character?
It’s different for all films. For Bareilly, I had to learn the UP accent and see how to differentiate between the personalities – the style, the dressing, the attitude. For ‘Bose’, I had to really learn a lot about Netaji.

You’ve managed to balance between conventional and unconventional cinema. Are you very calculative about the films you take?
No, I’m very impulsive. If I like the script, I’m in! When I read ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’, I was impressed! It was a genuinely funny story and it was narrated so well. I thought it would give me a chance to explore a new side of myself as an actor. So I just agreed. I didn’t even know the cast or crew. Even Ashwiny (director of Bareilly Ki Barfi) was only one film old. But I liked it so I agreed!

Are you very concerned about box office numbers?
No, not really. I would like my films to break even so that my producers get their money back, so that they can make many more films!

How was the experience with ‘Omerta’?
Well, it released at TIFF recently to a packed house, which was very overwhelming. But it was a very disturbing space for me as an actor to get into. Omar Sheikh, who it is based on, is not an easy head to get into. We aren’t glorifying anything. We are just showcasing facts and narrating what happened. It is for you to judge.

‘Newton’ releases on 22nd September, 2017.

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