In conversation with Raj Kumar

First Cut

It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon but Raj Kumar has a busy schedule. He is promoting his forthcoming film ‘Shahid’ based on Shahid Azmi’s life. Shahid was 32 when he was assassinated in his Mumbai office in 2010. Raj Kumar talks to us about his journey in a film like this one and the unusual challenges he faced.

Excerpts from the interview:

What are the challenges of doing a biographical role like ‘Shahid’?

As an actor when I started the film, I didn’t think about the future or whether there might be any controversy or criticism surrounding the role. As an actor, my job is to…I have to be honest to my character, I have to give 200 percent of my craft to the character…more than a challenge, this film has been a responsibility for me, I think when you do a real life character there is lot of responsibility on your shoulder, especially in the case of Shahid (Azmi) when he is not around and a lot of people were not aware of his case. So, his family and the people who know you are going to judge you after they watch the film.

What was the deciding factor in this script?

I think the story. The moment he told me the story, I was very moved. Also, I was very inspired by his life story, the way this guy lived his life.

It’s a very complex character and as an actor I like challenging myself. It was a real challenge for me as an actor to play the complexities of the character.
Are you afraid that your choice of characters might lead you to be typecast?

I have done mainstream films like ‘Kai Po Che’ and ‘Ragini MMS’. I don’t want to limit myself to any category. I am doing ‘Queen’, which is a very different love story.

I don’t see myself getting typecast but I understand there’s a tendency in this industry to get typecast but I’m trying not to go that way. I choose my roles depending on the script and not because it’s a commercial viable film. The most important thing is the story and then you see what else is supporting it.
You have had an interesting career graph and you have worked with some of the most prominent names in contemporary cinema like Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap. Was this a conscious decision?

It was not my decision, these guys chose me. I wasn’t in a position to decide that I wanted to work with Dibakar or Anurag. I am grateful to these guys that they have chosen to work with me. At that time I wasn’t in a position to chose my directors, I was just a struggling actor in Bombay, when I heard Dibakar was doing a film, I was just ready for it.
In Bollywood is it difficult for actors with unconventional looks or after actors like Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is there finally a real recognition of acting talent?

I really don’t believe that it’s only about looks. Everyone cannot be as handsome as Hrithik Roshan, everyone has their own looks, everyone is proud of their looks and they are all talented people. It’s no longer about looks or six packs any more.

There have been so many conventionally good-looking actors who are gone. Times have changed and only your looks won’t help you.

What went into the preparation for your role in ‘Shahid’?

When I was given this character, there wasn’t much available on ‘Shahid’, not even on the Internet, there were no videos available. My only source of information was the family and the script, which was already quite researched. So that’s what I did, I spent a lot of time with the family, especially with his younger brother, Khalid. I got to know him really well through them. I wanted to him as a person, how was he as a person, more than his profession.

I wanted to get inside him…what was he feeling internally, why did he do what he was doing, why was he fighting for innocent people? Once I got that, I spent a lot of time in the courts because he was a lawyer. I also studied about Islam and its culture.

Shahid Azmi died a tragic death … while working on this film where there emotionally disturbing moments or as an actor you manage to keep your reel and real life separate?

The whole journey has been emotionally draining for me because the more we were shooting for the film, the more I was involved as an actor and also as a human being. There were some scenes too, that took a toll on my emotional health. It’s been a year since we finished shooting for ‘Shahid’ but somewhere deep within his ideology is still with me and it will remain with me throughout.

Not only me, even with Hansal sir, I think we are both carrying parts of Shahid in our life.
‘Shahid’ releases on October 18. You can connect with me on Twitter.