MUMBAI—Picture this: a young man from a lower middle-class family quits his Commerce degree course eight months before the qualifying examination, though he is excellent in his academic progress, only because he is bored. He would rather enter the uncertain world of theater, and even be in the background in a Shiamak Davar dance show. A man who should know how important money is, Sushant Singh Rajput preferred to enter fields where he does not know what the future will hold for him, but where work would be an unforeseen challenge!
He then gets a break in television, and reaches the skies, getting the kind of money he did not dream of doing so. Then he realizes that this too has become boring –he’s playing the same character day in and day out. At the top of his television career, he decides to quit, and venture into a field in which no TV actor, however big, has succeeded as a hero in 22 years, after the one and only Shah Rukh Khan –cinema!
Today, four films and a fifth releasing this week (“Raabta”) down, with five more films to come, Rajput still hunts for roles and films in which he does not know how he might fare. As he points out, “At one level, all my films, including my five films to come, are experimental and might go anywhere. But I want to challenge myself, be unsure whether I can pull off the role, and that’s what keeps an actor like me going.”
When we meet, he admits that promotions for a film have become excessive and that the success of “Bahubali 2: The Conclusion” proves that all this is not needed. But as he sagely puts it, “Analysis comes later – after something happens. But awareness is important. Still, no audience is going to pay Rs. 5000 for four hours in a multiplex even if I strip! They always decide – by the trailer and not the cast – if they want to go watch a film or not.”
About the coverage, he insists that post-screening meets with the media, when they can ask sensible questions, is much more logical, but that does not happen in India.
Rajput declares that every role he has done so far (“Kai Po Che!” “PK,” “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, “ “M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story”) has been exciting. “I have always selected roles where I do not know whether I can do the characters,” he reiterates.
“I put in the same amount of thought and work into “…Bakshy!” as into “M.S. Dhoni…,” but the results were totally opposite,” he goes on. “It takes anything up to seven months to make a film, and about two-and-a-half to three DAYS to know whether it will work or not. So I cannot screw up my seven months worrying about what will happen in the three days after the film releases!”
The perverse streak about money continued after the world was his for the asking following the success of the last film. “Among the many films I was offered after “M. S. Dhoni…,” there were those by a couple of great directors who would have paid me whatever fees I asked. But I chose to do a play instead, for which I have still not been paid, but about which I am still excited about how it will shape up! I still lie sleepless thinking about how to approach it.” And today, of course, he has sufficient money not to be insecure about anyway, he feels.
Rajput, thus, says that whatever is happening to him all through is the best that could happen. And to his mind, even when he left college midway, he was always a “superstar.” He smiles and says, “And once I fed that information into my brain, I locked it and threw away the key! Because that is NON-NEGOTIABLE!”
He, however, dismisses two “charges” against him: one, that he has become too big for his boots after one solo hit, and, two, that he and Kriti Sanon are more than friends. “Once, a channel guy asked me what I thought of a film BEFORE I watched it at a premiere. When I told him I could not say anything without watching the film, he said into his camera: ‘Dekhiye itna attitude aaya hai ke media walon se baat tak nahin karta (See how much attitude he has developed that he is unwilling to even talk to the media)!’”
Rajput shrugs, “I normally do not watch television, but the one time I switched it on for a lark, I found myself watching this story cooked up about Kriti and me, which I know was completely untrue. And that channel spent some 30 minutes on it!”
Rajput would rather ignore such things and not take them seriously. “I must preserve the vulnerable side I have that comes useful in my acting. But yes, I do not take the digital platform seriously at all!” he shrugs again.
Rajput even keeps count of his characters from his theater days. “When I was offered my 55th and 56th characters (the two incarnations) in “Raabta,” I thought, ‘I think that I can, but I don’t know if I can pull off two diametrically opposite characters in 2.10 hours.’ That was enough to make me accept the film!” he explains.
Rajput does value the compliments coming his way, directly or otherwise. “The director, editor, and people who create the background for my frames are all doing their best for me. To take the example again of my last film, you know I am not Dhoni, so I must have great talent to make you know I am not Dhoni but am playing him when he is still alive. For that time you are completely with me. So when in one shot, Dhoni himself thought it was a face replacement when in fact it was a body replacement, it felt very good. As an actor, it gave me a high!”
Rajput has now an eclectic group of films, including the rights of the biopic of a “very interesting sportsman that we are trying to put together.” He is also doing the space film “Chandamama Door Ke,” Homi Adajania’s “Takadum” (produced by Dinesh Vijan; Adajania has co-produced “Raabta”) with Parineeti Chopra and Irrfan Khan, the espionage drama “Romeo Akbar Walter,” Tarun Mansukhani’s “Drive” with Jacqueline Fernandez and the just announced “Kedarnath” that introduces Sara Ali Khan.
Rajput would rather not be anywhere else, thank you.