Rajkummar Rao, Nushrat Bharucha on entering unexplored territory with Chhalaang, and working with Hansal Mehta
While Chhalaang is Rajkummar Rao's sixth collaboration with Hansal Mehta, it is the first time the two have worked on a romantic comedy. For Nushrat Bharucha, she is excited to play 'a small-town girl for the first time.'
Rajkummar Rao has emerged as one of the finest in the young generation of actors, having impressed audiences with films such as Shahid, Trapped, Newton, Bareilly Ki Barfi, and Stree to name a few. The acting powerhouse is known for his choice of unconventional roles, often those of ordinary people grappling with extraordinary circumstances.
One such film that he is looking forward to is Chhalaang, a social comedy, which the actor describes as sweet, aspirational, real, and funny, with a message. “It not just talks about the importance of sports in our lives but also how in life you have to take that chhalaang, the leap of faith, and it could be that someone will come and inspire you like what happens with my character in the film,” says Rao, who is paired with Nushrat Bharucha.
“To play a Haryanvi PT (Physical Training) teacher who is so laid back, and suddenly, things shift in his life, there is a transformation that he goes through. The arc of the character is very interesting. I have never played a character like this before, and we haven't seen stories about the PT teachers. They play a very important role in our lives while growing up. But we don't really know their lives and that attracted me to the film. I also wanted to do a sports film. The film is set in Haryana, which is a familiar world for me,” says the National Award winner.
Written by Luv Ranjan and directed by Rao's frequent collaborator Hansal Mehta, the film will release on the eve of Children's Day.
Ajay Devgn production Chhalaang is Rao and Mehta’s sixth collaboration (including the ALTBalaji web series Bose:Dead/Alive), with all their earlier films — Shahid, Citylights, Aligarh, and Omerta being serious tragic stories or biopics. What is interesting is that for the first time they have come together in a comedy. “It was definitely easier than other films because this time, I didn’t have to be in that dark space with heavy thoughts. It’s not a biopic and a realistic story again. Chhalaang is a fun film, and we had great fun on set, which ultimately got translated to the audience. But unlike the popular belief, Hansal sir is a funny guy. He understands humour and whatever films we do, we like having fun on sets. We don’t go into a shell or become serious or don’t talk to each other. That doesn’t happen. But nobody expected us to explore this genre, and it is fun to surprise people,” says Rao.
However, for Bharucha, who plays a computer science teacher, and who reunites with her Love Sex Aur Dhokha co-star after a decade, was in a new space. “I was a nervous wreck on set. I haven’t played a small-town girl before. I have always been seen as a city girl. And then I had to speak in Haryanvi. All these were stressful points for me. I had a language coach, and I would also be on Raj’s head to show me how to do it. As it is I put a lot of pressure on myself so it was difficult. I wanted to be super prepared with the lines, get the accent right. I tortured myself a lot, and then the opening scene was a long dialogue with many senior actors around me, which was intimidating,” says Bharucha.
“But,” she continues, “Hansal sir made me believe in myself. I thought he would be a serious taskmaster, I would probably not get the character right and he would wonder who he has cast. I was like falling into pieces on set. But he was very supportive. He trusts his actors, something that I admire about him. Even though he has a clear idea of what he wants to do with the film, he wants to know where you see the scene going. He gives a lot of freedom to his actors, and that gives actors more confidence to be that character. It was a trial-and-error process for me, and it was very rewarding working with Hansal sir.”
Rao’s filmography boasts of films set in small towns, with many of those being critical and commercial successes like Newton, Stree, and Bareilly Ki Barfi. While the actor believes that there are a lot of stories that come from the heartland, he also tries his best to make his characters look different in each one of them. “It could be through the body language, accent, the circumstances, the backstory, the environment, the internal conflicts of the character in every film are different, and hence the internal process is different. Chhalaang is set in Haryana, which is a familiar world for me. I have seen teachers like Manto when I was growing up. And if you are true to the character then you don’t have to think too much. Once you understand the character in your head then your system just allows you to be in that form. I don’t plan chemically that I am going to do it like this,” says Rao,
The actor is pretty much enjoying the current phase of his career but he says that he is always in pursuit of looking for something new. “I enjoy playing all kinds of characters. I don’t want to put myself in a box that I want to do only serious or only lighthearted films. I would really love to do an intense love story, and maybe in a different way. Of course, these films are always there for a reason, the films that people relate to, they want to get entertained, have fun, smile, and laugh, but my heart is there for each and every kind of film,” he says.
Rao has two films releasing consecutively on digital platforms – Chhalaang and Ludo (12 November on Netflix India). While he finds the big-screen experience magical, considering the consumption of video streaming platforms continuing to spike, he understands the importance of the digital medium as well. “People are consuming a lot of content on OTT platforms, and that is the new norm. They want to watch content as per their own convenience. Nobody spoke about Paatal Lok till it dropped, and then people went crazy about it. People were desperately waiting for the second season of Mirzapur, and then we had Scam 1992. If your film or series is good then people will welcome it with both hands. But yes, the big screen remains magical, and I am a big-screen fan myself. The experience of watching a film in the dark theatre with hundreds of other people laughing out loud together, getting scared... that experience will never go away, it will always be there but OTT, too, will now be a strong parallel industry, so you can’t deny the power of OTT platforms,” says Rao.
For both Rao and Bharucha, the lockdown phase was "productive," and the unlock phase "is a bit unnerving." “I have learnt all the household chores in the last six-seven months. I washed utensils, was sweeping and mopping the floor, learned cooking, and discovered love for vacuum cleaners. Now, the unlock phase is a little unnerving because we don’t know whether we are safe or not. I have to start shooting this month, and fear is very much there,” says Bharucha.
“It does not feel like unlock yet because the pandemic is still there. I am in Chandigarh now, and about to start my new film (Dinesh Vijan’s next as-yet-untitled film) with all the safety precautions. But it doesn’t feel the same. I am very careful because things are still not normal. Lockdown was pretty much productive, I did a lot of things I couldn’t do in the last few years because of my hectic schedule. I did online masterclasses on acting, screenplay writing. But eventually, I started feeling a bit impatient, and wanted to be on set, which is now happening,” signs off Rao.
Chhalaang is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
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