The first time Rajkummar Rao made his appearance on the big screen, he played a young man (Adarsh Yadav) in Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Love Sex Aur Dhokha’ (2010) who fakes a fling with a saleswoman at a shopping store, shoots the footage of their sexual escapade and sells the CD which eventually clears off his debts. A year later, he played the lead in Ekta Kapoor’s ‘Ragini MMS’, which many thought was an extension of Rajkummar’s story in LSD. For, it again featured the actor with MMS motives.
Rao could have continued down that path and been stereotyped as a fetish pervert keen on filming intimate moments with his girlfriends had he not taken the message from a film critic – “A star was porn” (sent after his second film) seriously which served as a reminder of not being pigeonholed into particular characters. Keen on not being associated with a specific role, Rao made less obvious choices, essayed small & influential roles in his offbeat and commercial movies – ‘Shahid’, 'Omerta', 'Stree', 'Trapped', ‘Kai Po Che’, ‘Shaitan’, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur – 2’ & ‘Talaash’ – all of which now have a cult status.
Rao has appeared in 31 films, in the 10 incredible years of his career. But the acting range that he has demonstrated is more than what majority of the actors are able to exhibit in decades of work. If you consider his most popular roles, you’d find a determined criminal defence lawyer (Shahid), an earnest government employee (Newton), a call centre worker trapped in a flat (Trapped), British terrorist of Pakistani descent Omar Sheikh (Omerta) & the popular freedom fighter (Bose: Dead/Alive). No matter what part Rao plays, viewers seem to always feel like they deeply understand his characters and want to know more about them. This is possible because Rao fully embodies every character to bring out the most authentic performance. So whether he plays Newton or the badass babua, it is easy to connect with him.
From watching disturbing videos to cultivate the angst and understand the psyche of Omar Sheikh (a space he so wanted to move out of) to going half bald in reality to play Bose (which most of his contemporaries won’t do) to undergoing a major physical makeover for ‘Trapped’, Rao has often taken method acting to next level and helped viewers understand the term ‘actor’ differently.
Unlike his contemporaries, who have been slammed for mediocre performances, Rao has unswervingly put out versatile work. The FTII alumnus has no qualms in accepting that he is still in a precarious position where with four consecutive wrong choices, he won’t be able to survive as an actor. This is why every choice he makes is critical. Some of his movies may not have done well at the Box Office, but not once has he disappointed his fans. For instance, ‘Behen Hogi Teri’ was criticized for its wafer-thin plot, but Rao won laurels for being extremely charming as Gattu and elevating the run-of-the-mill film. ‘Made In China’ too failed due to awkward writing, but that didn’t stop Rao from being the scene stealer. He was relatable, amazing as he oscillated between the flabbergasted, the immature, and the discerning character, as required by the scene. So while there is a crazy number of actors out there, there is only one Rajkummar Rao.
An ardent fan of Daniel Day-Lewis, Rao believes he could achieve a bit of what the popular star could, he would consider himself lucky. Well, with a National Award to his credit, Rao, you have left an indelible impact that too without being roped in a glossy superstar vehicle.