He is the latest actor to arrive in Telugu cinema. A few weeks ago, he made a short but an impactful appearance in Dear Comrade as a selector of an all-woman cricket team who harasses Lilly (Rashmika) in the movie.
While Raj’s efforts to become an artiste were always persistent, he still had to struggle and wait for the opportune moment. He even left his flourishing business in Bhopal and came to Mumbai to be an actor. He recalls the decision and times which followed, “I wasn’t interested in business and got into theatre and developed my craft in Bhopal. For at least 15 years, I trained in theatre. Initially I wanted to work in television because these kinds of films weren’t being made then. The roles offered to me were of a heroine’s friend or a brother’s role or two, or one-scene characters — that was the maximum I got When I got into television they offered me episodic villain’s role. It wasn’t giving me any satisfaction and I stayed away.”
This move turned out be a bad one for Raj. “People forgot me and stopped approaching me. They didn’t want to cast me in big roles and I didn’t want small roles. For 15 years this drama went on. There were occasions when people told me that my daughter would become a heroine soon and I would still be struggling.” His daughter Sara did become an actor, though she was only two when she was offered a role in a short film.
Sara’s journey began and Raj spent time handling and taking care of her work for the next few years. She starred in 2014 Tamil films Saivam (2014), Deiva Thirumagal (2011) and, this year’s, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga in which she played a young Sweety whose adult version is portrayed by Sonam Kapoor. As this kicked off, he played Murad in Shabari (2011), a role given to him by Ram Gopal Varma but that was in-the-can for six years.
Raj tells us that she is 14 now and has taken up a narrator’s role in a film directed by Tushar Hirannandani and produced by Anurag Kashyap that has Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar playing the lead. She talks on behalf of the granddaughter in this story Saand Ki Aankh meaning bull’s eye.
He adds, “Whatever work I was getting I didn’t take it because I thought I was doing a lead in Shabari . Then I again started waiting for a strong role. It was torture, mentally I felt like a beggar asking for roles. In this process I did all small roles and a big role in a bad film didn’t help me at all. We can’t choose our work actually.”
A winning streak
His struggle ended in 2017 with the Aamir Khan-starrer Secret Superstar in which he played Farookh, Zaira Wasim’s father. The role won him a Zee Cine Award for Best Performance in a Negative Role in 2018.
Eventually, director Bharat Kamma saw his work and offered him the quad-lingual Dear Comrade . It was preceded by this year’s Watchman , a Tamil film in which he played a terrorist opposite GV Prakash.
Recalling his scenes in Dear Comrade , he says, “It is a psychological torture I inflict on Lilly without touching her. I tell her to meet me at the office next day and when she doesn’t turn up, I go hunting for her at the grounds where she is practising. I ask her how she has mustered courage to play there without my permission and tell her if she listens to me, I will give her a car, cash and numero uno placement in cricket. I start touching her and while I leave, I whisper in her ear. Another scene in the bathroom is brilliant; after I hit and stomp her friend in the stomach, Lilly sits on the floor and cries. I mimic her and scream at her that there is no one on this earth whom she can go and complain to, she can try telling God.”