I had to let myself go to understand Omar’s psyche – Rajkummar Rao
Rajkummar Rao showcases extraordinary diversity with each role he plays. Just when one thinks that he has delivered the most challenging role of his career, he turns into a new character and outdoes himself. The actor’s upcoming film Omerta with director Hansal Mehta has him pushing his boundaries as he plays British radical of Pakistani origin Omar Shaikh known for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
In an exclusive chat, Rajkummar talks about playing a person whose ideologies he doesn’t identify with, the relevance of Omerta in today’s times and his understanding with Hansal Mehta, among other things.
Having worked with Hansal Mehta in quite a few films, how has it helped you understand his vision for a character and deliver accordingly?
Hansal sir always pushes me to my limits by giving me such fascinating characters. His films always make a comment on the social and political state of our society. His vision is very clear; he wants his characters to portray the truth on screen and as an actor, that’s what I aim for while playing any part.
We share this beautiful understanding, and when we are working together on a film, we don’t really need too many words to communicate. I know exactly what he expects of me and he gives me so much freedom to explore as an actor, which I always thank him for. Our relationship is more personal now than professional. He is a part of my family.
Both of us are totally unaware of this world but it was a quite an unforgettable experience for us
What were the of physical and mental changes you underwent to get into the skin of Omar Sheikh?
Playing Omar wasn’t easy at all. It’s a space that I’ve never explored before. I don’t believe and connect to his ideologies but when you are playing a part, you have to believe in what your part believes in. While playing Omar, I did realize that it’s going to be a very dark world for me and I really had to let myself go to understand his psyche. I started by reading about the history of terrorism, from where it originated, read a lot of interviews and heard many speeches and saw some documentaries. I also stayed in London for a couple of weeks to understand the culture.
You’ve been part of several real-life inspired films. As an actor, does having a real life reference add greatly to building your character?
It does help when you already have some available material to begin with. You can watch video footage and can read about them, can gather as much information as possible but it totally depends on what kind of character you are playing. For instance, when I was playing Shahid, there wasn’t much information available on him. I had to completely rely on the script and my only source was Shahid’s younger brother. It was through him that I got to understand Shahid.
In Omar’s case it’s mostly our figment of imagination apart from the factual information available on the Internet and his basic background and upbringing. I had to pick up a new accent and build some muscles as Omar was a really strong guy.
What sets Omerta apart from the films done by Hansal Mehta and you till date? Do you see its relevance in today’s time being a hugely relevant factor for the audience?
It’s our most explosive film till date and probably the highest in budget, compared to our earlier films. Both of us are totally unaware of this world but it was a quite an unforgettable experience for us.
It’s very relevant as all of us are affected by terrorism in one way or the other, and it’s one of the biggest problems that our world is facing today.
I don’t believe and connect to his ideologies but when you are playing a part, you have to believe in what your part believes in
How challenging is it transitioning between intense roles like a Shahid or Omar Sheikh to a romantic comedy like say, Bareilly Ki Barfi?
Playing Shahid, Omar or Shaurya from Trapped is mentally and physically taxing but when you do a film like Bareilly Ki Barfi, of course the preparation of playing a character is always there, but it’s not so mentally taxing. It’s all about exploring some fun moments together and to have fun on the set with your character, without getting out of it.