A promising Star | Sunday Observer
Rajkummar Rao:

A promising Star

7 February, 2021
Raj Kumar Yadav
Raj Kumar Yadav

Raj Kumar Yadav (born August 31, 1984), known professionally as Rajkummar Rao, is an Indian actor known for his work in Hindi films. He is the recipient of several awards, including a National Film Award, three Filmfare Awards, and an Asia Pacific Screen Award.

Rao after graduating from the University of Delhi he went on to study acting at the Film and Television Institute of India. He then moved to Mumbai and made his film debut with Dibakar Banerjee’s found footage anthology film Love Sex Aur Dhokha (2010). After a few supporting roles in films like the Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 2 (2012) and Talaash: The Answer Lies Within, his breakthrough came with the drama film Kai Po Che! in 2013. He rose to prominence with his portrayal of a lawyer Shahid Azmi in Hansal Mehta’s critically acclaimed biographical drama Shahid (2013), for which he was awarded the National Film Award for Best Actor and the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor.

Rao went on to feature in the successful romantic comedy Queen (2014), Aligarh (2016) and Trapped (2016). Trapped earned him a second Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor. Among his 2017 releases, the romantic comedy Bareilly Ki Barfi and the black comedy Newton were both commercial successes and won him several accolades; the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor for the former and the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Actor for the latter. In 2018, he starred in the horror-comedy Stree, which is the highest-grossing film of his career to date.

Commercial success (2017-present)

Rao’s first release in 2017 was the romantic comedy Behen Hogi Teri with Shruti Haasan; it met with an unfavourable critical response though critics praised Rao’s performance. He followed this with another romantic comedy titled Bareilly Ki Barfi, directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and co-starring Kriti Sanon and Ayushmann Khurrana. The film and Rao’s performance met with mostly positive reviews. Namrata Joshi wrote: “Rao is a hoot and brings the house down with his chameleon turn and comic timing — simpering simpleton one minute, full of swagger the next; a role that could have become a caricature in the hands of a lesser actor.” The film was a commercial success and Rao won a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Amit V. Masurkar’s black comedy flick Newton was Rao’s next film. In it, he plays the role of an upright government clerk sent on election duty to a Naxal-controlled town. He asked the director if he could curl his hair and blink his eyes continuously to make the character distinct; Masurkar agreed. The film premiered at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival and was released in India on September 22, 2017. Newton met with critical acclaim as did Rao’s performance. Rajeev Masand commented, “It’s hard to separate the actor from the character, and not many of our artistes can claim to possess that gift.” The role earned him the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Actor and a nomination for Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor. He also made a cameo appearance in Dinesh Vijan’s Raabta (2017). He had to apply prosthetic’s for five to six hours every day to look like a 324-year-old man.

His final theatrical release of the year was Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana with Kriti Kharbanda, which met with mixed critical response. He also made his digital debut with ALTBalaji’s historical biographical web mini-series Bose: Dead/Alive. Based on the 2012 book India’s Biggest Cover-up by Anuj Dhar, he portrays nationalist leader Subhash Chandra Bose. For the role, Rao gained 13 kilograms (29 lb) and went half bald. Anvita Singh of India Today felt it was not Rao’s best performance, but because of his skill as an actor he “does grab your attention”.

Rao reunited with Mehta for the biographical crime film Omerta, where he portrays the role of terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. To prepare for the role, Rao watched several videos, documentaries and hate speeches by Sheikh to “gather a lot of hatred and anger” inside himself. He said he was “disturbed” while shooting the film because of the character he was portraying and called it “easily the toughest character” he has played until then. The film had its world premier at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and was released in India on 4 May 2018. The film and Rao’s performance met with critical acclaim, with Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV calling it a “pitch perfect performance”.

He starred next in the musical comedy Fanney Khan (2018) with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Anil Kapoor. A remake of the 2000 Belgian film Everybody’s Famous!, the film was a critical and commercial failure. Stree (2018), the Amar Kaushik-directed horror comedy was his next release. Based on the Bangalore urban legend known as Nale Ba it also starred Shraddha Kapoor. The film, and Rao’s performance, met with positive critical feedback. Rachit Gupta of The Times of India noted that Rao “handles the many shades of comedy, horror and romance with great ease”. It also earned him a nomination for Filmfare Award for Best Actor. Stree was a major financial success. In the same year Rao appeared briefly in Tabrez Noorani’s Love Sonia which was about sex trafficking. His final release of 2018 was 5 Weddings.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019), a film about a closeted lesbian, was Rao’s first film of 2019. Co-starring Sonam K Ahuja, Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla, critics received the film warmly for its positive representation of homosexuality. However, it however, failed to do well commercially. He appeared next with Kangana Ranaut in the black comedy Judgementall Hai Kya. His performance earned him another Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor nomination. His final acting venture was Mikhil Musale’s comedy flick Made in China where he plays a Gujarati businessman who receives a proposal to market a Chinese aphrodisiac in India. The film, based on the namesake novel by Parinda Joshi, met with mixed critical response. Anna M. M. Vetticad, who was critical of the film, praised Rao: “The best thing about it are Rao and [Boman] Irani who are a pleasure to watch even in this middling affair.” The film fared moderately well at the box-office.

Hollywood debut

In 2021, Rao made his Hollywood debut with Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger, which was based on the eponymous novel by Aravind Adiga. Co-starring Priyanka Chopra and Adarsh Gourav, the film started streaming on Netflix on 22 January and met with mostly positive critical reception. David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter noted that Rao “deftly balances a Western-schooled urge to tell himself he’s a fair-minded man with the unmistakable air of privileged entitlement.”

As of January 2021, he has started shooting with Bhumi Pednekar for Badhaai Do, a spiritual sequel to the 2018 comedy-drama Badhaai Ho. He has wrapped up Hardik Mehta’s Roohi Afzana, in which he is paired opposite Janhvi Kapoor. He has committed to begin work for the Hindi remake of the 2020 Telugu thriller HIT: The First Case.