Rajkummar Rao is busy living life in the fast lane these days. He’s had three big releases in 2019, four lined up for next, and is currently in the middle of shooting his first International project—The White Tiger, an adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel by the same name. Simultaneously, he’s orchestrating the final touches to his new home, that he hopes to shift into by early 2020. Also throw in this mix a generous smattering of red-carpet events, movie premieres, promotions...the like.
But he’s not complaining. He wouldn’t have it any other way. He shouldn’t. With a decade in the film industry—nine years and three months, to be precise—Rajkummar has built a career he should justifiably be proud of. From an intense lawyer in Shahid, to a sinister schemer in Judgementall Hai Kya, a starving, skeletal-of-a-man in Trapped, to a portly leader in Bose: Dead/Alive, with a whole lot in between (including a National Award)—the actor’s reportoire of work is conspicuous with a spate of varied characters and impressive transformations.
The surprises (twists?) don’t end at just the performances, though. Rajkummar is full of some in person, too. Take, for example, his serious, brooding on-screen image, that often precedes him IRL. But once the laconic replies and the warm smiles settle, he’s the complete antithesis—a goofy prankster, if you will. And also a gold-medallist in combat sports. In the course of the conversation, as we spend the next few hours peeling the different layers of the actor, each turns out to be as complex as the roles Rajkummar Rao is synonymous with...
Cosmo: How is Rajkummar Rao feeling?
Rajummar Rao: “Content. There are no regrets at all. I’m very pleased with all that I have achieved. I’ve always tried to be part of projects that are important for society, for all of us. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga was one such film, about a lesbian relationship. It was an important story that needed to be told. I got so much love for my character, Sahil Mirza. I received compliments like, ‘We all need a friend like Sahil’. Then there was Judgementall Hai Kya, in which I was playing a negative character for the first time, and Made In China, and people appreciated my performance in both. In fact, a lot of my female fans told me they really liked my look in the former. They thought I looked really good.”
C: You did look very different from how we’ve usually seen you...
RK: “Thank you. For me, it’s always about the part I’m playing. If it needs me to look a certain way, I’ll pull out all plugs to do it: whether it’s a good-looking, confident man, or a shy guy-next-door. That’s the kind of commitment I have towards my characters.”
C: In retrospect, how has life changed in 2019?
RK: “I don’t want to count the materialistic things that I have now which I didn’t earlier...so the only thing that’s really changed is that life has got busier. Much busier.”
C: And personally?
RK: “Things are shaping up well on that front, too. I’ve recently bought a new house. I’m really excited about that and would like to start living there by early next year. I’m also going on a holiday with Patralekaa soon—our annual winter vacation. I always make sure that both of us go out for about two-three weeks every year. We’re planning to go to Europe this year—Switzerland, France, maybe even Germany and Italy—still figuring it out. After a year of working almost every day and finishing all the commitments, you do need some time for yourself.”
C: What’s an ideal holiday like for you guys?
RK: We don’t like doing anything tourist-y. We love exploring the city on foot—just walking around, soaking it all in, talking to new people, sitting in small, beautiful cafés, and enjoying a good cup of coffee.”
C: You have many critically-acclaimed performances to your credit. Is there any one that is more special than the others?
RK: “A couple of them, actually, and not necessarily because the films did well, but because of the experiences I had while working on them. Playing Subhash Chandra Bose [in Bose: Dead/Alive] and Omar Sheikh [in Omerta] was really challenging. Both the characters really pushed me as an actor. When it comes to having fun and forming life-long bonds, nothing beats Stree. We had such a great time making that film! Amar [Kaushik], the director, is a brother for life now.”
C: When not working, what’s a typical day in your life like?
RK: “You know, that happens very rarely, but when I do get time off, I love doing nothing! I’m in bed all day long, watching something on one of the OTT media platforms, over a cup of black coffee with Patralekhaa, and playing with our dog, Gaga—that’s the perfect day off for me. And even when I’m busy, I try to watch at least one film every day. I like drama a lot...and recently watched Marriage Story on Netflix and totally loved it!”
C: Are you a morning person?
RK: “Absolutely! I love early mornings. When I’m working, it depends on the call time. But when I’m not, I’m usually up by 6:30am. And the first thing I do, every day, irrespective of when I wake up, is pray. Then I have a cup of black coffee and read a little.”
C: Do you remember what you did with your first paycheck?
RK: “It was for `5,000. I kept it in my temple at home. It’s still there.”
C: And when did you first realise that you’re a star?
RK: “Honestly, I still haven’t realised it. I feel awkward calling myself a star. ‘Stardom’ is a fad, it doesn’t last. But as far as being recognised is concerned, that started happening after Kai Po Che, and then Queen. People would come up and ask for a photograph with me. In 2017, it became more obvious, after Bareilly Ki Barfi, Trapped, and Newton.”
C: You were an ‘outsider’ in the film industry. Was there ever a moment when you thought of giving up and quitting?
RK: “Never. I didn’t even have a Plan B! Acting is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do since in school, so no matter what, I could never think of leaving. My love for films kept me going even in the difficult times. And in moments of doubts, I’d speak to my mother and she’d always tell me to hang in there and that everything is going to work out—my mother’s belief in me never let me give up.”
C. What’s the one thing people usually get wrong about you?
RK: “They have this perception that I’m a really intense and serious guy...which I’m not! I mean I can be serious if there’s a serious dialogue or discourse going in, but personality-wise, I’m fun. I love cracking jokes and making people laugh. Even on sets, once we’ve broken the ice, people tell me, ‘We thought you wouldn’t talk!’. But there, it also depends on the kind of film I’m doing. If it’s intense, I like to be in my own space and focus on the character. If it’s a light film, I like playing pranks and goofing around.”
C: Really? Give us an example of the latter…
RK: “During Stree, we were shooting at this temple. It was a looong climb, and we just had one day to shoot there. I decided to have some fun. I had just fractured my foot a few months earlier, so I acted like it was hurting, and started writhing in pain. Everyone panicked! They were all running from pillar to post, trying to help. Someone even suggested getting a chair to carry me in all the way up... It was hilarious. I put up the act for two hours, before finally bursting out laughing!”
C: And do you get angry easily?
RK: “Oh, very rarely. And I forgive easily, although I don’t forget. But there are some things that make me really, really angry. Like when I read about the atrocities women are subjected to...such as the recent Hyderabad incident. Or, when people look down upon others. I don’t believe in hierarchy at all. Another thing that bothers me is people being lazy about their work or not feeling passionate about what they’re doing.”
C: You and Patralekhaa have been in a steady relationship for years now. What are the building blocks of a solid relationship?
RK: “Love...of course! You have to be madly in love with your partner. And, understanding... Also, you have to be best friends with them. Whatever you’d do with your BFF, you should be able to do with the person you’re in a relationship with.”
C: If you had to reveal one secret to Cosmo, what would that be?
RK: “Not many people know this, but I’m a trained martial artist. I’m a national-level gold medallist. I can’t say I practise regularly, because my work schedule doesn’t allow it, but I try to as often as possible.”
Styling: Zunaili Malik and Priyanka Yadav
Photographs: Tarun Khiwal
Make-Up: Nitin Purohit; Hair: Vijay P. Raskar
Fashion Interns: Sahil Vasudev, Saloni Kohli, and Shivi Khosla