MUMBAI — He made us loathe him as the tyrannical father and husband Farukh in “Secret Superstar” (2016). But Raj Arjun has made the audience love and even revere him in the title-role in “Sabka Sai,” the MX Player web series on the Shirdi saint, in the title role.
After his beginning in the 2007 “Black Friday,” he has acted in a mere 10 Hindi films, in five more down South and in the web series, “Karenjit Kaur – The Untold Story of Sunny Leone.” This year, he has excelled in “Shershaah” as one of the soldiers and in “Thalaivi” as R.M. Veerappan.
We speak on phone and this unique actor presents his extraordinary way of thinking to India-West in an exclusive conversation. Excerpts from an interview follow.
Q: “Sabka Sai” is a paradigm shift from Farukh, who inspired so much revulsion.
A: I agree. In fact, among the limited work I have done, “Secret Superstar” and “Sabka Sai” are the only worthwhile assignments that gave me peace as an actor. My heart and soul connected only with these two films.
Q: How do you survive with such less work in 15 years?
A (Laughs): I am a ‘khandaani raees’ (born into a rich family)! Still, my family and friends call me mad to have done so less work. I have done small roles, avoided television, and I do not want to do insignificant roles, especially now. I want good work!
I have also done theater with Habib Tanveer, Feroz Abbas Khan, Makrand Deshpande…I played the second son, for example, in “Salesman Ramlal.”
Q: Doesn’t this selectiveness put off casting directors if you refuse a lot of work?
A: I think they are fine with that. But I don’t fear anything. I cannot bend and become weak. If I decide on something, the universe will have to help me! I will do work I want to, and that’s not out of ego. It’s just that otherwise, I suffer internally.
Q: But over here, the competition…
A: My competition, comparison, fight are all with myself.
Q: You may talk of only two roles, but I thought you were very good as Subedar Raghunath in “Shershaah.” At least, you were unrecognizable from Farukh.
A: That’s because I tend to catch the soul of the character I play. There is so much of ‘barood’ (explosive) within me. I tend to be very self-critical. I don’t want to slip out of character even for a second. I don’t want to look like Raj Arjun! I want appreciation, but what is acting if it comes across as acting? That only means that I did not feel my character.
Q: You were perhaps the best Shirdi Sai Baba on screen ever. How was that done—those tiny nuances and gestures?
A: I think what stood out about Sai Baba was his calmness, his gentle smiles, the placidity in him. I feel that all great people have that. And I tried to imbibe his character.
Q: So there is no extra satisfaction of an achievement?
A: Life has different phases and you should not be sad in adversity or fly in the air when things are going great. And why should I be so proud? All phases are temporary. And I am just doing my work. Time is too short, and I have to do a lot.
At the same time, there is no reason for fear. If you are going right, someone will pick you up, help you along…if it was not Aamir Khan 5 years back, it would have been someone else before or after him.
Q: How did “Sabka Sai” come to you?
A: I knew Brijesh Tanna of MX Player and he had watched me in “Secret Superstar.” He once told me that he was planning a film on a dacoit and was considering me. But two or three months later, he called up with this offer! You won’t believe it, but in two months, I received three offers to play Sai Baba! I turned down the first two despite the persuasion, but over here, I was asked why I was refusing to play Sai Baba. I felt that I did not have the knowledge to be spiritual enough. Sai Baba was enlightened, his philosophy was futuristic. I thought my mind wasn’t all that pure! And the camera—it is so tough to cheat the camera. Honesty is instantly captured by the camera, and it has loved me always, been my friend.
Q: And what did Brijesh say to your refusal?
A: Unlike the others, this script was ready, and he requested me to at least read it before I made any decision. I also thought some universal power was calling me for the third time in two months through him, and when I went through the writing, I loved it and it gave me a strange “sukoon” (peace).
Q: How did you finally reach the level of excellence?
A: I lived a similar life at home. I tried to catch Baba’s ‘sur’ (pitch). I emptied my room, wore similar clothes, called for the costume and changed my lifestyle. I slept on the floor. People will think all this is madness but therein lies the fun of being an actor!
I also take my script reading to the extreme level, and the role starts talking to me! I think I AM that person, not that I am doing his role. During the shoot, many even fell at my feet. I am happiest when people watch me and think I am Sai Baba, and not that I am Raj Arjun acting very well in his role.