Nothing succeeds like success – Rajeev Khandelwal
[dropcap]”M[/dropcap]y career is not the only reason for my existence. It is just part of my life. I love doing other things as well,” says Rajeev Khandelwal, an award-winning actor for television as well as films. Aamir, Shaitan and Table No.21 are some of the hits that he has delivered. Sitting at his holiday home in Goa, the actor was indulging in the pleasure of mowing the lawn and growing his own farm along with his wife before he connected with Pandolin on a freewheeling chat, re-living unsaid moments of his life in depth.
For him nothing succeeds like success. Also being particular about the words he chooses, there is no giving up, first break and fans in the dictionary of his mind, instead he prefers to be described as living up till his last breath, debut and lovers of his body of work respectively. We learned more about his initial aspirations, career, films and life in this exclusive interview……
In one of your initial interviews, you have mentioned that you always wanted to become an actor. You have worked in a production house, done modelling assignments and then shifted to television and movies. How has this transition been for you? What sort of a struggle did you have to face to make a name for yourself and let your talent be seen?
Struggle is an integral part of any profession. Everyone has their own share of struggle that one has to do to become an engineer, a doctor, an architect or be it any profession. I don’t want to glamorize my struggle as it is most read about by the people in our industry. When I look back at my career, it brings a smile on my face because I have rightfully earned every penny I have got and even the achievements. Nothing was served to me on my platter or offered to me at my doorstep. I had to find a foothold for myself. I really love what I do as my work that even if I work for 48 hours at a stretch, I won’t feel stressed. I may get physically tired but I am always mentally stimulated.
It is said that success is 99% hard work and 1 % luck. How much amount of preparation was involved? What was your childhood like?
My fascination for the industry began when I was a kid in class third or fourth. But soon it became a passion for me, and I kept thinking of becoming an actor. My father, who was in army, knew that I was very keen on making a career in acting, so he used to take me to auditions whenever they happened here and there. Later after I got selected, he did not allow me to act because it required me to give up my school for couple of months. My family always insisted that I first finish my studies and then pursue acting. Reality hit me when I turned 18, as I still was adamant on becoming an actor and hence I was left to face the world on my own. That’s the time, I put an effort in the field of my interest instead of flowing with the tide living the expectations of society around me as everyone wanted me to become a software engineer. I thought of atleast putting one step towards my dream and then see where it would take me to. So that at the end, I would know that I tried and did not waste my time.
[pullquote_right]I think, it’s important that you either be very skilful that people identify your talent from a distance or you understand industry and treat your career seriously. Acting in films require great amount of dedication and energy.[/pullquote_right]
Initially, I never had the guts to come all the way to Mumbai for some unknown reasons. I felt the need to first accumulate the required skills and knowledge about the field before I step into it. So, I shifted to Delhi first and went into writing and editing documentaries with a production house and learnt about camera, film editing and the shoot. I also gave auditions for ad films, television serials and then movies. It turned out a wise decision for me.
What apprehensions you saw in your family about your decision of becoming an actor?
When a kid says that he wants to become an actor, a scientist or a cricketer, everyone says ‘Oh! That’s fantastic. Go ahead with it. Very good’ and they also make you dance, sing and act. When you grow up and persist on your dreams, the same people pull back their support. I think, for parents it becomes difficult to accept their children’s dream of becoming an actor because there is so much negative written or said about the industry, about the kind of people, lifestyle and stress related to it on everyday basis. They read about it. So, their concern is right on their part, that makes them step back. My father suggested me to make something in the world of academics and said ‘if you want to be an actor, look for it on your own.’ I believe nothing succeeds like success.
When you achieve something small, people start taking you little seriously. Then you follow it up with more success, they take you even more seriously. Initially, my parents were not supportive and not even after I started making money out of it. When my career started shaping up in a progressive direction, they realized that I was really serious about it and now they are the proud parents of Rajeev Khandelwal. I lived my passion and they know it. Being Rajeev’s parents do make them feel special.
How did you hone your acting skills during initial period? What approach do you follow for getting into the skin of a character or preparing for a role?
I was never involved in any theater neither went to any acting school. Whatever I have learnt or I am still learning, I have learnt it on the ground. Each time I approach a character, I feel I can better up my performance in the last one. Each time, I end up finishing my performance, I feel that I still have a lot more to learn. Each time I do something new, I find a lot of flaws in myself. I am not a kind of actor, who watches a lot of movies or does a lot of research. I think best performance is the one, which comes straight from your heart. When you feel your character or imagine yourself in that character’s role, everything falls into place. It’s just my way of looking at it. For each performance, I am just learning. No formal training, just a formal guidance.
About my approach, firstly I think that there is only one person who has to be convinced of my performance i.e. director. After that if the audience likes me, it’s fantastic and if they don’t, I feel terrible and bad. But at the end, the person who extracts the performances out of you is a director. If a director happily feels that he got his character, then my battle is won. Thereafter, it totally depends on fate that how does the film appeal to the audience.
I always follow the director’s vision. All we actors are expected is to be that mould, who can be cast perfectly into a director’s vision.
Is the process easy? How difficult it is to leave your original self and become your character?
Each time, it is very difficult because as I said I find several flaws in my performance. An honest actor always knows whether the director is happy with his performance or is compromising because of the actor’s inability to give the best shot despite of so many takes.
It takes a while to depart from your original self and be a different character. I really envy those, who can do that in a snap of their fingers, switching roles from their original self to the screen characters. Somewhere I think, in every performance of mine, there is always been a bit of Rajeev Khandelwal. But that doesn’t make me a bad actor. It just makes me an honest actor because I cannot be someone I am not. It takes a while with couple of takes and then of course should director be intelligent, he will always keep distance between your real self and screen self. Whatever I have been to the character I have played, I attribute it all to the contribution of the director. I just follow his vision correctly.
How did you get your debut film Aamir? Can you share your experience of signing and shooting the film.
I had done two very interesting daily soaps in television. I was looking to do something new and wanted to grow as an actor and then Aamir came my way. A lot of producers thought that ‘I was not a right guy for the film, because I was very popular in the television industry’. But film directors Raj Kumar Gupta and Anurag Kashyap both were very adamant on giving this role to me. I kept asking them to take my screen test for the role of ‘Aamir’, as the film completely rests on this one character. They showed immense faith in me and never auditioned me for some reason best known to them. It took around three-four months to find the other producer.
I was just looking for something different to do and had television offered me that, probably I would have continued doing television only. I never ever thought that the film actors are superior to the television actors. On the contrary, I think television actors entertain people way more than the film actors do. The film actors entertain you for a week but television actors entertain you round the clock, all throughout the year. In television, I was offered the same stuff which I was already doing. Then films happened, where I got to experiment with different characters. After Aamir I took up Sach ka saamna because it was exciting. Even though, some people thought that it was suicidal to do television again.
How did you prepare for your character in the film Aamir?
Actor Nawazuddin Siddique was my tutor when I was doing Aamir. He had taken the workshop as Raj Kumar and Anurag Kashyap both had asked me to work with the theatre actor. I also had a lot of discussion with Raj Kumar Gupta about this character and shaping up my performance.[pullquote_left]For me names do not matter, as I believe all the names have also been no names at some point of time. I have no qualms or reservations about working with new people who are talented and passionate.[/pullquote_left]
Also, you are known for your choice of scripts. How do you choose your script? Is there any points that you always keep into consideration before signing a film?
First and foremost, whether the script has a potential of breaking a ground or it would provide fresh experience to the audience. Novelty is one thing I search in a script. Second is the director. As he should be someone who genuinely has potential. I work a lot with the first time directors in almost all my films. I feel they also deserve a chance to make their debut film. When you make your first film, you put a lot of hard work, sincerity, dedication and passion in the project because you know that this is going to either make or break the film for you.
I am very careful about choosing the right producers. For producers, it is important how they take the film to the audience. I look at whether the producer is a filmmaker or just a business person, who is always concerned about the funds and do not bother about the film’s fate.
Can you share any such bad instances you have had with the producers?
There have been instances when the things did not fall as per my expectations. I did a film called Soundtrack. It is a well-made and very interesting film. The producers came and congratulated me a few days before the film’s release saying “the film has got rave reviews. We already sold the film to the distributors and we made money on it. This is your hat-trick after Aamir and Shaitan.” I said “my success would be counted when the film works at the box office.” But the producers did not release the film or take it to the audience, the way it should have been. For me, that was a complete shocker because I was sent to promote the film in the city where it was not even released. It was disheartening to see people not even watching the film. I would have understood if the audience did not come to the theater to watch the film after its release but the film got poorly released that the audience did not even know about it. How can that film be counted as a failure, if the film does not even reach the box-office. Failure would be when people reject something at the box office. But the world will call it a failure because the film was released but very poorly. Whoever has seen the film, loved it.
I also realised that the film is always in the hands of the producers. They are the ones who own the film. It’s one of those times, when I felt disheartened. Since then, I have worked on my sensibilities when I work with people.
How important is it for an actor to know the technicalities of filmmaking?
It helps you a lot. I have worked with cinematographers and editors, somewhere I felt they appreciate my understanding of filmmaking. I understand techniques very well. It’s very important when you are acting. You should know how the shot is going to be taken and edited. I don’t say that it’s mandatory for all the actors but it helps you. When I am giving a shot, I know where the camera is placed and how much is expected of me, what lens the cinematographer is using, when will the camera face me or won’t face me, where am I supposed to end the shot, etc.
Acting is about feeling your character from the heart. There would be people on set to help you out, but if you know it already, it helps you to focus only on your performance. If you don’t know the technicalities, you won’t be able to focus on your performance, as your mind would be occupied with whether you are in focus or not, where is your standing point. It also does make a director’s life easy, when the actors understand these basics.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
I look up to all the actors who have achieved so much in life. I like Mr. Bachchan’s body of work like everyone, Mr. Rishi Kapoor’s work as he also played variety of roles. In the present time, Ranbir Kapoor is a very fine actor and Hrithik Roshan is very focused and hardworking.
At some point of time, did you ever feel challenged by your contemporary actors?
Why should I? The kind of work I am doing is as important as the work others do because everything is just part of the industry. Somewhere if you look at it broadly, you would understand that if it were one man’s industry, I don’t think the industry would have survived. I met a lot of my contemporaries who walked to me and appreciated my work and so do I.
Can you talk about your role in Kavita Barjatya’s film Samrat and Co?
This is going to be genuine detective film. We are not going to garnish the film with other things. I play the character of a detective ‘Samrat’, who is quirky yet very interesting, charming and very intelligent. The film is going to be about him solving certain mysteries with a lot of interesting dialogues and fantastic situations. The shoot will start from the first week of September. Currently, we are going through the whole character sketch, back story, certain mannerism such as speech and walking style. I am having a lot of interactive sessions with the director Kaushik Ghatak.
What do you tell yourself first, when you wake up in the morning?
My blood group – B positive.