After the success of films like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Newton last year, Rajkummar Rao is back with his new film Omerta, directed by Hansal Mehta. The actor plays the role of a British terrorist of Pakistani descent, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. Here, he talks about his role in the upcoming film, and the challenges he faced in trying to potray a negative character.
Q. Tell us about your character in Omerta.
A. My character’s name in the film is Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. He was a bright, intelligent man studying in London in 1994. The story talks about how from there he became the deadliest terrorist in the world. The story is not just about his journey, it is about a lot of boys like Omar Sheikh who are getting radicalised and are joining these terrorist organisations. The film shows Omar’s involvement in international terrorist attacks that shook the world—whether it was 9/11, 26/11, Kandahar hijack or Daniel Pearl kidnapping and killing.
Q. There is no positive side to your character in this film. What were the challenges of potraying such a role, and how did you prepare for it?
A. It was quite challenging for me. It was the first time I am playing a villain. Also, I don’t think anybody has made such a film which is all about a villain. I could not connect or relate with the character on any level. To play the character I had to understand people like him. I could feel that these people have a lot of violence inside them and I was trying to cultivate the same kind of violence and anger inside me. I was reading a lot and watched a lot of documentaries. I saw many disturbing videos and hate speeches. I also went to London to learn the accent. Then the physical transformation had to be there, and I had to grow a beard for three months, had to be in a particular shape, so I worked out on
While working on Newton and Trapped, I could relate to Newton’s honesty and Shaurya’s helplessness. But Omar Sheikh was a difficult role for me to play, as I could not connect with him at all.
Q. Didn’t you fear that since the audience has always seen you in a positive role, they might respond to this differently?
A. No, I don’t think so. Today’s audiences don’t care about the image of the actor. They want to see characters on the screen. We have seen this in the past also: Shah Rukh Khan in Darr or Baazigar, Aamir Khan in Earth, Sanjay Dutt in Khalnayak or even Ranveer Singh as Khilji in Padmaavat. So I think actors have always taken these risks.
Q. What made you choose this film?
A. I wanted to explore this man and his journey. It was a new thing for me. Also, a big reason behind me taking up this film was Hansal Mehta. I have immense respect for him as a director, and more than professional, we share a personal rapport. He is like a father figure to me. So working with him was like coming back to my family and working together.
Q. You have done some lighthearted roles like in Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana, and serious roles in Bose and Omerta. What kind of roles do you prefer playing the most?
A. Actually, I don’t know. I am still figuring out what I prefer. The point is I just prefer acting and it’s the only thing I love. I don’t want to restrict myself by doing only certain kinds of roles or films. I don’t want to typecast myself by putting myself in a spot saying that these are the only things that I do because I find comfort in them. So there is nothing I prefer as such and I love taking up challenges.
Q. This is your fifth film with Hansal Mehta. How has your experience been working with him?
A. It’s always fun when I work with Hansal because he understands me as an actor. As I said, he is like a father figure to me. He always throws challenging characters on me, which I love having as I don’t like things when they come easy and want to push myself as an actor.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming films.
A. After Omerta, I have Fanne Khan with Aishwarya [Rai] and Anil Kapoor. Then there is a desi horror comedy called Stree, with Shraddha Kapoor. After that I have Ek Ladki ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, with Sonam Kapoor and Anil Kapoor. And then there will be Mental Hai Kya, with Kangana Ranaut.