News Column

Choosing the right path

October 24, 2013


Oct. 24--Bollywood actor Raj Kumar is hopeful audience will be moved by the gritty biopic Shahid

His last release, Kai Po Che, may have catapulted his co-star Sushant Singh Rajput straight into the big league. But no one can deny that Raj Kumar, who played the intense young Gujarati boy, Govind Patel, in the coming-of age movie, based on Chetan Bhagat's novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life, was the pivot around which the other two characters revolved.

The IIFT graduate has more than proved his talent though in the handful of vivid roles he has taken on so far -- be it Ragini MMS, Gangs of Wasseypur, Talaash or Love Sex Aur Dhoka which kick started his career in Bollywood.

As his varied repertoire shows, this is one actor who is unlikely to be caught taking the easy route to stardom.

His latest release, Shahid, a biopic based on the life of the slain human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi who was killed in 2010 by unidentified assailants, may not exactly fit the profile of the roles he has chosen to play so far. But the film that has won laurels while doing its mandatory rounds in the film festival circuits around the world -- garnering critical acclaim from all -- is finally ready for mass consumption.

And Raj Kumar is confident that his efforts will not go to waste. When we caught up with him over the phone from Mumbai, the young actor was as intense as the characters he has portrayed so far on the big screen. There is none of the frivolous chitchat Bollywood actors are wont to indulge in when promoting their latest releases.

Even before we can completely formulate our question about the communal aspect of the movie -- especially considering Shahid Azmi was shot dead while defending a key accused in the deadly 26/11 Mumbai attack case, even though the assailants were never brought to justice -- he brushes off any such association. Interesting considering his last hit Kai Po Che was partly set against the backdrop of communal violence in Gujarat. It is quite clear the actor did not want to be dragged into any controversy, though he is pretty steadfast in his support of the film.

"I was really moved by the story of Shahid (Azmi). He was a phenomenal character and I was really inspired to do the movie when I first heard the story," he tells us.

Taking on a real-life character however came with its own set of responsibilities. "The burden is of course more -- because people have seen him, known him, so you have to get the walk, the talk right. I got to know Shahid very well while doing the movie."

And there can be no better validation for all the hard work the actor has put into his role than when Raj Kumar, who interacted closely with the slain lawyer's family, tells us matter-of-factly, "His mother still calls me Shahid."

The Hindi film industry is known to make heroes out of larger-than-life characters, where a willing suspension of disbelief is a pre-requisite for entering a surreal world far removed from the day-to-day life of the majority of moviegoers. In the midst of the celebration of such mediocrity, isn't he worried that audiences might not take too well to a movie with a message such as this?

"The audience today is very receptive," Raj Kumar says. "You can't get away by serving them from the same platter every time."

And then as if to take a dig at the recent spate of commercial hits: "You can't keep making money out of bad movies."

Point taken. And coming from an actor who when pushed to name his role models within the industry picks out Aamir, Irrfan and Nawazuddin, it is hardly surprising.

"If people appreciate you in a movie, that is profit as well," he says when asked to choose between critical acclaim and commercial success. Though he is clear that he would rather find a balance between the two.

The actor is also at pains to point out that Shahid is not a dark movie. "It is a very engaging movie -- it is hard-hitting yet very humane," he tells us.

When asked to elaborate, he adds: "There are always two paths in life and the path you choose will decide how people remember you by."

"So it is always important to take the right path."

A philosophy he seems to have followed in his professional life within the Hindi movie industry as well, considering his spate of movies so far.

In an earlier conversation with City Times, when Kai Po Che was about to hit the screens, Raj Kumar had told us he wasn't worried about the box-office impact because he believed that "every movie has its own destiny." We can only hope that Shahid paves the way forward in Raj Kumar's destiny.


(c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

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