Though Gajraj Rao made his debut way back in 1994 with Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Bandit Queen’, it is only recently that his talent has caught the eye of filmmakers. In the upcoming Hindi film ‘Badhaai Ho’, he plays one of the pivotal characters around which the film revolves. Excerpts from an interview.
‘Badhaai Ho’ is a film which is challenging stereotypes about the typical thinking that it is morally incorrect to be pregnant after a certain age and it is a matter of shame. When you signed the film, did you take it as just a film or you felt you had this responsibility to also send a message to counter this thinking with respect to your performance?
To be honest, how a character eventually shapes up in a film, where it leads to and everything, it is the director’s responsibility and the director is like a lovely puppet master and we are all his puppets. Amit had such a clear understanding of what he wants, how the script and character moves. So here as an actor, I am following the director’s instructions. This is an art form as well but unlike other art forms like say singing or painting which can have my own signature and flair, this isn’t the same. So my job as an actor was to do justice to the character and most importantly the faith Ayushmann and the director and the team had on me because this was the first time such a big role was offered to me and you must have realized from the trailer that the main characters of this film is this mid aged couple.. The writing is beautiful too. So initially I was very apprehensive but as time passed by and shoot progressed, it sinked in well.
The recent trend in Bollywood is that if they have to portray a serious issue in a film, they always seem to add an element of comedy in it. So do you think directors do it because audience is becoming less tolerant to serious issues when they view a film in a 70mm screen?
Haha! See nobody likes bhashan. In today’s time, if we make a movie entirely based on preaching and absolute seriousness, after 10 minutes the audience will be like ‘Arrey yaar yeh toh paka raha hai’. That’s the truth. So whenever such films are compiled with a bit of good humour, it naturally tends to work well. But then the content is the king at the end of the day. It has to be a perfect balance of both. That is why, say when you see films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Rajkumar Hirani, you not only understand the subject but also enjoy it. That is the best part.
How was your experience on working with Ayushmann and Neena ji in this film?
Oh! It was a beautiful atmosphere. Like an ideal theatre atmosphere. Ayushmann is one of the most secured actors around. I had inhibitions in my mind that if I crack a certain joke or look forward for any improvisation, he being a big star might not like it. But not for a single moment did he make himself look like any bigger to us. He is a sweetheart. I think he is following the Aamir Khan model where he just wants good people and good actors to surround him as he is not afraid of being overshadowed by anyone. That is his best quality. That is why the characters in his films of the last 4-5 years have flourished so much around him. He is amazing. And what can I say about Neena ji? She has such a huge belt of experience. She has worked with some of the best actors and directors and she is much more experienced than me and is a wonderful actress. Throughout the entire stage of shooting, we were always in the zone of Mr. and Mrs Kaushik. It was amazing sharing screen space with both of them. It was a pleasure.
How did you break the ice with Neena ji considering the fact that she is more senior to you in commercial cinema. How did your bonding begun and who took the initiative?
As you pointed out correctly, she is much more experienced than me in commercial cinema and this was the first time I was working with her. So I was very apprehensive that how my interactions will be in the next 30 days.. But on the 2nd or 3rd day of the shoot itself, I realized that she is an amazing human being and the best part about her was that even though she was more experienced than me, it was she who broke the ice nicely with me and made me feel comfortable as a co actor. I couldn’t have asked for something better from my co actor.
How far do you think this film will actually be successful in changing the mindset of people?
See, a film alone cannot create a revolution. Revolution ek din mein nahi aata my friend. But it might start the process. Just some time back, someone from my building society told me that ‘Gajraj ji, you know my story is pretty much the same. My father was 60 and I was 20 and mera chota bhai tab aaya”. So people are at least talking about it and hopefully will talk more openly realizing it is totally a cool thing and not a taboo. We are not propagating the idea of producing babies after 50. We are just saying that romance has no age limit and it is perfectly normal even after your 40s and 50s. Cinema as a medium is a narrative and it speaks for itself and hence a lot of people are even afraid of it. But this is a family drama so I am confident the film will be taken and appreciated in the right spirit.