Up close with Rakul Preet Singh

In a candid Cosmo India Editor Pratishtha Dobhal, actor Rakul Preet Singh talks about her Army upbringing, why she does not fear failure and how she keeps herself grounded.

08 February, 2024
Up close with Rakul Preet Singh

It’s one of those days at the headquarter when the team and I are in the throes of putting together the magazine while strategising on endless possibilities and exciting collaborations that spring to life as imagination takes flight. Almost on autopilot, with a signing off ‘everything-urgent-all-atonce’ vibe, the highlight of the day comes in the form of my interview with the extremely versatile, easy, and ethereal cover star for the first issue of 2024, Rakul Preet Singh. A day ahead of our cover shoot, I have just about 20 minutes on call for an up close and personal insight into her world.

As our conversation flows and Rakul settles into the call on the other end, we don’t realise how quickly time doubles up to give me a 45-minute peek into Rakul’s universe—her growing-up years, her very grounded and solid upbringing rooted in the Army way of life and discipline, her single-minded focus, her love for her craft, making it on her own with no film pedigree to cushion the fall, her love and her hunger to do extraordinary work as an actor and creative force—who can’t stop, won’t stop carving a niche for herself in an industry where sustaining requires more method than madness.

With an amazing career trajectory that has flourished since she started modelling at 18 to a little over a decade in regional and Hindi cinema, Rakul’s well-intentioned approach to life, cinema, and relationships is as real and as good as it gets.

Pratishtha Dobhal: What is your current state of mind?

Rakul Preet Singh: “I feel like for the last couple of years—well, last six years—ever since I understood who I am and the kind of work that I want to do, I’ve had the same state of mind. I want to continue doing incredible work, different kinds of films, because I love what I do. Also, I make a very conscious choice of differentiating between my personal and my professional self—by which I mean I consciously don’t carry the baggage of work back with me as an actor. I choose to remain the simple girl who started out at 18 or 19. You see, when I started modelling, ‘being present’ were words I didn’t know, but as you grow and deal with the world outside, you learn that’s the only way to survive (and survive well),
otherwise, the world will take the better of you.”

PD: Since we’re already on the subject of growing up, can you take me back to what it was like being an Army kid? What does belongingness mean to you?

RPS: “I had a typical Army upbringing since I travelled with my father everywhere and changed ten schools by the time I was in 10th grade. Of course, I’m also counting the nursery schools (laughs). That way of life comes with a lot of discipline, etiquettes and values that become so ingrained in your DNA that it’s the only way you know how to be.

Today, when I see us actors al Today, when I see us actors always travelling with their suitcases, for me, that’s pretty normal. When we were in the city and my dad was on the borders, we would go to see him on weekends, so I feel like my choice of profession and my upbringing go hand in hand. And you become more adaptable, like I could be shooting in the interiors and not really care about 5-star hotels wherever not available. Also, belonging for me is not a city, it’s an emotion. My sense of belonging is one, with my family, and second, with me. I don’t know if I’m making sense.”

PD: What do you mean by “with me”?

RPS: “When I say that my sense of belonging is with me and myself, I mean that I can be okay anywhere as long as I am connected with my family—my parents, my brother. That’s what truly matters and not the other things like your gaadi, kapda (car or the clothes on your back). They are miniscule in the larger scheme of things.”

PD: In an industry where optics are always front and centre, how do you ensure you stay true to your own identity and own your power?

RPS: “I think the most important factor is that you have to drop all your insecurities and be yourself, because there is just no end to taking pressure. I feel to survive in any profession, you have to be so sure of your own identity and what you bring to the table...how you look is an additional part of you. I put in that effort when I’m at work or going for a public appearance. But if you see me outside my house and coming home from the gym, my hair’s not going to be blowdried. And I don’t like to take that extra pressure. When people follow you in this age of social media, they also need to see the real you otherwise you end up setting unrealistic expectations for the people who follow you and for yourself.”

PD: How did you keep yourself grounded and focused on the job at hand when you started out (at just 18!)?

RPS: “A lot of your behaviour depends on the solid support system that you have. My parents let me pursue whatever I wanted and were there for me, not just say “Accha beta karlo (Okay, do it)”. My mom was by my side during my first film shoot and for many years after, until I turned 25. My dad taught me how to speak to people and negotiate. I remember during my modelling days, when I used to get `5,000 for a shoot, he would tell me not to undersell myself and taught me how the world functions. I knew that if these things didn’t work out for me, my parents were with me. Problems arise when there is no support and one has the extra pressure to prove themselves at home and the world. My fauji (Army) dad would tell me that there is no such thing as fear. We were not allowed to be scared of the dark or snakes.”

PD: Tell me more about why snake scare was off limits.

RPS: “I recall when I was 10 and my brother was seven, we came back home to find a snake in my room. When we saw it my brother and I ran out screaming and my dad got so furious. He held the snake with his bare hands and opened its mouth to show us that the snake isn’t poisonous and he made us pet it. Growing up with my father made me not fear failure. That also helps when I have a bad day...I don’t really get dejected by it.”

PD: Does that mean getting over difficult days comes naturally?

RPS: “See, I’m not delusional. There’s always a practical approach to life. The only thing in my hand is what I can change from my end, rest is destiny and luck. I have to be honest with myself and ask myself if I gave my 100 per cent, and if not, where did I slack. So I feel it’s very important to not be delusional in times when things are not working for you and correct your course. And that’s my intention always—to always work towards improving.”

PD: So you don’t buy into the whole ‘delulu is the new solulu’ trend? I would imagine the world of cinema was so far removed from what you had access to growing up that you were dreaming in a parallel reality... don’t you think delusion and imagination must collide for fruition?

RPS: “No, I think they’re completely separate things. I’ll put it this way—I never thought that this is an out-ofthis-world universe that I’m trying to get into. It’s the thought that you feed your mind. Being an actor is a profession where you have to sort of be prepared for the journey. Every profession comes with a tough road ahead. So firstly, you have to believe that it is accessible. I’ve always been positive about it and I think not knowing too much about the world also helped, because I was naive and I believed in myself. Imagination is great. I think unless you dream it you can’t achieve it. Plus, you have to be
conscious of how you’re different and what you’re bringing on the playground of your choice.”

PD: I find it interesting then that even though you had already tasted success in southern films, you ended up participating in ‘Miss India’ that offset many wins later on. Why?

RPS: “I started modelling at 18, right after my birthday, and in a month my pictures were everywhere when I got a call for this Kannada film which I refused since I didn’t know anything about Kannada films. I very confidently told them that, “No, I don’t want to work in Kannada films, I’ll work in Hindi films”. I was obviously very ignorant and didn’t know the scale of those films. So later they called my father and said that she’s going to be a big star one day and they want to launch me. I ended up doing that film purely because I thought that I would make money in lakhs as opposed to the pocket money I was
getting every month.

I was studying mathematics at that time, and I fell short of attendance and my college was very strict. So after finishing that one film I decided to pursue films properly after graduating. Because I thought that even if it [films] did not work, I would still have a degree to pursue my master’s if I wanted to. And ‘Miss India’ was the only thing I knew growing up because as a kid I looked up to Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai and followed the pageant very closely.

I continued modelling in college and decided to participate in my final year. When I won those titles, I decided to move to Mumbai and started my round of auditions. I shot Yaariyan before I shot my first film, but it was released later. The kind of love that Telugu film industry has given me, very few people can experience that kind of fandom, and I think that only exists in the South.

So after two to three years there, I got offers again from Hindi films. I was supposed to do Dhoni but that didn’t happen because of dates. So by then I had worked for five to six years in Telugu and I thought I have worked with every actor and most of the directors so it was time for a new playground. I was fine starting from zero again and ended up going back to Mumbai for De DePyaar De.

PD: It’s commendable that you have also had one of the most diverse portfolios when it comes to the genres of films that you’ve done… action, drama, sci-fi, films with a strong social message, plus OTT. What really compelled you to get out of your comfort zone?

RPS: “Every film is a journey that sort of accounts for the decisions that you make because you become more confident and you start understanding the craft better, and then when you believe that ‘okay now I can shoulder a film on my own’, you start looking out for that, which often ends up happening as well. I’ll tell you something that Samantha (Ruth Prabhu) had told me when I debuted in Telugu films. There was an article that said “Is Rakul the new Samantha?” or something like that and we were at a party and she told me, “I’m going to give you some advice since I’ve been doing this for so long. There
will be times when you might ask yourself what am I bringing to the table but before you start questioning yourself you need to navigate your path.”

At that point I was new so I loved doing commercial films but as I grew up, I realised that what she told me was so true, and that’s when De De Pyaar De happened. It was a huge step for me to take—to leave behind a certain kind of stardom and come to an almost new place. I’m talking three to four years back...pre-Covid when people didn’t know much about southern cinema and I had to reintroduce myself. I also feel the switch happened for me because I wanted to do roles that were more

PD: And now you’re doing so much anyway...Would you call yourself an actor, creative or an artist? You’re also quite an entrepreneur yourself now!

RPS: “Wow, that’s a tough one! See, I’m primarily an actor but I am a dreamer and a doer. I don’t want to limit myself by saying that I’m an actor. Of course, that’s my primary job but beyond that I also have a personality and why should you limit yourself to just one thing?”

PD: Fair enough. As far as films and directors go, who were you really inspired by while growing up? And when you see something exciting do you tell yourself, “Hey, I would’ve killed this” or “I would’ve really loved to do this”?

RPS: “There’s so much content these days and saying that “I would’ve killed this’’ would mean being overconfident. There are a lot of films that you see and are like “I wish I was a part of this” because they are too amazing. I think we’re doing some great work right now with shows like Family Man and Paatal Lok, amongst others. Headlining a show that’s really kick-ass and not seen before would be great. Plus, there are so many directors who inspire you. I’ve always been a huge Sanjay Leela Bhansali fan and I would like to check that box off at some point in my career.”

PD: Tell me, if you were to create ‘Rakulverse’, what would that universe look like? And if you could have a superpower or a bunch of superpowers, what would they be?

RPS: “My superpower would be to be able to eat whatever I wanted to without putting on an ounce of weight. And Rakul is all about extra discipline. I also enjoy being a little hard on myself. So in my metaverse everyone will be extremely fit and happy with great healthy food, great ways of working out but still staying true to your Ayurvedic roots. Think going 500 years back when we didn’t need medicines!”

PD: Like everything else in your life, you’ve also been so open about your relationship… what do you think is the mantra for a healthy and long-standing relationship that stands the test of time?

RPS: “It’s never one mantra but something that, I think, is extremely important is being complete in yourself first to be able to complete someone else. And that’s something that both Jackky [Bhagnani] and I have spoken about. Even before we started dating, we spoke about it—the understanding that you know of your shortcomings and work on your relationship with absolutely no insecurities. If one of the partners is insecure, the relationship cannot be healthy. And it boils down to being complete in yourself as a person to be able to be more giving in a relationship.”

PD: How important is equilibrium and being with the right partner for a woman to have it all?

RPS: “The way of the world is that the woman is the one who has to move out of her house or change her ways but there’s nothing we can do about it because it’s just the way it is. As women, we need to embrace it beautifully and think of it as a power. The more we will keep our mindset positive the easier it will be to navigate. And, of course, it is important to have the right partner. I would just say that all those women who are ambitious should be smart enough to take their time and find a partner who understands them and their dreams so that they can share responsibilities. Of course, men and women can have it all, and women can have a little more.”

PD: Love! Cannot let you go without telling us...what are you most excited about in 2024?

RPS: “See, I can never answer that question because I am excited everyday! I wake up excited about the day ahead and the work that I am going to do, the films that are going to come out...constantly just growing and learning!”

Look credits: 

Look 1: Jacket and skirt, Vero Moda; boots, Mania Walker; earrings, Q is by Ashmeet; rings, Minerali  

Look 2: Shirt and trousers, Vero Moda; earrings and necklace, Q is by Ashmeet; pumps, Rakul’s own 

Look 3: Fur coat, Dollaypop; earrings and necklace, Q is by Ashmeet

Look 4: Complete look, Louis Vuitton 

Look 5: Co-ord set, Vero Moda; boots, Steve Madden; earrings, Zevar King

Look 6: Dress, Moonray; earrings, Simran Chhabra Jewels; Handcuffs, Q is by Ashmeet; Boots, Mania Walker