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‘I am the chosen one’

ANUJ KUMAR
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A name to reckon with Raj Kumar Rao
A name to reckon with Raj Kumar Rao

Gurgaon boy Raj Kumar Rao on winning the National Award for the best actor for “Shahid”

Raj Kumar Rao could not hold his tears when he first heard the news of being adjudged the best actor for the National Award. “Director Suparn Verma broke the news and my eyes became moist. It is not that one works for awards but National Award is something that every actor aspires for and considering it has come for a film like Shahid that is relevant for the society at large makes it all the more sweet,” says Raj, as one manages to catch hold of him between the shoot of Dolly Ki Doli .

Based on the life of activist lawyer Shahid Azmi, who fought for innocent youth lodged in jails under terror charges, the Hansal Mehta film has been a critical and commercial success. “The award is a tribute to what Shahid stood for and I hope it will go a long way in addressing the concerns of youngsters who were helped by Shahid,” says Raj adding he will soon meet the family of the slain lawyer. “I had never met Shahid. I came to know about his personality and his principles after spending time with his mother and brother. I didn’t want to copy him but wanted to keep it real and believable.”

The Gurgaon boy emerged on the scene with Love Sex Aur Dhoka and went on to do small parts in films like Shaitan and Talaash. But even if he is in a single frame, he manages to make his presence felt. Like the scene in Talaash where the focus is on Aamir Khan and Rani Mukerji but it is him with a single line dialogue who gets etched in the memory. “I don’t go by the length of the role. To me script is most important. If I want to be part of an interesting story, I will do it irrespective of the length or shade of my role.” He did it in Queen where he could have easily been reduced to a male chauvinist but Raj made even that relatable. “Script sense is the primary requisite for an actor,” he underlines.

When Raj started he had Yadav as surname. He insists that he was never judged because of his surname. “But yes it was not something people were used to hearing in the film industry. Some careless journalists mixed it up with Rajpal Yadav. So I changed it to Rao, which is the actually the same as Yadav in Haryana.”

Like his city, the guy from Prem Nagar in Old Gurgaon has come a long way. “When I left Gurgaon in 2004 it was on the cusp of change. Delhi seemed far as I travelled by bus to attend Atma Ram Sanatan Dharam College in South Campus. In the evening I would train at Shri Ram Centre. I am the first boy from my family to have entered the show business but my family knew that I will make it.”

Raj says sometimes certain areas are stereotyped. “Gurgaon is one of them. People don’t believe that the first play that I did in Gurgaon was the lead role in Greek tragedy Oedipus. I was in class XI and when Arun Marwah of Nishtha Sanatan offered me the play I was surprised by his choice.”

For a guy to be in a profession as whimsical as Bollywood, Raj’s career moves seem rather scientific. After completing his theatre training in Delhi, he joined FTII and after completing the course applied for an audition for Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhoka . “This generation is very clear. If you have to make a career in acting you should move to Mumbai as soon as possible but with proper training.” Unlike Irrfan and Manoj Bajpayee, who spent a lot of time in struggle, Raj has become a name to reckon with within four years. “I am the chosen one. I know I have age on my side and can take the risk of saying no to work which I don’t like to be part of.” Raj is now looking forward to Citylights, again with Mehta. Releasing next month, Raj says it is a searing take on urban migration.

The award is a tribute to what Shahid stood for and I hope it will go a long way in addressing the concerns of youngsters who were helped by Shahid

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