Both Rajkummar Rao and Radhika Apte exchange knowing looks at the mention of one of the most dreaded questions that actors across India are subjected to nowadays: “What is your take on the whole pan-Indian phenomenon…”
But to be fair, the question does seem to apply to both of them; actors who have built their careers by appealing to a cross-section of audiences across the country.
From Aligarh and Newton to the recent highs of Badhaai Do and HIT, Rajkummar’s filmography is a lesson on an outsider making it in Bollywood, while Radhika’s diverse range in successful projects like Hunterrr, Kabali, A Call to Spy, Sacred Games and Andhadhun have catapulted her to national and international fame. .
Now, the duo stars in Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota filmmaker Vasan Bala’s crime-thriller Monica O My Darling releasing on Netflix, along with a star cast that includes Huma Qureshi, Sikandar Kher, Bagavathi Perumal and Zayn Marie Khan, poised to bring their pop culture-heady director’s vision to life.
Coming back to the topic from earlier. “I think I speak for both Radhika and myself when I say that we have never been — or don’t think ever will be — those kinds of actors who wonder how much this will make at the box-office, or how many languages it can be dubbed into. The only thing we always look for is the story, how we can make it, and the different challenges we face from an acting perspective. The lines are blurring anyway, and the reach is so huge irrespective of how a film or show releases...I just go with my gut always,” says Raj on the way forward, on Bollywood adapting to the pan-Indian wave.
Radhika agrees, “Yes, I mean the mode of release is never up to me, and anyway, I never choose a script based on if it’s a theatrical or streaming release. It is a cherry on top when it comes to a platform I like working with.”
Their upcoming project, while being a streaming release, could make a case for being anticipated by fans all over India. By the looks of it, the film seems like a neo-noir murder-mystery that has multiple suspects and coincidences embroiled together, akin to Knives Out or Murder on the Orient Express. Combine that with a filmmaker who has a penchant for throwing Easter eggs into the narrative, and co-stars with cracking chemistry.
Vasan Bala on ‘Monica O My Darling’
“It was such a great part and I’m super grateful to Vasan for it. Nobody would offer me a role like this, and it really took me out of my comfort zone. Vasan made me feel very safe and also gave me the liberty to make it my own,” says Radhika, who plays a wise-cracking cop in the film.
Raj also adds that there was no need to turn towards any Hollywood projects in the genre for inspiration. “Vasan is a phenomenal filmmaker, and it was such a great team on board. It was a complete bound script, with all the several twists and turns marked out perfectly, so it was easy for us to follow. He gives us the reference points and then trusts us to just perform how we’d like to do it. I never felt any pressure and it was so much fun working with friends like Radhika, Huma and the rest of the cast.”
Considering both of them have been featured in remakes recently — Raj starred in HIT: The First Case and Radhika in both Forensic and Vikram Vedha — they don’t seem to be bothered by the criticism that Bollywood is clinging towards remaking popular films from the South.
“I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of remakes personally,” begins Raj, “But sometimes, if it is a great story that can be told again to a demographic that has not watched it, why not? I really enjoyed working on HIT. But having said that, I don’t want every second film of mine to be a remake.”
Radhika adds, “I completely agree with Raj ...iconic films should not be remade. But the important question is ‘why?’ whenever a remake is pitched. With Vikram Vedha for instance, it was interesting as the original directors (Pushkar–Gayathri) were on board as well. So what were they going to do differently?”
Monica O My Darling streams November 11 on Netflix