This has been a very fulfilling year for you professionally. Are you content with what you have achieved?

A. No, I want 2018, 2019, and even 2020 and all the others to be as exciting as, or probably more exciting than, 2017. I’m not content. I’m still hungry as an actor.

Q. Unfortunately, Newton is out of the reckoning for the Oscars. Are you disappointed?

A. Yes, a little bit. But it’s fine because I’m still proud of Newton. We don’t know what happens there [at the Oscars], we can just presume sitting here, that there are a couple of people out there who are just trying to put Newton down. But we know the kind of film it is and the kind of awards that it has won all over the world. Oscars are not easy to crack but I’m sure that very soon, India will make it to the Oscars as well and hopefully with one of my films.

Q. As you rightly point out, Newton has already won a lot of awards. How do you feel about those?

A. Oh, yeah. At Berlin, Hong Kong, the APSA [Asia Pacific Screen Awards] awards, where I won the best actor award. Amit [V. Masurkar, director] and Mayank [Tewari, screenwriter] won the best screenplay award for the film. I won the Variety awards. There so many awards that are coming in… So it’s great. It’s a huge honour.

Rao in a still from the movie Newton.

Q. In terms of your Bollywood career, anything in particular that you are most looking forward to in 2018?

A. I’m going to start shooting for Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga with Sonam Kapoor. And there is another horror comedy with Shraddha [Kapoor]. So, 2018 seems pretty exciting as of now.

Q. At least five of your films are scheduled for a 2018 release…

A. Oh, I’m not counting. I don’t really count, I swear. People ask me how many films I have done till now, and I have no idea because I don’t count. As for me, I try to live in the moment and I try to do one film at a time. And once the moment is over I start preparing for the next one. So yes, I don’t count.

Q. Moving from one character to another, or working with one team and then with another after each film, how easy or difficult is that transition for you?

A. Well, it totally depends on what kind of script it is. If I have to learn a new language, if I have to change myself physically, then of course it takes time. Sometimes it takes a toll. Like Trapped [2016], or Bose [a web series from 2017], these were not easy; but when I do a Bareilly Ki Barfi [2017], or Shaadi Me Zaroor Aana [2017], they are probably easier. Still, every film has its own challenges. It depends on the kind of script I am offered. I do, however, enjoy challenging myself and am open to trying different things in all my films.

Q. Since you mentioned Bose, your physical transformation for the web series was the talk of the town. How important is it for you to commit to the character you’re playing?

A. It’s important. Again it depends on the character. I just don’t want to change myself for the heck of it. But if a character demands a physical transformation, and it’s needed for the part, then as an actor it’s my job to do that. A guy who is stuck in an apartment without food or water [the storyline of Trapped] will definitely lose weight. So when I did Trapped I had to put myself through similar experiences that my film’s protagonist, Shaurya, was undergoing, in order to portray the physical transformation of that character. When I’m portraying somebody like Subhas Chandra Bose, we have an image of his in our mind. So I can’t really play Netaji without trying to look like him.

Q. What about the residue of these characters? Is something of them left with you even when the performance is over?

A. Yes, their ideologies and their passions remain with me. I have learned something from each one of them. I have definitely grown as a human being by doing projects like Shahid [2013], Newton or Bose among so many others.

Q. Any character that particularly changed your perspective towards life?

A. Bose, and probably Newton. And Shahid as well. These three are definitely the characters that have changed my perception towards a lot of things.

“I don’t honestly categorise films. I don’t think that if I have done an indie film recently, I should do one commercial film now. My honesty towards Bareilly Ki Barfi or Newton is the same.”

Q. In Fanney Khan you are sharing screen space with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Anil Kapoor. What was it like working with them?

A. It was great. They are all wonderful actors, very cooperative co-actors, and that’s what I want from all my co-actors. And of course, they don’t throw their weight around when they are on the set. When they are on the set, they try and live as those characters they’re playing, and that’s what makes a good film, when everybody is on the same wavelength.

Q. Is there any particular actor or director you would want the chance to work with?

A. I want to work with everyone. Honestly, there is no dream actor or director I am waiting for. I’m just waiting for good scripts to come my way. Who thought when we were making Newton [that it would be so big]? Amit [V. Masurkar] is a new guy, it was his second film, but we didn’t know. I signed it because I liked the script and I like Amit in general. But we didn’t know that Newton would be such a big film and that it would do so well at the box office, and garner so much appreciation all over the world. You have to listen to your heart when signing films. It’s all about your gut feeling.

Q. You have signed a horror comedy with Shraddha Kapoor. This genre hasn’t been explored much in Bollywood. Was that the reason you picked this film, or was there something else too?

A. When I read the script, I found it very funny, and it somewhere matched my sensibilities. The film does not offer buffoonery, it has something that people can connect to and there are characters which are very relatable. So I thought this is a great story for me to start in this genre.

Q. It would be fair to say that you have found a balance between commercial and independent cinema. So how important is it for actors to do so?

A. I don’t honestly categorise films. I don’t think that if I have done an indie film recently, I should do one commercial film now. My honesty towards Bareilly Ki Barfi or Newton is the same. Just because Bareilly Ki Barfi had five songs does not mean I took it lightly. My hard work was still the same. I can’t act as per the kind of cinema I’m doing. It’s the story that is of the utmost importance. And these days the line between the two [commercial and independent cinema] are diminishing. People are not really going to the theatre to watch commercial cinema or an independent film. If they like something, people are talking good about it, they want to go and watch it.

Q. Now that you have critical acclaim, box office numbers, and an experience of working across different mediums, what’s next on the list?

A. I just want to keep doing it, keep following my passion. That’s the only thing.

Q. Are you a director’s actor or is your process more organic?

A. I’m definitely a director’s actor and I also believe in being organic on the set. So, it totally depends on the type of director I’m working with. Sometimes the director would just let me be, give me all the freedom to perform in front of the camera, but is always there to guide me if I’m going wrong. Different directors have a different way to work, just like actors. If the director is very adamant, that this is how he or she is looking at the character, then of course he or she is the captain of the ship.

Q. Who is your favourite director you have worked with so far?

A. I can’t really say. They are all wonderful, but of course I have a very good rapport with Hansal Mehta as I have done like four films and one web series with him. So he is someone I really enjoy working with.

Q. Are you still the curious kid from outside Bollywood, because we do not see you much at award ceremonies or B-town parties?

A. I am, yes. Also, most of the time I’m working and if I’m not working I would spend time with my loved ones and friends. So I just stay at home and watch something amazing on Netflix. That’s how I unwind. Also, I travel. I take some days off whenever I can.

Q. Are you also looking to start producing and directing films?

A. I don’t know who is spreading such stories. People ask if I am going to direct one day, and I would say I don’t know. Maybe. Probably, one day. But again, I haven’t decided. Right now my plate is absolutely full with my acting commitments. But probably there would be stories in the near future that I would love to produce and direct. But no, I’m not deciding to direct anytime soon.

Q. How do you hope your story at the “Signature Startup Masterclass”, a platform that gives masses an opportunity to hear and get inspired from the real life success stories of individuals from varied fields, will inspire people to follow their passion and transform it into a career irrespective of the hurdles?

A. I hope it inspires people because I also got inspired by watching a lot of people and just by getting to know about their journey. People like Shah Rukh [Khan], Nawaz [Nawazuddin Siddiqui], Irrfan [Khan], Manoj Bajpai, these people came from nowhere and made it so big in the industry just by their talent. So, I hope somebody out their reading this interview can get inspired.

Q. How was your journey been as an actor until now? And what’s your New Year’s resolution?

A. Just listen to your heart. Right now, at this moment I am trying to choose the right content [projects] and this has been my struggle since my first film. This is because as an actor you are offered all kinds of scripts but it’s all about making the right choices. That has been the struggle for me always.

 

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