Simple can be satisfying. Actor Raj Kumar Yadav follows this mantra on the table and on the job
It may not have set the box office on fire but Shahid will be remembered as one of the most thought provoking and rewarding films of the year. Raj Kumar Yadav, who played Shahid Azmi in the film, says he was always sure he is part of an honest film. “That was the only thing I was sure about. I try to be very neutral about the films I do. I try to keep my expectations really low. This way whatever comes my way makes me happy. But all along I was sure whoever is going to watch the film will like the film,” says Raj as we meet over dinner at `’s The One restaurant.
Like his acting, Raj comes across as a guy free of frills that we usually associate with Bollywood actors. Asking for a salad platter, the Gurgaon boy, who did his graduation from Delhi University reveals, “Shahid was something I had never done before. Not even in theatre. I was very thrilled as an actor to play a complex character and an inspiring figure.” Talking about his research, Shahid adds, “There is not much available on him on the Internet. I spent a lot of time with his family, especially with his younger brother Khalid. I wanted to know him as a person. I wanted to comprehend his soul, his mental process. Once I was confident about it, I took some lessons in the legal process, like how to behave in a court room. Then some research on Islam.”
Finishing the kiwi shooter in one go, Raj, says he never questioned director Hansal Mehta during the filming process. “When I got the bound script I knew what I am getting into. I had full faith in Shahid because I believed in what he stood for.” Raj says there is part of Shahid that will stay with him forever. “His passion, his belief in justice and humanity will live with me. The film reminds the young generation that there are many truths that we are unaware of. We keep on blaming the media for distorting the truth but a lot of distorted perception about other communities exists because of the way we are brought up at home.”
Talking about the torture scene, which he shot without clothes, Raj says, “As an actor I wanted to feel his mental space. It was not planned that way. But I insisted. When you have a tool to explore, why cheat. After going naked if you feel more embarrassed, why not…”
Somebody, who keeps things real without becoming furniture in the frame, Raj says industry has been kind to him. “Nobody judged me by my surname or asked me to change it. These are interesting times for actors who love to craft different characters. If you have to repeat yourself then television is the medium,” says Raj relishing the kidney beans salad.
Raj made an impact with small films and small roles. If Ragini MMS was about the ghost, people noticed his acting, if Talash was about Aamir Khan, he caught the eye of the discerning in the few frames he got. “Ragini MMS came as a challenge. Whatever horror films we have had in India, in most of them acting is very plain. I wanted to show how we actually get scared when we are alone and feel somebody’s presence. How on a human level we get scared. There was no brief. I envisioned it,” he chuckles with cherry tomato for company.
Finally, this year he got a substantial role and a big banner in Kai Po Che and as Govind he proved his mettle. But now he wants to do more of Shahids, scripts where only he leads the way. “Now I want to play the main protagonist.” He cites Queen opposite Kangna Ranaut and a unnamed Mahesh Bhatt production as the steps in that direction.
After learning the basics at Shri Ram Centre and Kshitij repertory, Raj says his real training happened at FTII where apart from other things he learnt the importance of fitness for an actor. “I love food but I have to keep a check on what I eat,” he smiles pointing at diced cucumber and green asparagus languishing in his plate with red and yellow bell pepper completing the traffic light template on the table. “I used to have a sweet tooth but I have got it removed from the dentist,” he quips.
He doesn’t cook but during the shoot he discovered that Hansal is adept at cooking. “I don’t like karela except for the one that Hansal makes. I often tell him that I like his genre of karela!” When it comes to food, Raj says Shahid was a very masala film! He makes an interesting observation. “During the shoot, you hate that kind of food but once the shooting is finished you miss that food. Perhaps we miss the camaraderie and bonds that are forged over that food.”
As a vegetarian, he says he has very limited options while shooting abroad. “In Europe, often I have to pick between pasta and pizza, something I don’t like. I like to have cottage cheese, tofu and green vegetables. Mumbai is the karmabhoomi and I have learnt to adjust but home made food is always home made food,” signs off Raj as we leave him craving for his mother’s magic.