Rajkummar Rao has never been afraid to experiment with his movies. Which actor would have dared to debut with something like Love Sex Aur Dhokha? It is sheer skill and hard work that saw this FTII graduate become a critics’ favorite and a commercial success. It also helped that as Rajkummar was coming into his own, so was the Indian audience. With the advent of social media and OTT platforms, the Indian audience began demanding better fare and realism in their movies. And Rajkummar Rao was there at the right place, at the right time, meeting those demands. He’s been the poster child of content-driven cinema in India, having starred in Gangs Of Wasseypur – Part 2, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Ludo, Newton, Stree and The White Tiger. Of course, actors today are modest and will say that content has always driven the film industry even though everyone knows that this isn’t exactly true. Rajkummar might not say it but he has helped the Indian taste palate evolve by delivering good work constantly, work that has often reached the farthest corners of India only because of word-of-mouth praise.
In his latest movie, Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar pretend to be a happy couple when in reality, they are stuck in a ‘lavender marriage’. Rajkummar Rao plays a gay man and Bhumi Pednekar portrays a lesbian woman in Badhaai Do. What’s refreshing is that Rajkummar Rao’s character is a masculine policeman – it just goes to show how far we have come in the scheme of things. No longer are gay men stereotyped as belonging to the fashion industry or its sister industries. Our notion of the LGBTQ community is changing but the change is slow. With films like Badhaai Do being backed by big stars and big production houses, there is hope that one day, queer storytelling will be normalized in the world’s second-largest film industry. For now, listen in as we interview Rajkummar Rao about his upcoming movie, his co-star Bhumi Pednekar, and the love of his life, Patralekhaa.
What sort of research and thinking went behind Badhaai Do?
I’d never support cinema that makes fun of someone just to get a few laughs. It’s not the kind of comedy I prefer doing. Especially in this case, where the LGBTQ community is fighting for acceptance every day. There’s still a large section of society that doesn’t accept the community. All of us are sensitive and sensible, responsible people. Our script is well researched and people from the community were involved when director Harshavardhan Kulkarni was writing it. They were given the script to read and were asked to give their feedback. We even had some people from the community on our set, while we were shooting. Everything was taken care of. There was one small glitch though. It was a human error. A straight pride flag was used in a scene depicting the gay pride parade. I am glad someone pointed it out and now we’ve resolved it. Apart from that, I think we’ve been very responsible about everything.
There are suspicions about how the film will play out. What would you like to say to all the queer people reading this interview?
I would just ask them to trust us. We’ll never do something that will hurt someone’s sentiments – knowingly for sure. We’ve shown the film to a couple of people from the community and they only have great things to say about it. See, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. No matter how great a film you make, it will not make everyone happy. I’m sure there will be somebody who’ll say ‘no, I am not happy with this’ but that’s fine. That’s your opinion. Harsh has been responsible for putting together a story, where we make people aware of the issues, the problems, the loneliness a gay man or woman can go through. Of course, there’s a chunk of it that is told in a funny way, just so that people can get entertained. You entertain people but also put your point across.
Do you think actors have become more open to playing gay characters because they feel that it won’t affect their ‘brand’?
That’s why we’ve started making such films and that’s why people are also acting in them because they are okay about playing gay characters. As an actor, it’s my job to explore all the character types there are. And if through my choices, I can bring in maybe a small amount of change in society, then why not?
How was it having Bhumi Pednekar as your co-star?
Bhumi is a giving actor and so am I. It was a treat to work with her. We are connected from the beginning. We both wanted to work with each other for a while. I think this was the perfect film for us. We were so happy working with each other. Now, of course, in the process of filming Badhaai Do, we’ve become the best of buddies. And we’re in this constant fight with Harsh about whom he loves more.
You recently got married. Looking back at that day, how do you feel? Because you have been dating Patralekhaa for a really long time…
When I saw her in her bridal dress, my jaw just dropped. She was looking so pretty and the moment was so beautiful. Our relationship has now become official, of course. But no, we don’t really feel any change. We were in love, we are still in love and we will be in love. That’s the most important thing. You can name the relationship whatever you want but if there’s no love, there’s no point and if there’s love, nothing else matters.